On 2 April 2020 the Government established the Essential Workers Leave Support package, which is available from 6 April 2020. Here's how it works:

The scheme allows essential businesses to pay their employees who cannot work and need to take leave due to COVID-19 Ministry of Health guidelines.

The scheme is focussed on supporting three groups of essential employees:

  • Employees who are self-isolating in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines because they have contracted the virus or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus (or have a dependent they need to care for who is sick or self-isolating);
  • Those deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19 (such as people over 70 and immunocompromised people), who have been advised to self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines; and
  • Those who have household members who are deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines.

To be eligible for the scheme employers must:

  • Have discussed how they can best support the relevant employee(s) during their period of leave. For example, employees may choose to use any sick or annual leave they have, instead of receiving the Leave Support payments. If an employer cannot meet the full amount of employees' usual leave payments they can use the Leave Support to top it up; and
  • Not be able to financially support the employee(s) while they cannot work due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions. For example, in the event the employer cannot meet the cost of employees' leave, or replacement staff.

The leave support package is paid in a lump sum at a flat rate of:

  • $585.80 for employees who work 20 hours or more per week (full-time rate); or
  • $350.00 for employees who work less than 20 hours per week (part-time rate).

The support package is paid to cover a four week period. There is no limit on the amount of times it can be applied for.

Employers cannot receive both the Wage Subsidy and the Essential Workers Leave Support for the same employee at the same time. Employers are encouraged to apply for the payment that is most appropriate to the employee's situation.

As part of the application, employers must make the same declaration as they do for the Wage Subsidy. Specifically that they will "not make any changes to obligations under any employment agreement, including to rates of pay, hours of work and leave entitlements, without the written agreement of the relevant employee".

Employers are still required to obtain the consent (in writing, if practicable) of all employees named in the application for the employer to provide information about them to the Ministry of Social Development as part of the application, among other things, before applying for the support.

Employers are also required to declare that their employee(s) have advised them that they cannot work because they fall into one of the three specific categories outlined above, and the employer is in agreement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.