First Union condemns Pandora sick leave video

First Union has condemned a video in which Pandora staff are told not to call in sick over the busy Christmas period

A video forwarded to Newshub this week shows Joseph Howley, director of The Howley Group which franchises several Pandora stores across New Zealand and Australia, telling staff they shouldn't call in sick to work. 

"We're going onto a very busy time of the year, and it's so important to me, okay. You are very important to this business - don't call in sick, okay?" Howley says in the video.

He then goes on to say that if anyone does call sick, they need to contact him directly. 

This is despite the COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins telling people at the launch of the Make Summer Unstoppable campaign to stay home if they are unwell. 

Howley's instructions have been criticised by First Union, which told Newshub it was up to retail employers to ensure there are adequate staffing levels to cover for sick employees. 

"Retail employers need to get with the programme that we are living during a time of pandemic. You can't force people to come into work sick anytime, but particularly in a time of pandemic when you are risking the nation's health by people coming into work sick," First Union's Retail Secretary Tali Williams said.

"If [Howley] is concerned about customers during the next three weeks getting adequate service from Pandora, that means having safe staffing levels, so adequate cover when people do take sick leave. That is the correct response of a retail employer during Christmas and particularly during a pandemic."

Williams said staff should be apologised to and that it was in the interests of employers to make sure illness is not passed on to the wider community, as any spread of COVID-19 could result in a lockdown.

"It is retail employers who stand to lose if COVID comes back to New Zealand. It is not just about the nation's health, but also about the nation's economy," she said.

"Businesses might need to shut down so the best thing to do right now is ensure safe staffing levels, ensure that your workers feel safe to be able to call into work sick and then we all stay healthy and happy over Christmas."

Having to call Howley directly would also be very difficult for some employees, she said. 

"For these employees, they will be feeling extremely intimidated at the prospect of having to call into work sick even if it was completely genuine and they knew they were putting customers at risk by coming into work sick," Williams said.

"The thought of having to call the CEO, the executive director, in order to be able to get sick leave is going to put anybody off and they are going to end up, possibly, passing on very serious illnesses to customers at a very busy customer-saturated time of year, Christmas."

Pandora told Newshub that the video was meant to be directed specifically at one Australian store and wasn't for New Zealand staff. However, Newshub has been told by staff in New Zealand that they were told to watch the video. 

"Whilst we understand that the video was directed specifically at an Australian store, addressing the franchise partner's concerns as to adherence of policy in relation to the requisite notification when staff are unwell, fundamentally the content is not aligned with our overarching approach or who we are as a brand," Pandora said. 

"At all times, as well as throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pandora unconditionally supports, implements and enforces all vital health and safety guidelines, including the utilisation of personal leave when staff are unwell. Indeed, it is of the utmost importance to Pandora that the wellbeing of our team is prioritised."

Pandora said it had spoken to Howley.

"Whilst their intentions were not represented successfully in the video, we sincerely apologise to staff for any upset caused and we categorically make ourselves available to ensure that they are aware of their entitlements."

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said the message in the video is wrong. 

"It's wrong legally, it's wrong in terms of how we expect people to behave during this COVID period, and I've taken action by contacting the company directly."

Howley's video emerged just a day after Hipkins stressed the need for Kiwis not to become complacent with their health over summer. One of the key parts of the 'Make Summer Unstoppable' campaign is for people to stay at home if they're "feeling even a little unwell".