COVID-19 - Employer Guidance

(Updated 15th April, 2020)

You can get advice on being a good employer in the time of COVID-19 by reading the Employment New Zealand Guidance. We also recommend the resource library on the Government's COVID response page. However, we have also collected some information here which you are welcome to use. 

Be kind

  • Realise that you’re making changes to people’s livelihoods in a time of unprecedented crisis and uncertainty. They will be even more worried and stressed than normal - be sure you’re taking that into account.

 

Be considered

  • This is a fast-moving crisis, but make sure you take the time to make considered decisions rather than reactive ones.

 

Be consistent

  • Make the message clear and consistent from the beginning. Changing your messaging can lead to confusion and uncertainty among employees. 
  • Make sure your written communication stays up to date and there is a single source of truth for the current situation and expectations.

 

Be transparent

  • Everyone is going to be worried about their jobs. 
  • If you can, be transparent about the business financials and projections. This will help employees understand where you are coming from, and that you are doing your best to keep them in a job. 
  • Explain all cash-saving measures you are taking. This will help your employees to trust that you’re doing everything you can to save the company, and any changes to employment conditions are part of a larger plan to help ride out the crisis.

 

Be flexible

  • A lot of us are having to work in new and different conditions: working from home, or in an office with enforced physical distancing and protective measures in place.
  • Make sure that your employees know that this isn’t business as usual - they are working during a pandemic and it’s expected that they will be stressed and struggling.
  • Make sure that your employees have the tools and training to be as productive as possible in the new spaces they’re in.
    • Do they have a functional internet connection?
    • Do they have enough data on their home internet plan?
    • Do they have a computer or laptop they can use?
    • Do they have a good enough desk and chair?
    • Do they have a functional headset? Does it have noise cancelling functionality?
    • Do they have a camera and microphone available?
  • Do you have the ability to grant benefits that will help employees weather this crisis?
    • Some employers are granting a new discretionary “special leave” so that employees will not have their sick or annual leave impacted by this crisis. This covers things like:
      • Sickness due to COVID-19.
      • If you’re required to self-isolate and cannot work from home.
      • If you have caring responsibilities (for children or a family member) and it is not possible to work from home.



If you’re considering wage reductions

  • Are you using or have you considered the wage subsidy scheme? You can use this to buy yourself some time to fully consider the crisis before taking action.
  • We strongly recommend consulting with your employees about alternative ways to cut costs prior to reducing wages.
  • Be transparent. 
    • Make sure your employees know the thought process that went into this decision.
    • Try and explain, in simple terms, the financials and/or projections and the decision making that has led you to this point. This will help them understand where you are coming from, and that you are doing your best to keep them in a job. 
    • Explain any other cash saving measures you have taken so far. This will help your team to trust that redundancies are a last-ditch attempt to save the company.
  • Any reduction in wages requires consultation with employees. Your employees must each individually consent in writing to their wages, working hours, or other work conditions being changed.
  • You must give your employees enough time to properly consider any changes to their wages, hours, or other work conditions and seek appropriate advice.
  • Reduced wages should be reflected by reduced hours. The idea here is that your employees should still be working at the same hourly rate, but just for a reduced amount of time.
  • If at all possible, keep your employees at least 80% of their normal wages.
    • At the barest minimum, if you’re receiving the wage subsidy on behalf of your employees it must be passed through to those employees in full.
  • Any reduction in wages or other contract variation due to COVID-19 should specify a timeframe for the variation, after which it will expire or be renewed further with the consent of your employees. Our recommended timeframe is 1 month.
  • Employment NZ have released guidelines around any changes to employment agreements.

 

If you’re considering redundancies

  • In all instances of redundancies you need to follow the steps laid out by Employment NZ.
  • Are you using or have you considered the wage subsidy scheme? You can use this to buy yourself some time to fully consider this crisis before taking action. If you take the wage subsidy scheme you cannot make any of your named employees redundant. It is part of the declaration. 
  • Make sure you give employees enough time to properly consider their position, seek advice, propose alternatives, and for you to give those alternatives real consideration. In general we recommend that this process take at least 14 days.
  • Be honest
    • Make sure your employees know if redundancies are something you’re considering but be consistent and empathetic with your messaging. 
    • Think about what you would need to do in order to avoid redundancies.
    • Be careful that these communications are accurately presented as getting everyone through this with the best outcomes possible and not as a threat of redundancy. Otherwise your employees could be making decisions under duress.
  • Be transparent.
    • Make sure your employees know the thought process that went into this decision. 
    • Try and explain, in simple terms, the financials and/or projections and the decision making that has led you to this point. This will help employees understand where you are coming from, and that you are doing your best to keep them in a job. 
    • Explain any other cash saving measures you have taken so far. This will help your team to trust that redundancies are a last-ditch attempt to save the company.
  • Are there concessions you can grant to help your team more easily find new work?
    • You could waive non-compete/restraint of trade terms in their existing contracts. It is a tough job market out there and you want your team to have every opportunity to get another role as soon as possible. These provisions are of dubious enforceability in New Zealand anyway.
    • You could provide written references for each of your redundant employees. 

 

If you’re worried about doing this properly

 

Reach out and talk to us! We know that you want to do right by your team. We will try and give you the advice you need to get the best outcomes possible in these trying circumstances.

You can contact us by email at kiaora@atu.org.nz