Preparing for the longer-term Covid-19 impact

The Government has so far committed $8.7b dollars to help employers get through the Covid-19 crisis. But much more money will be required and employers and employees will need to be flexible, employment law specialist, Liz Coats tells Mark Jennings.

* Watch Mark Jennings' full interview with Liz Coats in the video player below*

Government has been quick to put financial packages in place to cover leave for people who have Covid-19 or been forced to self-isolate. It has also offered to help companies by subsiding wages - but these are relatively short term measures.

Bell Gully partner Liz Coats says many employers are already looking thinking about what’s next. “The measures they put in place [to cover Covid-19 leave] only apply for the next eight weeks from Tuesday of last week and I think it would be safe to predict that in eight weeks who knows what world we will be in? But it won’t be back to normal and there will be employees and employers alike who are still managing Covid-19, whether it is from a health perspective or the impact on their business.”

Coats is anticipating the Government will announce further help soon.

“I expect to see more measures, it might be an extension of what we have got already or something new entirely.”

Coats says the wage subsidy scheme which gives qualifying companies up to $150,000 for a 12 week period has given employers some short-term breathing space.

“It is a measure for sure, and it is something that has been very positively received, but will it stave off lots of redundancies? I suspect it will just delay having to consider that question a little bit.

“There is a wave coming and the wave has already started….a lot of employers have held off on doing anything because they are waiting to see what happens but what we have realised is it’s not going to settle down or be stable or predictable for some time and so on the basis of the limited information they’ve got, there are some employers who are already making those decisions and I do expect there will waves of it as the situation evolves and we know what life is going to be like.”

Another issue employers and employees are having to come to terms with is enforced leave.

“Whether you can be forcing your employees to take annual leave if you have to shut down at any point…Can you force people to take leave if they don’t want to? Under the Holidays Act, you can,with 14 days’ notice, provided you have tried to reach agreement with your employees about the timing of their leave first. What we are seeing is that a lot of employers are directing the taking of annual leave with, I suspect, less than 14 days’ notice but in circumstances where if employees don’t take annual leave it may well be a much more dire and critical situation, so I think a lot of employees are agreeing to take annual leave at short notice as a result of that,” says Coats.

Her advice to employers is to stay flexible in their thinking and increase communication with employees.

“The fundamental core of the employment relationship is the duty of good faith going from one side to the other and that basically means good communication from people to their employers and vice versa. And I think the ability to manage through uncertain times is built around have good policies, but having a flexible approach and communicating that to your people and being open to their feedback and their questions and making sure you keep those lines of communication open.”

Bell Gully is a foundation supporter of Newsroom.

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