Vodafone warns NZ workers they could be fired if stranded in Australia 'for extended period'

Vodafone has warned employees if they travel to Australia and are "prevented from returning" to New Zealand for an "extended" period of time, they may lose their job.

According to reports from Stuff and the NZ Herald, an internal memo sent to some staff at the telecommunications company last week says employees planning an overseas trip should discuss it with "their people leader before booking flights". 

"Employees should also understand that if they are prevented from returning to NZ and their home/work for an extended period beyond their original approved leave dates, their employment may be terminated."

The warning came just days before the trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia opened up on Monday.

In announcing the bubble earlier this month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed a 'traffic light' system for how the country would manage the bubble if cases of COVID-19 popped up in Australia.

In the worst-case scenario, where there are multiple cases with unknown sources, flights to and from affected states "may be suspended for an extended period". The Government has consistently said travellers need to be aware borders could close if there is an outbreak.

"Quarantine-free travel will not be what it was pre-COVID-19, and those undertaking travel will do so under the guidance of 'flyer beware'," Ardern said. "People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak."

A spokesperson for Vodafone confirmed to Newshub the company had "recently advised our staff to consider all the various possibilities before they depart on personal travel overseas". That included the chance they were unable to return to New Zealand for an extended period.

"We also say, in outlining a last resort if an employee is in a role that cannot be performed overseas, is unable to return, and has exhausted various leave or other options, that employment may not be able to be held open for an extended period and may be terminated, depending on their terms of employment," the spokesperson said.

Currently, business travel for staff is restricted and exceptions require a sign-off from chief executive Jason Paris. Those who do get approval need to design an action plan in case they get stranded.

While some employees could work from Australia or a managed isolation facility, the spokesperson said this was not an option available to all workers, such as those in retail store roles.

"We don't want those people who may not be able to do their jobs remotely to be caught unawares."