COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme expanded for “at risk” employees of all businesses
General / 28 April 2020
With the shift to COVID-19 Alert Level 3, the Government has issued recent guidance around what Alert Level 3 means for those considered as “over 70s and other higher risk groups”, that the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme will be expanded to reflect the change of Alert Levels and to provide support during Alert Level 3. It will be renamed the COVID-19 Leave Payment and applications for those who fall under the expanded scheme will open on 1 May 2020.
Details of expansion
The COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme will no longer be limited to essential services. During Alert Level 3, the Scheme will expand to encompass all businesses, organisations and self-employed people. The expansion aims to support those workers who are at higher risk from COVID-19. We discussed at risk employees in the context of essential businesses here, and most of the same rules apply under Alert Level 3 for all businesses.
Who is eligible for Leave Support?
In short, during Alert Level 3, at risk employees may go to work if they cannot work from home, and if they cannot safely return to work. For those workers who cannot return to work, the Leave Payment will provide support at the same weekly rates of $585.80 for full-time workers and $350.00 for part-time workers.
The Employment New Zealand website sets out eligibility criteria for businesses applying for Leave Support, for employees who are “at risk”, that is:
- Workers who are sick with COVID-19 who are required to remain in isolation until advised by a health professional that they can be released from isolation.
- Workers who are in self-isolation due to close contact with an infected person. For example, a worker identified as possibly infected through contact tracing.
- Workers with dependents who are either sick with COVID-19, or whose dependents are self-isolating as a close contact.
- Workers who have serious health conditions themselves, or in their household, that put them at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, and who agree with their employer that they will not work for an agreed period.
How do I know whether my employees are eligible?
The starting point is to identify “at risk” employees.
To meet health and safety obligations in respect of “at risk” employees, and to ensure employees are not able to take advantage of relying on being “at risk” to not attend work, we recommend taking steps with employees including asking them to advise you of their “at risk” status, and where appropriate seeking proof in support of this, for example:
- medical proof (at your cost) of the condition, impact of COVID-19 on this, and connection with their work; or
- proof from the MOH, doctor, or health board regarding any self isolation requirement.
You should seek advice on what other steps you should take with your particular employees to meet your health and safety and employment law, including good faith, obligations. These will vary depending on your business circumstances.
What criteria must employers meet to apply?
In summary, businesses must:
- Either be able to show:
- You have experienced a minimum 30 percent 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 attributable to the COVID-19outbreak; or
- Had your ability to support your employee due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions negatively impacted; and
- Discuss an application with your employees before making it;
- Get employee consent to the relevant points outlined in the declaration; and
- Agree that employees fall into one of the eligible groups.
Message for Employers
Employers are reminded of their health and safety obligations under Alert Level 3 and the precautions to be taken for higher risk workers. Employers should continue to consult with these employees and determine whether the Leave Payment is an available option for their employees. We can advise on any queries.
Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.