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Employer information - COVID19

As with all things that are done at speed, there are things that get missed.

It would be useful to recap the rules and the risks as we settle in to the next 4 weeks.

1. Government subsidy 

The rules regarding the subsidy have changed several times since it was implemented.

Generally speaking, you must pass on 100% wage subsidy (there are some exceptions for those whose actual wages are less than the subsidy amount)

You can do the following:

  • Pay more generously by topping up staff to 100%; or
  • Use best endeavours to pay staff 80% of usual wage (and if this isn’t possible, they will still receive wage subsidy);
  • Otherwise, by agreement can ask staff to take special paid leave, annual leave, annual leave in advance, reduced pay – my suggestion is only use sick leave if the staff are actually sick.
  • You can require them to take outstanding annual leave with 14 days notice if you’ve consulted first.
  • Your obligation with your employees is to act in Good Faith. You will have further obligations with regards to the Government Subsidy depending on when you applied for it.
  • Discuss with staff in Good Faith any changes to your employment agreement.

It is always best to get their agreement before you:

  • Change hours/pay.
  • Ask them to work from home; or
  • Alternative work (if suitable skills); or
  • Special paid leave, annual leave, annual leave in advance, reduced pay.

You should record any changes to your agreement in writing.

Now is the time to check in with your team and see how things are going.

Ask them to raise any concerns with you now.

Ideally write to each employee and confirm their specific circumstances (i.e. working from home, using annual leave, accruing leave etc…). It is far better to find out they are unhappy now – rather than later, when you have the opportunity to amend things.

If you need to make further changes to your employment agreement (depending on the lockdown duration or the financial reality of your business) then please contact us, so we can ensure you consult with the team appropriately before making final decisions.

2. Working from home 

If they have agreed to working from home, review the arrangement and check how it’s working.

Tips for working from home:

  • Meet regularly – Communication is most important. Provide regular one to one meetings (via Phone, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Team or even the Houseparty app) regularly and also catch up in virtual teams if possible.
  • Monitor workflow, record keeping and times of work.
  • Require flexible workers to keep accurate time records of what they are working on and the amount of time spent on each project or task.
  • Monitor work regularly to ensure your flexible workers are producing the expected quality.
  • Be results focused.

Make sure you are aware of any stress due to meeting time and juggling lockdown tasks with family needs.

Guidelines for staff working from home:

  • Set boundaries – what can they work on – what is not critical.
  • Preparing their workspace – make sure they a dedicated space and they have what they need to work safely.
  • Preparing for the day – set up and start each day with a. routine – just like they are going to work.
SBA Small business accounting New Zealand COVID19 Employer information

3. Health and Safety 

Even though they are working from home, you still have obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015:

Employers must ensure the health and safety of workers during COVID-19 as far as reasonably practicable.

Home is now a place of work, so employer is responsible for managing risks.

  • Ergonomics and workspace – do they have the equipment they need to work from home safely?
  • Audit of workspace – Ask employees to take photos of workspace and send to you so you can ensure it meets H&S requirements. If you are concerned, talk to them about other options or ways of managing working from home.
  • Keep track of hours so reduce risk of stress/burnout. Make sure the team know to take breaks and to manage their time.
  • Communicate about risks. Be proactive around communicating the concerns you have and get the team to share ideas for working safely at home.
  • Share guidelines and tips on how to make it work.
  • Employers must not risk others’ health and safety from work carried out as part of conduct as far as reasonably practicable (e.g customers, clients, suppliers).
  • Employers must minimise spread of infection (e.g through policies around sick leave and self-isolation, basic hygiene measures). Remind them of the need to keep isolating and washing hands etc.
  • Ideally restrict activity to only what is essential during the Alert Level 4 period.

It would be a good idea to send a weekly email out to the team regarding health and safety in the home.

4. Working from home policy 

If you don’t have one – now is a good time to develop it.

Working from home policy – for COVID-19 Lockdown.
It should include things like:

  • Consultation prior to working from home (e.g whether can work usual hours).
  • Health and safety.
  • Audits on workspace (get them to share a photo of their workstation).
  • How to reduce risk of infection at home.
  • How to reduce stress and who to contact if stressed or mental health issues.
  • Productivity and hours:
  • Require keeping records, time keeping.
  • When employee must remain contactable.
  • Any changes to billable/sales targets.
  • Supervision:
  • Regular and frequent catch ups with manager.

It might also include:

  • Fun ways of connecting.
  • Lockdown playlists.
  • Team virtual drinks on Fridays.
  • Dress up days.
  • Sharing what we are doing with downtime.
  • Shared virtual lunches.

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