'The future is uncertain': What the coronavirus lockdown could mean for jobs and businesses

An employment law expert says there is no guarantee people will still have their jobs when New Zealand is lifted out of lockdown.

Employment law consultant Sarah Rudkin told Magic Talk on Tuesday the country is living through very unusual times.

"The future is uncertain - the challenge for all businesses is whether they can sustain this period of inoperability," she said.

Rudkin said in cases where businesses have had to shut their doors entirely it's not clear if employees will have jobs to return to.

"We can't possibly predict the impact this lockdown will have on businesses. If businesses have been severely impacted by the lockdown and COVID-19 they may be faced with making some difficult long term choices [such as letting go of staff]."

"This is an evolving scenario with no real definitive future."

The lockdown presents unique challenges around paying out annual leave too.

"In usual circumstances - and these are far from it - employers would normally give an employee a period of 14 days notice to take annual leave," said Rudkin.

The four-week lockdown period was announced on Monday with 48 hours notice before it takes effect on Wednesday.

"There's no notice period to force employees to take annual leave - so at the end of the day if people chose not to take annual leave they could be facing leave without pay," she continued.


"If they have no leave owing to them obviously employers can consider special leave with pay but for some small to medium businesses that may not be an option."

Rudkin says the Government will be stepping in to provide assistance to businesses.

"Ministry of Social Development is working with employers to help them sort that out and having access to that Government assistance will provide some economic support to employees and businesses."

On Wednesday New Zealand will enter a near complete lockdown. All non-essential businesses will close, public transport and air travel will be severely restricted and people will be urged to remain inside.

The country currently has 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19.