COVID-19 has deeply disrupted workplaces. Many employers, employees, and their representatives have concerns about what is happening and what they can expect from the employment law regulator at this time.
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about Employment New Zealand’s (ENZ) approach, our services and what we expect of employers and employees in relation to COVID-19.
What services does ENZ provide?
As the employment regulator, we provide a range of services which together ensure we protect minimum employment standards and support employees and employers to retain and build good employment relationships.
The Labour Inspectorate works to ensure minimum employment standards are complied with, so that employees receive their minimum employment rights, and prevent exploitative business models that are based on undercutting minimum standards. We:
- ensure compliance with employment standards by identifying and investigating breaches and taking enforcement action where appropriate
- provide early resolution assistance for some complaints about breaches of employment standards, which are lower level or easier to remedy
- work with industry and sector bodies and other key parties to strengthen systems that underpin employment standards compliance
ENZ administers the reporting of migrant exploitation for ENZ and Immigration New Zealand. We:
- assess all complaints for investigation, support services, and eligibility to apply for the migrant exploitation protection visa
- administer the stand down list of employers who have breached employment standards, limiting their access to employer assisted visas for migrant workers
Employment Mediation Services provide free services to help employers and employees resolve employment relationship problems in a confidential and semi-formal environment. We offer:
- telephone early resolution services to help resolve workplace issues early, quickly and informally
- mediation through an independent person called a mediator to help resolve an employment relationship problem in a semi-formal and confidential environment. This can be in person or remote mediation through video or telephone links.
- checking and signing of Records of Settlement reached through private mediation, so that they can be enforced if necessary
We provide public information and education services to promote and encourage employers and employees to understand and act on their employment rights and responsibilities. This includes:
- This website – employment.govt.nz
- Social media through Facebook(external link) and LinkedIn(external link)
- Newsletters(external link) and printed and digital format brochures and leaflets
- Brochures and leaflets in printed and digital format
- E-learning modules(external link) about employment legislation.
- Outreach to specialist groups, including industry bodies, unions, community groups to support them to understand and act on employment information, rights and obligations.
- Providing registries and repositories for unions, collective agreements, the employment law database, and tracking and reporting on work stoppages.
- Capability building and training to support parties undertaking collective bargaining.
Where is ENZ putting its focus?
Employment law has not changed. Our priority is to support the all-of –government response as New Zealand works to eliminate COVID-19, while ensuring that employment law is upheld.
We are continuing to offer all of our core services at all COVID-19 traffic light settings, with our in-person services shifting to remote means when necessary to meet higher restrictions.
In addition to our normal services, we are also responsible for complaints about financial support schemes relating to COVID-19, such as the wage subsidy. We offer:
- information and education on the employment.govt.nz website and through our Service Centre call lines
- assessment of complaints, and respond through education and early resolution where possible to quick remedy problems that arise
- where employers are not complying with employment standards, referral to the Labour Inspectorate
- where there are eligibility or fraud concerns, referral to the Ministry of Social Development.
What are ENZ’s expectations of employers?
Employers and employees need to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19, 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:
- Continuing to meet anything that has been agreed to in an employment agreement.
- Under no circumstances can employers pay less than the minimum wage or reduce any of employees’ legal minimum employment entitlements.
- Employers and employees need to discuss, in good faith, any changes in work arrangements, leave and pay, or health and safety measures.
- In the absence of an agreement to alternative working arrangements, employees need to return to work if there is no reason the employee needs to stay away from work under public health guidance from the Ministry of Health (external link)
- If a worker is sick with COVID-19, or required to self-isolate, the first consideration for an employer should be to look after people, contain COVID-19 and protect public health. Businesses may be able to apply for the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme to support their employees.
- Employers should not knowingly allow workers to come to a workplace when they are sick with COVID-19 or required to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19. If they do, they are likely to be in breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
- All workplaces must comply with the conditions of each COVID-19 traffic light setting. To find out more visit the COVID-19 website (external link)
- Businesses should check if they are eligible for financial support from Work and Income (external link)
What are ENZ’s expectations of employees?
Employers and employees need to work together to protect New Zealand and keep each other safe during COVID-19.
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 employer 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 follow employment law and any other relevant contractual conditions to change any employment arrangements.
- Employers must negotiate with union representatives, where a union represents the employees, before any changes are made to collective agreements.
- Employers must comply with all minimum employment standards and with the Employment Relations Act 2000.
At each change in the COVID-19 traffic light settings, 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.
How can businesses get help understanding how the rules apply to them?
Guidance is available to help employers understand how the COVID-19 restrictions apply to their business, including how these interact with employment law, including on how to apply pay and leave provisions and manage any changes to work arrangements.
Businesses who are still not sure how the COVID-19 traffic light rules currently apply to their business, and what it means for their employment relationships, should seek professional advice to clarify their thinking. This should be done before taking any action that might later cause legal or other problems.
Support is also available on how to work through employment issues that do come up. You can access ENZ’s range of mediation services, including early resolution and mediation.
If the Labour Inspectorate later investigates and find breach(es) of employment law, we will not hesitate to use the full range of enforcement tools as we would in the normal course. The Labour Inspectorate consider this is the only fair thing to do for employees and for employers who are meeting their obligations.
Businesses should also be aware the Labour Inspectorate is working with the Ministry of Social Development and will pass on information concerning any abuse of the financial support schemes they administer, such as the wage subsidy.
How can employees get help if they have an employment problem?
First, read the frequently asked questions for workers under COVID-19, which is available on our website
You can also contact us if you need to through our Service Centres or submitting a complaint through our online forms to get help on a specific employment problem.
You can make a complaint to us if you believe your employer is receiving a COVID-19 financial support, like the wage subsidy, but not meeting the conditions they agreed to. Use our online form