Refresher: Rules for employers and employees for working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown

Many people have to juggle work responsibilities with family obligations.
Many people have to juggle work responsibilities with family obligations. Photo credit: Getty

With Auckland returning to alert level 3 and the rest the country moving to level 2 after community transmission of COVID-19 was once again confirmed this week, there's a sense of déjà vu for many Kiwis.

With non-essential workers all across Auckland now urged to stay home, many are once again juggling their work responsibilities with family obligations, such as caring for young children.

Although the lockdown has been set to last just three days, many fear with more cases already being confirmed it will be extended for longer.

So what are the rules when it comes to working more flexibly during these complicated times?

Newshub spoke to employment law expert Jennifer Mills  to get a refresher.

What happens if I can't work from home - does my employer still need to pay me?

"Generally, an employee needs to be ready, willing and able to perform work in order to be paid," says Mills.

"If an employee is unable to attend work and is unable to work from home then they are not able to perform work.  As such, they are not entitled to be paid."

If I can work from home, but due to having young children around or other obligations I can't work full time or my normal hours - is this ok? Will I get paid less?  

"Employees in this situation will need to discuss this with their employer," says Mills.

"Whether an employee who cannot perform their full contractual hours/duties will be entitled to their full pay will ultimately depend on the wording of their employment agreement."

What about if I can't work at all because I need to look after my children since schools are closed? 

"If an employee is unable to work due to the need to look after their children, they are not ready, willing and able to perform work.  In these circumstances, an employee would not be entitled to be paid."

Jennifer Mills is director of the law firm Jennifer Mills and Associates.
Jennifer Mills is director of the law firm Jennifer Mills and Associates. Photo credit: Supplied

What happens if I was just about to start a new job before the lockdown began. Can the employer move my start date?  

"If an employer and an employee have agreed on a commencement date, that date will have effect unless agreed otherwise."

Can an employer force me to take annual leave during the lockdown?  

"An employer can give an employee 14 days’ notice of the requirement to take annual leave."

What happens if I don't have any annual leave to take?  

"If an employee does not have any annual leave, they ought to try to reach an arrangement with their employer," says Mills

"An employer may allow an employee to take an agreed portion of annual leave in advance.  Otherwise, an employee may take leave without pay."

Are the rules, in general, any different for casual and/or contract workers?  

"An employer does not have an obligation to offer a casual employee work.  As such, an employer may simply stop rostering the casual employee any work.  Regarding independent contractors, that will depend on the necessary terms of the contract for services."

What can I do if the company I work for says that due to the economic hardship of COVID-19 it can't pay me? 

"An employer is not able to unilaterally vary or stop paying an employee’s wages as outlined in their employment agreement.  That said, the employee is always able to agree to a reduction in wages," says Mills.