These are the most common questions we are getting about Covid-19.
Employment New Zealand says “Employment law still applies to all employment relationships, regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, including different alert levels during COVID-19. This means you can only reduce employees’ wages if they agree to it, after a discussion in good faith”.
Unfortunately, lockdowns and other challenges employees and employers are facing are still causing a lot of stress and confusion. The most important message is that the conditions of your employment contract still stand. If your employer wants to make any changes, temporary or permanent, there should be a conversation.
What do I do if I’m not getting paid properly?
- I’m not getting paid at all
- I’m not getting paid my usual pay
- My employer is getting the wage subsidy but not giving it to me, or they are getting the subsidy and only giving me the subsidy not my usual pay.
- I’m a casual worker. My hours are being cut, so I’m not being paid.
Your employer should pay you what has been agreed to in your employment contract.
In response to all of the above questions and similar questions, we would recommend you correspond in writing with your employer and ask to be paid your usual pay as per your employment contract. Any changes to your employment agreement should be negotiated with you, in good faith. For instance, your employer may receive the wage subsidy but not be able to afford to top your pay up to 100% of what you usually get. You should be consulted about that, and it should be clear that this is a temporary situation.
What to do if that doesn’t work?
If your employer doesn’t communicate with you and doesn’t pay you fairly you should contact the Early Resolution Service at Employment New Zealand. The phone number is 0800209020, or you can contact them through their web form on this page: https://www.employment.govt.nz/resolving-problems/steps-to-resolve/early-resolution/
Can my employer dismiss me if I refuse to be vaccinated?
If you have been employed quite recently check your employment agreement to see if vaccination is a requirement.
Health and safety reasons for requiring work to be done by vaccinated workers
Businesses cannot require any individual to be vaccinated. However, businesses can require that certain work must only be done by vaccinated workers, where there is high risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 to others. This will be a minority of all work in New Zealand. This could change if there is a significant shift in the COVID-19 situation domestically. Please check the Employment New Zealand Website for the latest information.
If you have been performing your role pre covid and you are being told that you may no longer perform the role if you are not vaccinated the issue needs to be carefully handled. If there is no requirement in your employment agreement that you must be vaccinated then your employer must understand that you have a right to chose not to be vaccinated. The employer may be facing a problem where vaccination has become a requirement for all staff due to the nature of the work. If after a health and safety assessment there are sufficient risks then the employer would need to give you notice that there was a concern about the safety of you and others if you continue to perform your role while unvaccinated. You are within your rights to request from your employer what data they have used to come to the conclusion that it is not safe for you to perform your role while unvaccinated.
A larger employer may find a way to deploy you to another role that is less exposed to others. A smaller employer may put you on paid leave while exploring the options. Re-deployment may not be possible in some organisations. Any alterations to your rate of pay or hours should be negotiated in good faith.
If you do not have a specific clause in your employment agreement that requires you to be vaccinated then an employer must be very careful with the process of termination. Redundancy is unlikely to be an option unless your role is genuinely no longer required. Where you have been employed before Covid, and your employer has established that having you unvaccinated in the role is a significant health and safety concern they may be justified in terminating your employment contract. This could result in an unfair dismissal personal grievance if either the reason to dismiss was not justifiable or the process was flawed.
See the latest information on vaccines on the Employment New Zealand website. Legislation is changing because of Covid 19 and this affects specific roles:
In New Zealand, having a COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary and vaccines will not be forcibly administered.
However, if you work in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities or other government high-risk border settings receiving the vaccine is a requirement of the job.
Aged Care Workers
Currently, there is no order covering aged care workers, but employers in those industries should look at particular roles and decide whether or not your safety or the safety of others would be compromised by you not being vaccinated. The employer is obliged to work at redeployment and other options as part of a fair process.
- Human Rights Commission
- Employment New Zealand website: Changes to your employment conditions during Covid response and recovery
Can my employer make me take my annual leave when we are in lockdown
Your employer can ask you to take annual leave during lockdown if you are unable to work from home. You don’t have to agree. If your employer asks you to take annual leave and you refuse your employer must give you 14 days notice before they can require you to take your annual leave.
Can my employer make me redundant during Covid?
Yes, if there is a genuine reason, and if your employer follows the correct redundancy process you can still be made redundant during lockdown.
Keep good notes of every part of the process that your employer follows and provide your feedback.
If your employer is receiving the wage subsidy it would be harder for them to justify making you redundant during the period they are receiving the subsidy. As part of the consultation process, we would advise that you ask, in writing, if your employer has applied for the subsidy, and if they would use that to keep you employed during the lockdown period.
Can my employer force me to take unpaid leave during lockdown?
It’s an extreme situation If a business cannot operate over the lockdown, and therefore has no revenue, and an employee does not have any accrued leave, then an employer might be left with no choice but to require employees to take unpaid leave.
Any variations to your employment agreement should be agreed upon by both parties.
We suggest you ask questions, in writing:
Ideally, your employer will apply for the wage subsidy. If your employer has received the subsidy their obligation is to pay you at least 80% of your usual wages, except if your usual income is less than the subsidy amount.
If your employer is unable to remain in business there may be nothing they can do. Keep records of all correspondence between your employer and yourself in case you need professional advice.