Employment lawyer explains how Covid-19 could impact your employment

trending 27/03/2020

Employment lawyer Bridget Smith from SBM Legal joined Dom, Meg & Randell to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on employees.

Unfortunately she couldn't answer everyone's individual question, but she did kindly put together some handy tips to keep in mind.

COVID-19 - How does it impact your employment?*

Employees working in essential services

If you are working for an employer which is an essential service, you should have been advised that by now.  You will need a letter from your employer confirming that you are working for an essential service as “proof” in case anyone (including and in particular the NZ Police) questions you.  Make sure you are only travelling to and from your job and don’t take advantage of it to do other things or visit other people. Working in an essential service may mean you are exposed to risks so limit your ability to pass them on.  Look online for tips about limiting what you take to and from the workplace and what to do about clothing and uniform items.

Employees who are able to work from home

If you are able to continue working for your employer from home, do that.  Hopefully you have been able to set up the required technology etc to enable that.  Remember health and safety and for those with children (particularly young children) it will likely be a juggle.  Do the best you can and communicate with your employer if you need to vary your hours to balance work and life.

If your employer has some work but not enough to keep you busy full-time, they may speak to you about a temporary reduction in hours.  Have open and honest conversations with them. They may qualify for the wage subsidy (see below). You may need to use some leave if work declines.

Employees who are not able to work from home

The starting point is that there is a Government expectation that employers will continue to pay their employees during this Level 4 lockdown.  Unfortunately what we are seeing is many employers can’t afford to do that, or are saying they can’t afford to do that.

If the employer is experiencing a decline in actual or predicted revenue of 30% or more over a period of a month when compared with the same month last year, due to Covid-19, and commits to using best endeavours to retain employees and to pay them a minimum of 80% of their normal income for the subsidised period, they can apply to MSD for the Government wage subsidy.  That amount is $585.80 for people working more than 20 hours a week and $350 for people working less than 20 hours a week. It is paid as a flat rate, to the employer and they must pass it on to employees.

Be proactive – ask your employer if they have applied for the wage subsidy.

The goal is to maintain an income through this lockdown period.  If you think your employer will not be able to afford to continue to pay you, offer or agree to use your annual leave to top up the wage subsidy, offer to reduce your salary temporarily, offer to work reduced hours.  The more employees within an organisation that is struggling financially can agree to compromise, the less chance there is the losses will need to be borne by particular individuals. For example, if everyone agrees to reduce their income temporarily to 70% that may be enough to avoid the employer looking at selecting individual roles for redundancy.  Remember, we’re all in this together.

The obligation to consult does still apply.  

*Please note, this advice is necessarily general in nature.  It is not intended as specific advice about particular or individual factual circumstances.