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The Canterbury area is currently welcoming dry weather following the devastating floods they have just experienced.
This weather event was so severe, the MetService issued a rare ‘Red Warning’ – which means an event is expected to be among the worst that we get. This means the weather will have a significant impact and the possibility that a lot of people will be affected.
In situations such as these people have to take immediate action with no time for giving consideration to matters such as ‘what are employee rights during flooding events or other natural disasters’.
With infrastructure such as roads and bridges destroyed, causing disruption to transport – along with businesses and schools potentially being closed, and homes being damaged – this could leave some workers struggling to get to work.
This comes before thinking about the interests of the business or organisation and during these events employers and employees should try to keep in regular contact and deal with each other in good faith.
Employees may not be able to attend work for various reasons including:
Without being clear about what these documents include, employers and employees cannot just assume that time away from work in these circumstances would be either paid or unpaid. If these situations are not covered, then it is up to both parties to talk about it in good faith and agree on how the time away from work will be classed.
If an employee’s partner or dependent family member isn’t injured or sick but he or she requires care, e.g., because their child’s school is closed, the employee cannot take sick leave. In some cases, employees may be able to continue to work while caring for their family, if the employer and employee agree to this arrangement. If it is not appropriate or possible for staff to continue working, employees and employers will need to agree on what basis the employee is off work.
Whichever option the employer and employee agree on may depend upon the circumstances, including the nature and extent of the disaster and how long it lasts.
Once all leave entitlements under the Holidays Act 2003 and any negotiated additional leave or any anticipated leave entitlements run out, employees and their employers will need to consider further options in good faith (and consider the impact these options will have on business recovery later).
NB: There are special rules for shift workers relating to the cancellation or early ending of a shift. (Seek HR advice from ConsultingHQ if you have shift workers and you are unsure of what it means for your business).
In situations such as the Canterbury flooding, an employee may not be able to come to work for a variety of reasons e.g., they cannot access work due to circumstances out of their control, telecommunications systems are down and they cannot contact you, or they themselves are injured or sick.
New Zealand employment legislation is very clear that employers must follow a fair and reasonable process in disciplinary matters, and keep an open mind when dealing with problems, and act in good faith before dismissing an employee. The reasons that an employee could be dismissed for during a disaster or emergency are very specific.
If your business is faced with a potential disciplinary situation, we recommend you seek advice from ConsultingHQ Consultants before taking any action.
ConsultingHQ has recently received enquiries from clients about how the new quarantine-free travel affects their business and employees. The details below are correct as of 12 May 2021.
New Zealand Citizens may now travel to all Australian states and territories and the Cook Islands (from 17 May) without having to go into a managed isolation facility on arrival in Australia or the Cook Islands – or on return to New Zealand. All other standard border clearance requirements (health, immigration, biosecurity etc.) still apply.
Since implementing the quarantine-free travel arrangements with Australia on 18 April there have already been hiccups, with travel paused for several days while outbreaks have been investigated and contained. Therefore, given the contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus, border requirements and travel arrangements can change at short notice. Australian states and territories can have different entry requirements and rules, so travellers should check the conditions and requirements in each state that they intend to visit prior to booking and travelling.
For any international travel, even between NZ and Australia, travellers should check the latest Government guidance and register their details with the NZ Foreign Affairs and Trade Safe Travel website so they can receive up-to-date travel advice.
Travel insurance: International travellers should ensure they are covered by comprehensive travel insurance and that they have a good understanding of what their policy covers.
An employer is entitled to ask employees if they are planning to travel to Australia, the Cook Islands, or any other international destination during annual leave – however, employees are not legally required to tell you. The law recognises that employees have a right to privacy, and to not have the reason they are requesting leave prejudice the granting of leave.
There is some risk to a business if an employee travels to Australia or to the Cook Islands, and border regulations change due to an outbreak of Covid-19 resulting in the employee is potentially being away from work longer than intended.
Therefore, because of this, it is reasonable for an employer to ask their employees if they are planning to travel to Australia or other quarantine-free locations, and it is reasonable for employees to confirm whether they are or are not.
Our view is that an employer could not do that. As the NZ Government has opened quarantine travel it is perfectly legitimate for a person to travel to Australia or to the Cook Islands and technically, they are no different to an employee who requests leave to travel within NZ (or to stay at home for that matter).
For an employer to decline a request for leave to travel to Australia or the Cook Islands, the employer would need to demonstrate that they were in a high-risk workplace where employees were in close contact with other people, or that the workplace cared for vulnerable people.
Of course, as per normal circumstances an employer can decline a request for leave if it does not suit the needs of the business or if the employee does not have enough annual leave entitlement available.
If you are concerned about business continuity and the potential for an employee to get caught in Australia or the Cook Islands due to a lockdown or that they might have to go into managed isolation on return, you can limit the amount of leave that you approve in any given period.
It does make sense to prepare a contingency plan to manage the risk of your employee(s) getting stuck in Australia or the Cook Islands or going into managed isolation for 14 days – the best outcome would be if you did not need to use it! At this early stage in the quarantine-free arrangements we do not know what impact there would be on these arrangements if there was a serious Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown in a country an employee was visiting.
Any policies you develop should be broad and general, so your people are aware that the business intends to closely monitor and manage the situation, and to support people as far as practicable if the worst occurred and they had to stay in Australia or the Cook Islands or complete a period of managed isolation on return.
As always, any impacts on an individual’s employment should be addressed on a case-by-case basis with that employee and the outcome would depend on their individual circumstances.
If you have concerns about your employees travelling to quarantine-free countries for their leave it is recommended that you talk to them about this. New Zealand Citizens often have close family and friends in Australia and the Cook Islands and it is expected there will be a lot of travel between the countries involved.
You should talk to them about the potential worst-case scenarios and what plans you have put in place, and if there would be any company support available for employees if stranded or having to undertake managed isolation.
If in the case of changes to quarantine-free travel, discuss with them what the employee might do if they had to take extended time away from work or perform their role (or some of it) remotely.
These are the sorts of things you could cover:
If an employee is either unable to return to New Zealand from Australia or the Cook Islands or must complete a period of managed isolation, and they can work remotely, you should pay them as usual.
If they can do some but not all their work, pay them for the work they can do and agree on an alternative arrangement for them for the rest of their time.
This might be:
If they cannot do any remote work, discuss how a period of extended absence will be treated, as either paid or unpaid leave.
If away for an extended period, you may need to consider how long you can reasonably keep the employee’s job open for them and how long it may take for them to return to work. If the period of absence extends unreasonably, you must consult with the person about their ongoing employment.
If the employee needs to complete managed isolation on their return to New Zealand, and cannot work remotely, there is a good argument that they are not able to work and therefore not entitled to be paid.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires all employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others who come to the workplace. This includes ensuring that staff or customers are not put at risk by an employee returning to work without completing the isolation requirements that may be stipulated by the Ministry of Health.
Employers may require that an employee stay away from work until Ministry of Health guidelines have been met.
Please get in touch if you have a question that we have not covered here.
Almost every great accomplishment has at its core, solid leadership. When everything is going well it is leadership that keeps people from getting complacent. When things are going poorly it is leadership that guides and encourages people, it is leadership that sets the new course, and it is leadership that provides hope for positive future outcomes.
Leadership style refers to a leader’s characteristic behaviours when directing, motivating, guiding, and managing groups of people. History has shown how great leaders can inspire political movements and social change.
Great leaders can also motivate others to perform, create, and innovate. In the past, managers used to operate with a rigid, bottom-line focussed, heavy into a command-and-control style of leadership. However, in most situations that style does not work now. Values have changed.
While subsequent research has identified other more defined types of leadership, this early work provided a catalyst for the identification of other characteristic patterns of leadership including the transformational leadership style which is often identified as the single most effective style.
They are not only committed to helping the organization achieve its goals, but also to helping group members fulfil their potential. Research shows that this style of leadership results in higher performance, more improved group satisfaction than other leadership styles as well as leading to improved well-being among group members.
However, it is not easy being a leader, especially these days when we are living in times of continual and, at times, exponential change.
The social and economic crisis caused by the current global pandemic is an extreme but relevant example of the types of challenges leaders face today.
Like any other crisis, the disruptive force and major social impacts were entirely unexpected and during the early days of the pandemic the most urgent objective of leaders would be to safeguard the future of the organisation and by adopting a more autocratic approach, making quick decisions for today while also considering what will be the “next normal” for tomorrow.
The “next normal” is the opportunity for organisations to emerge from this crisis stronger than before and in the post-pandemic world, smart leaders will need to adapt their leadership style.
Covid-19 has changed what business leadership looks like now, and for the foreseeable future. The more directive leadership style adopted in the early days of the pandemic would be perceived as an overly directive, actionist one-leader show during business as usual.
Smart leaders need to adapt and be prepared to change their leadership style in the post-pandemic world and as Michael Dell (the founder of Dell Computers at age 20) said “I’ve learned that you have to take advantage of change and not let it take advantage of you”.
COVID-19 vaccines will play a critical role in protecting the health and wellbeing of people in New Zealand which will enable our social, economic, and cultural recovery.
Workplaces in New Zealand will be essential in making access to vaccines as easy as possible for all those employed in them – including employees and independent contractors. To help New Zealand’s COVID-19 Immunisation Programme succeed, the Government is recommending employers encourage and support their workforce (including part time, casual and independent contractors) to get vaccinated.
This could include:
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 states that employers have an obligation to ensure a safe workplace, as reasonably as they can, and vaccinations can be critical to this. Therefore, an employer must do what is reasonably practicable to reduce the likelihood of infection in the workplace.
Ideally, all the workforce would choose to be vaccinated to control the risk of infection, some may not, therefore a business must have additional health and safety plans in place to manage these circumstances.
The employer can request but cannot require an existing employee to be vaccinated.
In relation to health and safety in the workplace, a PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) must ensure health and safety as far as reasonably practicable.
Given the current state of transmission in New Zealand, where workplaces have been able to operate safely without vaccinated staff, it will currently be hard to argue that a person being unvaccinated is a significant health and safety risk but that will depend on the industry and any further changes (such as borders opening).
The employer can ask employees whether they have been vaccinated for risk assessment purposes. If an employee declined to provide the information, the employer should proceed as though the employee has not been vaccinated but should first inform the employee of this assumption.
If workers in the workplace are not vaccinated, the PCBU should do a risk assessment to decide if further control measures are needed to reduce the risk of transmission. Alternative control measures could include (but are not limited to): lower risk duties or worksites for the worker; eliminating or limiting close or face to face interaction with others; working from home where possible; increased social distancing requirements; increased hygiene and cleaning practices; additional training and posters; temperature checks; and additional PPE.
If an employer believes on reasonable grounds that there is a real and imminent risk to health and safety which can only be adequately addressed by vaccine (this is only likely to be in very limited situations where close contact is unavoidable and PPE not wholly effective e.g. health care situations) the employer must consult with the employee and explore all reasonable alternatives and it will only be when all other options are exhausted, that termination of employment would be justifiable. The employer should take specific expert advice on the health and safety requirements, risk and employment implications.
Employers can require vaccination as a condition for new employees, but only where this is reasonable for the role e.g. where the employer has identified real and imminent risk to an employee working without vaccination and has considered alternatives. This is only likely to be reasonable in limited circumstances such as nursing homes.
Employers need to be careful that they are not exposing themselves to discrimination claims by rejecting an employee based on the candidate’s decision to refuse vaccination. That decision could be based on a pre-existing medical condition or religious grounds. Given the current state of transmission in New Zealand, where workplaces have been able to operate safely without vaccinated staff, it will currently be hard to state that a person being unvaccinated is a significant health and safety risk unless the business is particularly high risk or there is a law change. However, when NZ’s borders reopen, this may create a different situation.
If an employer is asking an employee to receive the vaccine, then the employee should be paid for the time it takes to get the vaccine. If the employer is encouraging employees to receive the vaccine, the employer should discuss time off work and whether the time will be paid with the employee and come to a mutual agreement. Employers should consider whether allowing paid time off work will help encourage staff to receive the vaccine.
Start now by thinking about factors specific to your particular workplace including:
Commence conversations with your employees about COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible. The consultation and support approach is the best way. Remember that all discussions about COVID-19 vaccination must be fair and reasonable and done in good faith.
Keep up to date with information that is provided on NZ government websites and think about where your business and workers fit in the vaccine rollout. Share information with your team.
Make vaccination as easy as possible for your people.
If your business is considering a vaccination policy for employees as part of your response to Covid-19, please feel free to contact us for advice specific to your situation.
Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19 – As many employees return to offices, employers should expect to notice some subtle changes in employee behaviour that may warrant focus for the early weeks back at work – particularly in light of potential restructures.
While the closedown has been stressful for employers, so also has the sudden separation from peers and adjustment to working remotely, in some cases under revised employment conditions & pay rates for your employees.
Employees are well aware of the challenges that employers face in the current uncertain environment – and they are aware of what that may mean for their future employment – creating a potentially stressful return to work environment for many.
Anxious employees are generally more distracted, make more errors and have less energy overall. This is a normal human response to increased levels of anxiety.
Here are our recommended actions for employers in the early stages to reassure and refocus employees.
While this may be a drain on your time, employees are reliant on you for their income and they need to know where they stand.
Commence restructure conversations as soon as possible, and be decisive about your actions and communications in this area.
People would rather know and make plans than not know and worry. The processes for restructure and redundancy is clear – the consultation & communication process takes a number of weeks, so it really is better to get your plan sorted, then executed. Be sure you remain compliant with all processes – the regulations around employment remain in place as pre COVID. Employers are obliged to follow a process with consultation & consideration.
In considering your succession plan and skill gap map as part of your overall restructure planning, a period of reduced productivity for your business may be an excellent time to consider skill training for some employees to close skill gaps and test aptitude in new areas.
While this process needs to be carefully managed for expectations, high performing employees will relish the opportunity to contribute to pivot concepts for your business – these employees have most likely spend some time considering areas of opportunity during the close down. It will be fantastic for them to brainstorm ideas under supervision – and who knows, some of the ideas might be fabulous suggestions that you had not yet considered.
Enforce your operational and behavioural standards
All your employees have been absent for a lengthy period. Make sure your standards of behaviour including dress code & working hours are back in place immediately – this will give employees a sense of ‘normal’ that will help them click back into gear.
This will be reasonably easy to slide into the conversation as you reinforce new distancing & tracking protocols in place for the return to work safely guidelines.
Unless you have a reason to be absent from the workplace – and of course distancing protocols will be required, but make sure you are available for your team. While employers have had a hugely stressful time – don’t forget your entire team has also been stressed – and many of them will have been worried about you, your business and their employment. Allow people to chat and reconnect with you in their own time.
Managing Employee Engagement and Productivity Post COVID-19
With so much pressure on employers in 2020 due to COVID-19 – the introduction of work from home, social distancing and hygiene practices to prevent a second wave during Level 3 Alert, some employers will also need to consider restructuring and potentially disestablishing some positions to navigate their business forward.
Firstly, it is important to note that employers are obliged to act in good faith and in the interests of employees as well as in the interests of their business at all times.
Employers have the right to act in accordance with the requirements of their business, but a process must be followed in the area of altering the structure – whether it be for business growth or reduction.
Restructures are commonly assessed due to a change of market and trading environment, an acquisition or a change in direction in business strategy.
Firstly, by way of definition, redundancy (otherwise termed as role disestablishment) is the outcome of a restructuring process, and would usually be considered the last resort in terms of the employee or employees concerned.
Role disestablishment does not always mean the termination of an employee’s contract – very commonly where a role is disestablished, the employee is moved into another broader (or more specialised) role.
The single most important consideration is whether or not the role is required in the immediate and foreseeable future for the business.
To begin the process of business restructure, the business plan must first be put in place and all resources – inclusive of workforce, taken into consideration.
Where workforce is concerned, the skill matrix identifying gaps and overlaps is a key element. While a downsized structure due to pressure on profitability and business viability is in question, succession planning must also be considered and the business plan needs to examine areas of potential growth and increased margin.
In this regard, your overall restructuring strategy may well require the introduction of new or higher skills in some areas – or specific requirements for experience and expertise may be sought out for business plan progression into new avenues.
A restructure does not necessarily mean a chopping of employee numbers (although this is commonly the outcome). Every aspect of business must be carefully considered.
Where role disestablishment is the only option – and no new role can be established for the employee in the role, redundancy due to role disestablishment takes place.
Careful communication with the employee concerned is required. Redundancy is very stressful for employees and it’s important that it is not a surprise – and equally important that all avenues for retaining or repositioning this employee are evaluated.
Employees faced with disestablishment must be paid all owing holiday pay in their final pay cycle, they must be allowed time to attend interviews if they wish to and they may also be offered outplacement support – which involves assisting them with CV optimisation, prepares them for successful interviewing and ensures they are feeling as optimistic and positive as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.
If employers are feeling unsure about the correct process to follow – ensuring compliance and risk minimisation during this process, professional HR support is recommended.
For full and detailed guidance, please contact us and one of our consultants will be happy to assist you, or you may wish to consider purchasing our Restructure & Redundancy Toolkit from this website.
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