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Welcome to 2021!

In the lead-up to writing this article I was thinking that 2021 had started off pretty well — Covid-19 was largely contained to managed isolation facilities, the vaccine was being rolled out for front-line workers and life in the provinces seemed to be getting back to normal. Then we were back into Alert Level 2, then 1, then 2 again and back to 1. In the meantime we have had a 7.1M earthquake, followed by a couple of tsunami warnings.

It just goes to show how fast things can change and also that businesses need to be prepared to be able to deal with the effects of pandemics, natural disasters and other crises at short notice.

Plan for Changes in Alert Levels:

Have a plan that you can action at short notice. Amongst other things, it should cover:

• How staff will work from home

• How you will, if necessary, propose to seek agreement with staff on temporary changes to employment terms and conditions. In particular, this could involve reducing pay or hours of work during any period of lockdown or absence from work arising from a natural disaster.

The law requires employers to get agreement with their employees before reducing their pay or hours of work below the guaranteed levels. Auckland-based businesses will be well versed in how to address these issues, but given that here in Tairawhiti we have not had to do it for a while now — are you prepared?

Covid-19 Support Reminder:

The Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme is still in place. If your employees have been advised to self-isolate and they cannot work from home, you can apply for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme for them. You can also apply if you are self-employed or a sole trader.

The Covid-19 Short-term Absence Payment helps businesses pay employees who cannot work from home while they wait for a Covid-19 test result (after being told to get tested by a relevant authority). It is a one-off payment of $350 for each eligible employee in any 30-day period. It is also available to the self-employed.

The Covid-19 Resurgence Support Payment may be activated if there is an increase from Alert Level 1 for a week or more. Businesses will be eligible if they experience a 30 percent drop in revenue over a seven-day period after an alert level increase and meet other eligibility criteria. It must be used to help cover business expenses such as wages and fixed costs.

See also: www.covid19.govt.nz

Legislative Changes in 2021:

It's a new year so it is timely to look ahead and see what we can expect in terms of likely legislative reform in 2021. These being: a rise in the minimum wage from $18.90 to $20.00 per hour from April 1, 2021; a 12th public holiday has been confirmed — Te Ra o Matariki /Matariki Day — with the first on Friday, June 24, 2022; sick leave entitlements will increase from five days to 10 days per annum (once passed into law this change will take effect on an existing employee's entitlement date, so will be staggered over the following 12-month period); bereavement leave of up to three days will be extended to an employee if they (or their partner) suffers a miscarriage; a new Holidays Act should be debated in Parliament during the year; MBIE is undertaking a large piece of work that is looking at the classification of contractors. We expect to see some changes in the law, particularly as it relates to “vulnerable” and “dependent” contractors.

2021 will be a dynamic year and subject to change in the employment space. These and a number of other proposed changes mean that employers will need to stay up to date. Here's hoping this year is more predictable than 2020!

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice.

■ Craig is the HR and employment relations specialist for Business Central in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne. Email: craig.sidoruk@businesscentral.org.nz

Craig Sidoruk