On 2 April 2020, the Government announced an "essential workers leave scheme" in relation to essential workers who are unable to work from home and become sick or are vulnerable, or who have sick or vulnerable members of their household. The scheme will ensure that workers in that category will continue to receive income, and will plug a gap left when the Government rolled the leave subsidy into the wage subsidy last week. The scheme will allow essential businesses to pay employees who need to take leave due to the COVID-19 Public Health guidance at the same rates as the Wage Subsidy Scheme, being $585.80 per week for full-time workers, and $350.00 per week for part-time workers.
The Government has outlined that the scheme is focused on three groups of essential business employees, and employers will be eligible to apply for those employees under the scheme. The three groups of essential business employees are:
- workers who are self-isolating because they have contracted COVID-19 or have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, or have a dependent they need to care for who is sick or self-isolating;
- those deemed at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19; and
- those who have household members who are deemed at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
Employers accessing the scheme should pay employees their usual weekly income before COVID-19, if this is less than the relevant rate provided for by the scheme; or a minimum of the relevant rate provided by the scheme if the employees' usual income before COVID-19 exceeds the relevant rate. If employers are paying the relevant rate provided by the scheme, they should also make best endeavours to pay at least 80% of the employees' usual income before COVID-19. Employees who are on other forms of paid leave should be paid at their usual full rates of pay.
Payments issued will be four-weekly, with businesses able to re-apply for those same workers after four weeks, or to make further applications for additional employees who are eligible at any time, while the scheme remains open. The scheme will be available for online application from Monday 6 April 2020, and will be available for at least the period during which the nation is at Alert Level Four, with ministers reviewing the scheme after eight weeks.
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