Last updated: 26 May 2020
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Support is available for employers to pay their employees in situations where employees need to stay away from work and cannot work from home. Employers can apply for support to pay employees. The self-employed or contractors can apply directly.
The COVID-19 Leave Support scheme is administered by the Ministry of Social Development. Employers can apply on the Work and Income website.
You must have employees who either:
- are at higher risk if they get COVID-19, and Ministry of Health guidelines (external link) recommend they stay at home while public health restrictions are in place
- come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days (as required by Ministry of Health guidelines (external link) )
- have tested positive for COVID-19 and are required to remain off work until they've been cleared by a health professional to be released from self-isolation, or
- have household members who are at higher risk if they get COVID-19 (external link) and the Ministry of Health recommends the worker also remains at home to reduce the risk to them.
Employers are able to apply for support to pay workers that fall into one of the groups outlined above, based on the information provided by the worker.
All businesses and organisations are covered, provided they meet other criteria. This includes contractors, the self-employed and disabled people who engage people through individualised funding arrangements. State sector organisations are generally not eligible to receive the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme.
In addition, an employer must either:
- have had their ability to support employees (who meet the criteria and need to take leave) negatively impacted by the COVID-19 public health restrictions. For example, the cost of paying for their employees' leave and paying for replacement staff is significant, or
- have experienced a minimum 30 per cent decline in actual or predicted revenue over the period of a month when compared to the same month last year, or a reasonably equivalent month for a business operating less than a year, and that revenue loss is due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Employers cannot apply for the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme and the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy scheme for the same employee at the same time. If an employer is eligible for both schemes, it may be more appropriate for them to apply for the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy, as this is of longer duration and more flexible.
If an employer has made applications for an employee under previous versions of the Leave Support scheme, they can re-apply for the same employee as early as three weeks after the last application date. To ensure that there are no gaps in payment, they should re-apply before the end of the four-week leave period.
Payment details and obligations
If an employer is receiving payments from COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme, the employer must make best endeavours to pay the employee(s) named in the application at least 80% of their usual salaries or wages.
If that isn’t possible, and the employee’s usual wages are above the subsidy rate, the employer must pay at least the subsidy rate (ie. full-time or part-time).
If the employee's usual wages are less than the subsidy, the employer must pay them at least their usual wages. Any extra funding from the leave payments provided must be used for wages or salaries for workers in the business where possible.
The subsidy rate is:
- $585.80 per week (gross, before tax) for each full-time worker (where they usually worked 20 or more hours a week before COVID-19), or
- $350.00 per week (gross, before tax) for each part-time worker (where they usually worked fewer than 20 hours a week before COVID-19).
The COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme covers a four-week time period, with the option for organisations to re-apply for those same workers every four weeks, if necessary. Employers can also make further applications for additional workers who are eligible at any time, while the scheme remains open.
The payments are used to fund employers paying wages and salaries and are subject to normal tax payments such as deductions for PAYE, Student Loan, KiwiSaver, or Child Support.
The COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme is administered by the Ministry of Social Development. Employers can apply on the Work and Income website.
Detailed criteria for those at ‘higher risk’
The Ministry of Health describes the groups of people that are considered to be at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.
This includes workers with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised conditions, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, people undergoing dialysis, liver disease, or those over 70 years of age, particularly with underlying health conditions.
Read the full guidance on who is at higher risk:
If a worker, or one of their household members, meets the criteria, they should take extra precautions when leaving home for work or other purposes.
Workers who are in one of these higher risk groups, or have a household member in one of these higher risk groups, should discuss with their employer whether it is possible for them to work in a way that appropriately manages the risk.
During this discussion, it is important that employers consider their duty of good faith towards their employees, obligations under the Human Rights Act about not disadvantaging people with a health condition, and their obligation to keep workers safe.
If the worker and employer agree that it is not possible for them to safely continue working, both parties should agree what their leave arrangements will be and the employer should apply for the support on the worker’s behalf.
In their application for the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme, an employer will be required to sign a declaration outlining that they have discussed the application with their employee and the employee consents to the information being provided to support the application.
Requirements for proof of medical condition
Neither the employee nor the employer will be required to provide medical verification to the Ministry of Social Development.
However, an employer may wish to request a medical certificate for their own purposes, particularly if they are topping up their employee’s payments.
Using other leave entitlements
Employers cannot unlawfully make employees take any existing paid leave entitlements such as sick leave or annual leave while receiving the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme.
However, if an employee is sick, their employer must pay them their sick leave entitlements, if available. If an employee takes annual leave, they must be paid their normal wage rate, for their normal hours of work unless the contract has been varied.
A worker doesn’t fit the criteria, but still has health and safety concerns.
For workers who are not eligible for the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme, employers continue to have both a duty of good faith towards their employees and an obligation to do what is reasonably practicable to keep their workers safe.
Health and safety legislation requires workplaces to engage with workers in developing safe ways of working. There are also health and safety processes that allow workers to raise their concerns and for them to be addressed by the employer. Workers should use these processes in the first instance.
Worker believes they’re eligible but the employer has not applied
If employees believe that they are eligible but the employer hasn’t applied, employees should discuss this with their employer and encourage the employer to apply for the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme.
The scheme relies on employers and employees working together to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect people who are at higher risk from the disease, which includes addressing issues that arise in the workplace. Employers have a good faith duty to be communicative and responsive, especially during these difficult times.
For guidance on working together in good faith and employee leave entitlements, see:
Where a dispute arises, you can have access to the usual process for resolving employment relationship issues.
An employer is receiving the subsidy, but the employee thinks they’re not meeting their obligations
If employees think that the employer has acted unlawfully, they can make a complaint with us.