New Zealand is at Alert Level 4 until Tuesday 24 August 2021. Health authorities have confirmed that the highly transmissible Delta variant is in the community. Based on the devastating impact that the Delta variant is unleashing globally, we can expect the Government to act swiftly and decisively to contain this outbreak. As a precaution, it would be wise for business owners and HR professionals to plan and prepare their workplaces for an extended lockdown.

LangtonHudsonButcher (LHB), our law partner in New Zealand, has published an update recapping what Level 4 means for employers and a summary of the support available for businesses. We’ve shared this below to help you manage your workplace over the coming days.

Key steps for employers at Level 4

 Employers should pull out their Alert Level 4 plans, check if they are still fit for purpose and make them available again to their staff. The key rules for employers at Level 4 are:

1. All non-essential businesses must now close their premises, other than for minimum basic operations (which includes maintaining the premises, plant, equipment or goods in the premises, and to enable workers to work from home). A non-essential business can only continue to operate if workers can do so from home.

2. Essential businesses (also known as “Level 4 business or service”) can continue to operate from their usual premises but need to ensure they can meet the following measures to manage COVID-19 risks:

  • That physical distancing rules of one metre between workers and two metres between all other persons are maintained so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • If a business cannot maintain physical distancing, employers must be able to mitigate risks. Risk prevention can include the following steps: cleaning surfaces regularly, installing plastic barriers, personal protective equipment, and staggered meal breaks and rosters.
  • Display the business’s QR code and have an alternative contact tracing system for workers and customers to use.

Employers need to provide workers who are working from home with directions around health and safety to the best of their ability. Employers should provide employees with instructions to make sure their home workplace is safe from obvious risks. Employees should also check the security of any company property or information they’re using at home.

Essential vs non-essential

A list of essential businesses can be found here. This list includes organisations or services necessary to maintain other Level 4 businesses. Part of a business can be “essential”, and other areas can be non-essential. The non-essential areas must closedown.

The Police are likely to be patrolling again to ensure that people comply with the Level 4 requirements. Police may stop workers and ask them to provide evidence that they’re essential workers. The Government recommends that essential businesses provide their workers with letters confirming that they are essential. LHB can assist employers to draft these letters.

Business support 

 The Government has confirmed that the lockdown will trigger the following income support mechanisms.

The Covid-19 Wage Subsidy will be available for businesses that experience at least a 40 per cent decline in revenue due to the increase in alert level. The subsidy will be paid as a two-week lump sum at an increased weekly rate of $600 for each full-time employee and $359 for each part-time employee. Eligible employers may apply for the wage subsidy on the Work and Income website from 9am, Friday, 20 August 2021 onwards and can expect payment three days after their application.

The Covid-19 Resurgence Support Payment will also be available for businesses that have experienced at least a 30 per cent decrease in revenue or a 30% decline in capital-raising ability, over a seven-day period, due to the increased COVID-19 alert level. This payment is worth up to $1,500, plus an additional $400 per full-time equivalent employee, up to a total of 50 employees. It’s available alongside the other support measures outlined in this update and does not have to be applied directly against wages. Inland Revenue (IRD) is responsible for administering this payment. Applications will be open on its website from 8am, Monday 24 August 2021.  More information on how to make an application can be found on the IRD website.

The Short-Term Absence Payment (for employees who are required to self-isolate to wait for COVID-19 test results) and Leave Support Scheme (for employees who are told to isolate because of COVID-19) are both still in operation. The Government hasn’t confirmed the rates of these payments but has said that they will increase these in line with the Wage Subsidy. Employers can apply for these payments through the Work and Income website links below:

Paying employees during an Alert Level 4 lockdown

If employees can work from home, they are entitled to be paid. Employers can pay employees by one or more of the following options: salary/wages, wage subsidy, and/or annual leave (if agreed). If there is not enough work, an employer and an employee must agree to any reduction in pay and hours of work.

If employees cannot work from home and the employer is not receiving the wage subsidy, the Employment Relations Authority’s current position is that employees are still entitled to their pay. However, this area of law is still not settled. Check employment agreements for a force majeure or business interruption clause that might assist. Alternatively, employers can seek an employees’ consensus on reduced pay, using annual leave and/or unpaid leave.

As always, LHB intends this update to provide an overview of the employment implications of the latest announcements. We encourage you to seek specific advice if you are unsure how to apply this guidance to your workplace.

Further government advice and helpful links:

enableHR’s law partners, LangtonHudsonButcher are an Auckland-based specialist employment law and litigation firm. They ensure every legal template, document, and checklist in enableHR is compliant. If you need any advice on the information provided in this blog, let us know. We’ll put you in touch with a member of the LHB team.

Don’t let changes to employment-related laws slow you down. In enableHR, every process, workflow and document is reviewed by employment law experts, so, you don’t have to worry about compliance. Get in touch to see enableHR in action today!