AUT’s new policy ‘to make sure staff don’t hit the wall’

A number of New Zealand organisations are taking new approaches to sick leave as the Covid-19 outbreak grinds on.

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There are a number of pain-points, including the statutory minimum five days a year sick leave, which can soon disappear if employees are encouraged to stay come if ill, and the stress many feel after months of pandemic stress.

Against this backdrop, AUT has taken a radical approach to sick leave.

“In September AUT announced that we would support our people’s wellbeing, and recognise the personal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, by not deducting sick leave from our staff’s leave balances for the rest of 2020,” says the university’s communications head, Alison Sykora.

“We know staff had been working hard during uncertain times and want to make sure they do not hit the wall – with this in mind, we also encouraged them to take a day off to recharge or recover.”

There are a couple of caveats. Sick leave still needs to be recorded, but it is being done separately, Sykora says. Long term sick leave continues to be approached on a case-by-case basis.

However the pandemic plays out, all employers need to brace for changes to the employment law around leave in the New Year.

Five to 10 days

During the campaign, Labour said, if re-elected, it would legislate to increase the statutory minimum sick leave for workers from five to 10 days.

“To maintain healthy workplaces and to prevent the spread of Covid-19, all workers must be able to take sick leave while self-isolating,” workplace relations spokesman Andrew Little

“The costs to the economy of going into lockdown far outweigh the costs of employees staying home sick.”

Little said Labour is looking to make the change (and others to employment law) within its first 100 days and would work with businesses and unions on timeframes.

Covid leave support scheme

Many larger organisations have made a temporary change from five to 10 sick-leave days during the outbreak allowed staff to go into leave deficit.

With many white-collar roles, the impact of Covid is mitigated by the fact someone with a sniffle – or who has been required to self-isolate for two weeks – can work remotely.

But there are also many who can’t work remotely.

And for those, there is some government support.

The Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme has gone through a couple of incarnations.

Since September 28, it’s been available for those who have been ordered by the Ministry of Health to self-isolate but are unable to work from home.

The Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme offers payments of up to $585.80 per week for full-time employee, or $350 for someone working up to 20 hours per week. It only covers two weeks, but an employer (or a self-employed person) can reapply for a staffer if they are required to isolate again.

Previously, the leave support scheme came with a caveat: any employer who wanted to apply for their workers needed to pass a revenue test showing their business suffered an actual or predicted 30% decline in revenue over a month because of the impacts of Covid-19. That criterion has now been removed but, otherwise, a similar level of detail about your business has to be supplied as the now phased-out wage subsidy.

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