Employment guide for workers at different COVID-19 alert levels

Answers to the frequently asked questions that workers may have at different alert levels.

Employers and employees need to work together to protect New Zealand and keep each other safe during all COVID-19 alert levels. This means that the obligations to contact workers on a regular basis and to act in good faith are more important than ever.

Employment law still applies to all employment relationships, regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, including during a pandemic or a natural disaster:

  • Your employer must have a written employment agreement (employment contract) for every employee, and employers and employees must do what that agreement calls for.
  • Your employers must keep each written employment agreement up to date, including documenting in writing any changes to any terms and conditions of employment you have agreed.
  • Employers and employees must meet all employment law and any other relevant contractual conditions to change any employment arrangements.
  • Employers must engage with union representatives, where a union represents the employees, before any changes are made to collective employment agreements.
  • Employers must comply with all minimum employment standards and with the Employment Relations Act 2000.

At each alert level change, employers and employees should first talk about whether the employee can continue to work normally and how the employee can work safely at home or at their place of work.

Health and safety

No. Your employer must not make you come to your workplace if you are sick with COVID-19 or have been required to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19. If they do, they are likely to be in breach of their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

It depends. If you are in the higher risk group of contracting COVID-19 (as per the Ministry of Health's advice), you may be able to work if you and your employer agree that the risks of you being at work can be appropriately managed.

Guidance about workplace activities at different alert levels – Business.govt.nz(external link)

You may say no to work at your usual workplace if you believe that being at your place of work would expose you, or anyone else, to a serious risk of being infected with COVID-19, or any other health or safety risks.

If this is not the case, please be aware that your employer may consider that you have abandoned your work.

Worker rights – WorkSafe(external link)

Abandonment of employment

Leave and pay

If you are working from home, you must be paid at the same rate in your employment agreement.

If you are sick, you can take sick leave.

Sick leave entitlements

If you cannot work from home and need to stay at home, your employer may be able to apply for financial support to pay you if they meet certain criteria.

Financial support for businesses - covid19.govt.nz(external link)

If you cannot work normally (e.g. your normal number of hours), you should discuss with your employer what options are available.

Leave and pay entitlements during COVID-19 response and recovery

If your employment agreement has your shift hours and/or days of work, then an employer can’t change them without you agreeing to it.

If the employment agreement says that your employer can cancel or move your rostered shift, the employer must have a shift cancellation clause that tells you:

  • how much time in advance they have to give you before they cancel your shift, and
  • what is your financial compensation if your employer can’t give you a reasonable advanced notice about the cancellation.

If the employer does not give you enough advance notice, they have to give you reasonable compensation.

Also, your employer has to make sure that cancelling the shift doesn’t breach your employment agreement. For example, if your employment agreement has a minimum number of hours or states the number of hours that you need to work, your employer must make sure that they give you and pay for that number of hours.

There are some guidelines about what reasonable cancellation time and reasonable compensation are. To find out what reasonable means, visit Hours of work.

Your employer may be able to apply for financial support to pay you if they meet certain criteria.

Financial support for businesses - Unite against COVID-19(external link)

The law about annual leave has not changed because of COVID-19. In general, you and your employer should agree when annual leave is taken. If you can’t agree, your employer can make you take annual leave in some situations. 

Taking annual holidays

It depends. If you want to cancel your annual leave, you should talk to your employer. Both you and your employer could agree to move your annual leave to another date, cancel it or reduce the number of days to be taken. However, the employer does not have to agree to it. Any changes to holiday arrangements should be in writing.

Workplace changes

An employer cannot make changes to your employment agreement, including hours of work, wages or salary, or make you do tasks that are unrelated to your job, without talking to you in good faith and you agreeing to it. Any changes must be in writing.

Modifying employment agreements during COVID-19 response and recovery

Any proposal that involves redundancy must be consulted in good faith and comply with other employment law obligations, including doing what your employment agreement says.

In some situations, such as financial, commercial or economic problems, or a genuine need to restructure the business (for example, moving to an online environment rather than a shop front), an employer may consider workplace change. This may include changes to an employee’s job description, a change to when or how work is done, or reducing an employee’s hours or wages. However, an employer should consider other alternatives first. Redundancy should be the last option and only be considered if there are no suitable alternative arrangements, following a good faith process.

Terminating employment agreements during COVID-19 response and recovery

Employers may be able to, but should seek legal advice and remember to act in good faith. Such a clause in the employment agreements requires employees’ informed consent. All employment standards and obligations also continue to apply. For example, employers cannot offer zero-hour contracts where employees have no guaranteed hours of work but must be available to work if required.

Further support

Information on financial support for individuals is available on the COVID-19 website.

Financial support – covid19.govt.nz(external link)

If you've lost your job or can't work at the moment, you may be able to get a benefit or some other financial help from Work and Income.

You are not working – Work and Income(external link)

Before you take any action, or the problem becomes bigger, you can try talking to your employer.

Talking to your employer

If you are a union member, you can contact your union delegate or union office.

If talking to your employer did not resolve your problem, you can use our Early Resolution Service, a free phone-based service for employees and employers that helps you resolve a workplace issue early, quickly, and informally.

Early Resolution Service

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Page last revised: 18 March 2021

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