With Omicron Cases increasing significantly on a daily basis, organisations are being now being impacted through both staff absences and uncertainty regarding Government regulations. At the current point in time, we have not hit the peak of Omicron cases with this expected to occur over the next few weeks. Government officials (Chris Hipkins 02/03/22) however cannot predict whether we will then see a reduction in the number of cases or whether the case numbers will plateau for a period before beginning to reduce.
In the midst of this situation, we are continuing to receive new information from the Government on a weekly basis – as a summary of the last week:
There are currently only two primary groups of individuals who are required to self-isolate, these being those who are Covid Positive and those who are an immediate household member of the Covid Positive person.
The Government have confirmed that, where the business obtains a critical worker status, the Vaccinated Household Contact is able to continue to attend work, however the unvaccinated must remain at home. Where the Vaccinated Worker attends work, they must not travel to any other locations except the place of work and should be subject to regular RAT Testing.
Guidance recently released from Employment New Zealand (a division of MBIE) states:
“You can only take sick leave if you are sick, or your spouse, partner, dependent child, or other person who depends on you is sick. If you are not sick but are required to self-isolate because you are a close contact/household contact and can’t work from home, you should discuss with your employer what options are available”.
To support this there has been a concern that Unions may submit claims at a later date seeking for any sick leave to be reinstated where the employee was not actually sick.
However, the consensus appears to be that, if the employee applies to draw down on their sick leave entitlement (employee request) the employer can approve this and pay the leave out on the basis that the employee is required to remain at home for medical reasons (i.e., they are either Covid Positive or they are a Household Contact). Approving sick leave on this basis would be seen to be justified in the circumstances. Please read full details here
On Friday 25 Feb the Courts ruled the that the Government Vaccination Mandate for Police and Defense Workers was invalid. The Government have not yet responded to this ruling however it is highly unlikely that this case may be used against private businesses who have adopted a ‘vaccine only’ policy and have terminated the employment of unvaccinated workers. However, the ruling focused on the religious grounds and the right to refuse medical treatment with the Courts stating that the number of effected staff was too small to make a significant difference. As long as the employer implements a robust Health and Safety Assessment the Judgment should pose little risk for employers.
With the primary focus now moving from PCR Tests to Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) organisations should be prepared to educate their workforce on the required health protocols regarding testing procedures and self-isolation steps. Ministry of Health ‘if you have Covid-19’ page. A more concise ‘handout’ can be downloaded from the email attached to your newsletter.
When applying for the Short-Term Absence Payment (for the initial three days while an employee is awaiting the results of a PCR test) or the Leave Support Payment (while at home recovering from Covid or as a household contact of a Covid Positive person) the employer is required to complete a declaration on the government website that includes the words “You remain responsible for paying your employees’ ordinary wages and salary of the named employees”. The Declaration also states that you “will use best endeavours to pay at least 80% of the employees ordinary wages or salary”.
However, this may be problematic for small businesses who may not be in a financial position to pay either 100 or 80% and where an employee may be required to be off work for more than one week. Therefore, you can enter into a Wage Reduction Agreement at the time when the employee provides consent for you to apply for the subsidy payment.
To cover all critical aspects of this process we recommend using our Wage Reduction Agreement Application/Declaration Form to achieve this. Please contact us if you would like to purchase this form.
Without this written agreement being in place it may be unlawful to cease paying them their full usual wages.
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