Coronavirus: Put down that quarantini if you’re still at work in the home office


You might be working from home, out of sight of the boss, but that’s no excuse to open the bar early.

Ahead of New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown last week, alcohol was high on the shopping list of some Kiwis stockpiling goods. So much booze was bought that the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council called for calm, with one bottle store chain reporting a 1800 per cent spike in sales last Monday.

Liquor stores, along with bars and restaurants, are not classed as an essential service, although alcohol can still be bought at supermarkets and dairies, and premises in Licensing Trust Areas can operate with a one-in-one-out rule.

People who felt stressed, or bored, tended to drink more, and were advised to seek healthier ways to cope.

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You might be working from home, out of sight of the boss, but that's no excuse to open the bar early.

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You might be working from home, out of sight of the boss, but that’s no excuse to open the bar early.

Those tempted to mix a quarantini before their day officially ends should think again, says employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk.

“Employees may think that they are not technically ‘at work’ but their home office has just become their new workplace for the purposes of the Health and Safety at Work Act,” she said.

“Employers do have ongoing responsibility for an employee’s health and safety while performing work from home, not to mention the quality of the work product. It would therefore be reasonable for employers to expect and set rules around not drinking during ‘usual office hours’.”

An employer who believed employees may not be complying with those expectations could pursue disciplinary action, but it could be difficult to prove, she said.

“These are not normal times, however, and whilst drinking on the job should not be condoned, a lot of employers are conducting team drinks by video conference at the end of the day as a way of enabling employees to stay in touch.”

There were concerns in Australia that some workers working remotely were not resisting temptation, and would form drinking habits that would outlast the temporary lockdown.

The Sydney Morning Herald spoke with 27-year-old Sydney support worker Matthew Sherwood, who drank only after hours but had seen a change in some of his friends.

 One friend, a lawyer, was “starting the day with a whisky”, Sherwood said.