Businesses with staff unable to work from home and are self-isolating while waiting for a coronavirus test result can apply for the COVID-19 short-term absence payment.
Following several new positive COVID-19 cases in south Auckland, the super city went back into alert level 3 (alert level 2 for the rest of the country) from 6am on Sunday. Since mid-February, over 70,000 COVID-19 tests have been completed including 8880 on Monday, with more expected over the coming days.
The COVID-19 short-term absence payment is part of the current round of Government business support payments. It's a one-off payment available to businesses (including self-employed people) whose employees are self-isolating while waiting for a COVID-19 test result and are unable to work from home.
Confirming support payments are available for people while self-isolating, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference on Monday that no one should feel pressured to go to work if they've been told to self-isolate. Businesses are urged to support workers at risk of catching and transmitting the virus to stay home and get tested.
To help employers understand if they're eligible for the short-term absence payment, Newshub has compiled answers to a list of frequently asked questions below. Employment law specialist Jennifer Mills confirms payments received by employers must be paid to employees.
She also looks at options for employees wanting to top up the period of leave.
COVID-19 short-term absence payment
Q1. How much is it and when is it available from?
The benefit is a one-off payment of $350. It's available for COVID-19 tests carried out on or after February 9, 2021.
Applications can be made within eight weeks of the test date. Employers can apply for the benefit once for each employee in a 30-day period (unless the employee is asked to get another test).
Benefit application criteria requires employers to not be receiving another form of COVID-19 payment for that employee, e.g. the COVID-19 leave support scheme or the COVID-19 wage subsidy, while the employee is unable to work.
Q2. Who is eligible for the payment?
Businesses (including self-employed people) are eligible if they're advised an employee is self-isolating at home while waiting for a COVID-19 test.
The benefit is also available for parents or caregivers of dependents waiting for a COVID-19 test result.
Employees who are household members or secondary contacts of close contacts of a COVID-19 case are also eligible if they’ve been told to stay at home until a close contact's test results are confirmed.
More information can be found here.
Q3. How do I apply?
Businesses, including self-employed people can apply for the COVID-19 short-term absence payment online.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) asks that businesses check with their employee that the date of their COVID-19 test was within the last eight weeks (no earlier than February 9, 2021).
"[We advise they] discuss the application before submitting it and acknowledge the employee must stay home," group general manager employment Jayne Russell said.
A declaration is required as part of the application.
More information on how to apply can be found here.
If an employee tests positive, the COVID-19 leave support scheme is available.
Q4. What’s the difference between the COVID-19 short-term absence payment and the COVID-19 leave support scheme?
The COVID-19 short-term absence payment is a one-off payment of $350. It covers employees (including self-employed people) who are self-isolating while waiting for COVID-19 test results and can’t work at home.
The COVID-19 leave support scheme is a two-week lump sum payment for each employee, calculated as $585.80 per week for full-time and $350 per week for part-time employees. It’s available for employees (including self-employed people) who are told to self-isolate and can’t work from home. This includes those who are sick with COVID-19 or identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case. It can also be paid to those considered ‘higher risk’ if they contract the virus.
Q5. If employers don't apply for the short-term absence payment, can the leave be taken out of an employee’s sick leave or annual leave instead?
Employment law expert Jennifer Mills said employers aren't obliged to apply for financial assistance. But if they apply for and receive the COVID-19 short-term absence payment or the COVID-19 leave support scheme, they’re required to pay at least the whole amount to their employee/s.
If the benefit amount of $350 is less than the amount an employee would typically be paid while waiting for a COVID-19 test result, they can ask their employer to top it up using their accrued sick leave or annual leave.
"In order to ensure they're not financially disadvantaged, employees may wish to use any sick leave or annual holidays (if they are entitled)," Mills said.
Employees and employers are urged to check the employment agreement and discuss and agree in writing how any additional time off work will be paid.
"There's no requirement that any period of absence be taken as one type of leave. Each scenario will depend on what is agreed, although may be influenced by the employee’s entitlement to sick leave or annual holidays," Mills added.
MSD told Newshub on Tuesday that details of the COVID-19 wage subsidy were still being finalised.
"We'll be updating our website after final decisions on the scheme have been made by ministers...in the meantime, to receive an update on the scheme, employers are able to express an interest through our website," Russell said.