Coronavirus factsheet for employers

Read our coronavirus Q&A to find out how the outbreak could impact your workplace.

BrightHR Team

First published 18th March 2020. Last updated 18th March at 5pm.

Now that the coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about how it will impact your business and what you can do as an employer. Here we answer some of your complex HR questions…

Q. What should I do if one of my employees is diagnosed with coronavirus?

A. In the unfortunate case that an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, it is recommended for employers to follow normal sick leave and long-term illness policies and procedures.

Employers should be cautious of taking any detrimental action (eg termination or discipline) against an ill or injured employee without seeking workplace relations advice.

It is also recommended that employers keep in regular contact with the employee to both ascertain that an employee is free of the virus, and that they are safe to return.

Q. One of my employees has been diagnosed with coronavirus, are they entitled to sick leave?

A. All of your employees are entitled to sick leave if they have six months of current and continuous employment with you, or if they have worked for you for six months with an average of 10 hours per week and at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month.

An employee who has extra sick leave benefits in their employment agreement might be required to submit a certain kind of medical report. Depending on the agreement, they might also be liable for the cost of getting proof.

Q. My employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus but has used up their sick leave, do they have any additional entitlement?

A. If an employee has used all of their sick leave entitlements and still needs extra time to recover from an illness or injury, they have a few options:

  • Ask their employer to use sick leave in advance. For example, if the employee is two months away from receiving an additional five days of sick leave, they can by agreement, use two of those five sick leave days to recover. When the time comes to receive the additional sick leave, they will get three days, as they already used up two of the total sick leave days
  • Use their annual leave to recover from illness or personal injury
  • Ask their employer to take an extended unpaid sick leave

The above options are by agreement between the employer and employee.

Q. What are my obligations if one or all of my employees have to work remotely because of coronavirus or self-isolation?

A. Working remotely can be a good way of mitigating business interruption if an employee is told to self-isolate.

There should be clear guidelines and policies so expectations and obligations are clear from the outset.  This can include remote workstation health and safety assessments or policies on using and returning employer property, such as laptops.  Any modifications to duties should also be discussed.

Generally, the employee should still be provided with their guaranteed hours and normal pay – any changes to hours or pay should follow due consultation with the employee.

Q. What can I do if business is slowing down due to the coronavirus?

A. If your business is experiencing a significant downturn as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus, you may qualify to receive financial assistance through the New Zealand Government’s planned stimulus package. Alternatively, you me be able to restructure your business resulting in reduced hours for staff or redundancies.

As with any restructure there is a specific step by step consultation process to follow as employees must be advised of the proposed changes in great detail, and their feedback must be considered prior to confirming any outcomes.

It is recommended that you seek workplace relations advice before commencing a restructure process.