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COVID-19: Auckland and parts of the Waikato region are at Alert Level 3. Northland moves to Alert Level 2 at 11.59pm on Tuesday. The rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2. Mediations are being held by phone and video conference in the Auckland region.

Doing business in the bubble

What Kiwi employers and employees need to know about their employment rights and responsibilities when travelling in the bubble.

The Trans-Tasman and NZ-Cook Islands bubbles allow people to travel quarantine-free between New Zealand and Australia, or New Zealand and the Cook Islands. This could change with short notice, depending on how Covid-19 spread in the communities is managed. So before you send your staff overseas to do business or head off on your long-awaited overseas holiday, you need to be aware of some employment implications.

Sending employees to Australia, Cook Islands (or other countries)

As an employer, you can send your employees to Australia or Cook Islands on a business trip, provided they meet the eligibility criteria for travelling set by the New Zealand, Australia and Cook Islands governments. However, you should have a contingency plan and agree with them on the course of action in case something unexpected happens.

As an employer, you have health and safety responsibilities for your workers. You should consider the business benefits versus the risks when sending them overseas and should act in good faith.

  • When your employees are on a business trip, you have an obligation to cover any expenses incurred for business-related purposes, such as transport, travel insurance, accommodation and meal allowances.
  • If they need to pay for managed isolation because of the business trip, you need to cover this as well.
  • If they become stuck overseas during a business trip and cannot return to New Zealand as planned or work remotely, you still need to pay them as per the employment agreement.
  • If they contract COVID-19 during the business trip, you may need to pay them under other types of leave, if they run out of sick leave.
  • If they don’t have travel insurance, you also may need to pay for medical costs.

Taking holidays in Australia, Cook Islands (or other countries)

As an employee, if you decide to take a holiday overseas and your employer has approved your leave request, then it is your responsibility to stay safe and you need to cover any costs related to the travel, including the cost of any managed isolation that may apply.

Whether your employer can refuse your request to holiday overseas would depend on whether the refusal is reasonable. The law related to ‘taking annual holidays’ applies.

However, you should agree with your employer on the course of action if anything unexpected happens.

  • You can agree with your employer to take your laptop with you and work remotely if you happen to be stuck overseas.
  • If you contract Covid-19, you can take sick leave (if available).
  • If you cannot work remotely and do not have enough annual leave to cover an extended period, then you need to talk to your employer to see if you can use other types of leave, whether you need to take unpaid leave for part of the time you are away, and how long your employer can hold your job open for you. 
  • Your employer cannot automatically dismiss you if you become stranded overseas beyond your approved leave. Your employer must act in good faith, so they need to consider other workplace changes (changing hours of work, arranging remote working, approving further types of leave, etc.), and follow a fair and proper process before making any decision.
  • If you become stuck during your personal travel and are unable to work remotely, then your employer will not be required to pay you under the employment agreement.

Quarantine-Free Travel - How a COVID-19 case in Australia would be managed [PDF 90KB] (external link) - covid19.govt.nz

Acting in good faith

Employers and employees need to discuss, in good faith, any changes in work arrangements, leave and pay, or health and safety measures.

  • Employers and employees need to work together to protect New Zealand and keep each other safe. This means that normal obligations to keep in regular contact and to act in good faith are more important than ever.
  • Regular employment law still applies to all employment relationships – regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. This includes anything that has been agreed to in an employment agreement.
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