COVID-19 - Workers FAQ

(Updated 15 April, 2020)

You are entitled to a fair and reasonable process. If any changes are being made to your employment, you are allowed time to consider and respond to those changes. You are not obligated to accept those changes.

However, you should be open with your employer, and ask for honesty and transparency in return. They are likely doing the best they can in a difficult situation.

If you want to talk over any changes or the specifics of your situation, join the ATU and send us an email. We’ll gladly talk through what’s happening and give you advice. 

I’m worried, but not affected yet

  • It's ok to be worried! We recommend discussing your concerns with your manager or management within your organisation if you feel comfortable doing so. Asking for a bit more transparency is completely reasonable.
  • If you’re not comfortable discussing this with your employer, reach out and chat with your coworkers.
  • If your employer is applying for the wage subsidy in your name, they have to advise you that they’re doing so and obtain your consent.


I’m being asked to reduce my wages / hours

  • If you're working normal hours, then you should be receiving normal wages.
  • Your employer cannot change your employment conditions without your written consent. This includes your wages, hours of work, and other employment conditions.
  • Ask for transparency. What are the financials/forecasts that led them to make this decision? How does this compare to the previous financials/forecasts? Have they applied for the wage subsidy grant? 
  • Reduced wages should be reflected by reduced hours. The idea here is that you should still be working at your same hourly rate, but just for a reduced amount of time.
  • Ensure that the reduction in wages will be reviewed regularly. We suggest that businesses review this monthly and return their employees to normal wages as soon as possible.
  • Do a minimally viable timesheet - track your reduced hours, and have proof if you are being made to work full time.


I’m being made redundant

You should have time

  • NZ law says you should be allowed reasonable time and the ability to suggest alternatives that your employer must consider.

Ask for transparency

  • What are the financials/forecasts that led them to make this decision?
  • How does this compare to the previous financials/forecasts?

Did your employer take the wage subsidy scheme?

  • If so, they should be doing everything in their power to retain you for the 12 weeks that the scheme covers. Your employer must make their best effort to pay you in full, or at least 80% of your normal wage during that time, or (at the very least) passing on the wage subsidy to you in full.
  • If not, ask them to apply to the wage subsidy scheme so they can keep folks on until we all have a bit more certainty about the future.

Ask for reasonable concessions

  • Are there terms in your contract that would make it onerous for you to get another job (such as non-compete or restraint of trade clauses)? Ask for these terms to be to be waived.
  • If your employer agrees, make sure that they do so in writing (and that you retain a copy of the agreement).


I’m being asked to come into the office...

..even though I am an “at risk” vulnerable person

  • The wage subsidy scheme is available to cover all at risk people who can’t come into the office.
  • The government has released the essential workers leave scheme to support essential workers who cannot work due to illness or being part of at risk communities. Talk to your employer about applying for this to ensure you can stay safe and continue with your employment 

..even though I wouldn’t consider my work “essential”

  • Ask your employer why this is classed as an essential business.
  • If the business you work for is essential but your work is not, you should not be asked to come to work. Businesses continuing to operate as essential services are obliged to perform only the parts of their operations that are essential.
  • If the business you work for is non-essential but continues to ask employees to come in to work, this is a serious violation. Businesses failing to comply with the essential services rule can be reported. Please talk to us if you feel you’re in this situation.

..even though we are essential, I can do my work from home

  • If you can, start by discussing your concerns with your employer. They are obliged to take reasonable steps to minimize risk to you in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act. This includes providing appropriate PPE, minimizing physical interaction between individuals and putting in place appropriate hygiene measures.
  • If you are an essential worker who can work from home, your employer should allow you to do so.
  • If you are an essential worker who cannot come to work due to vulnerability or sickness, and you cannot work from home, the government has released the essential workers leave scheme to support you. Talk to your employer about applying for this to ensure you can stay safe and continue with your employment


I’m being asked to take sick leave

  • You can only be asked to take sick leave if you are sick. You cannot be forced to use your sick leave if you are not sick.
  • The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions also has recommendations regarding this.


I’m being asked to take annual leave

  • If you are still working, either from home or in an essential capacity, you must be paid as normal for every hour you work.
  • Your employer can ask you to take annual leave as long as you agree or are given at least 14 days’ notice. We’d expect your employer to be very clear and put their request in writing.
  • The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions also has recommendations regarding this.


My parental leave plans are being changed

  • If you are pregnant, you are classified as ‘vulnerable’ and this might mean you cannot work as normal. You can’t be forced to change parental leave plans that you agreed before lockdown, i.e. to claim your leave early. If your employer is claiming the wage subsidy, this can be used to cover your earnings until your agreed parental leave period starts.
  • Eligibility for parental leave is usually conditional on the person working a minimum number of hours before that leave starts. If you are unable to work enough hours due to lockdown, but would normally have been eligible, please get in touch with us.
  • If you are concerned that you’re being pressured, here are your options.


My visa relies on my employer

  • This is an unresolved issue at the moment as we await further clarification from Immigration NZ.
  • ATU strongly believes that it’s important to look after the people who are in New Zealand and have been contributing to our society. ATU is currently working to get the government to resolve this by removing all conditions from work visas that would stop a visa holder from finding other employment.
  • This does not constitute immigration advice. If you need immigration advice please speak to a licensed immigration adviser. We’re happy to recommend one to you, if you require.


I need help/someone to talk to about these issues

Join ATU and get your co-workers to join!

We’ll do everything we can to help support you and your workmates through this. We’re all in this together.


Other Resources


Community Law have released a flowchart image - Making sense of your employment situation during the COVID-19 pandemic

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have released a 1-page COVID-19 Your rights at workYou can also report violations of wage subsidy use through a CTU survey.

Work and Income have released a searchable database to determine if your employer has been granted the wage subsidy.

If you haven’t been able to find out from your employer whether you were included in their application for the wage subsidy, you can ask the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to confirm for you.

Employment New Zealand have released some guidance around covid-19 leave and changing working arrangementsYou can also lodge a complaint about your employers use of the wage subsidies through Employment New Zealand