My employment contract changed due to COVID-19 – what are my rights?

Shine Lawyers New Zealand - Right Wrong

COVID-19 has reshaped the way many businesses and organisations operate. In some cases, employers have changed employment contracts, leaving employees feeling confused and concerned. Understanding your rights is crucial, especially if your employment contract changed due to the pandemic.

To help guide you, our Employment Law experts have complied and answered common questions related to your employment rights. Read on to find out more.

Can my employer make me take annual leave?

You are allowed to use your existing annual leave entitlements, but your employer cannot force you to use your annual leave unless you are given notice in writing. 

If you are unvaccinated and your role requires you to be vaccinated, it is up to you to set aside a reasonable time to receive the jab. If you are then unable to work during this time, you should discuss with your employer the option for special paid leave.  

If you and your employer cannot agree on the terms of your leave, then your employer can direct you to take annual leave, but only with 14 days’ notice. This does not mean however that your employer can ask you to use annual or sick leave to get vaccinated. If you require time off work to manage any side effects from the vaccine, that time can be taken as sick leave.

Can my employer make me take a pay cut?

Whether you are working home, or in the office, you should continue to be paid, as normal, for every hour that you work. Under no circumstances can your employer pay less than the minimum wage or reduce any legal minimum employment entitlements. 

However, in some situations, an employer can propose a reduction of pay, but only for genuine reasons such as:  

  • financial, commercial, or economic problems within the business  
  • genuine restructuring of the business, 
  • an alternative to redundancy.  

The length of time for this change must be stated in writing in your employment agreement variation.

Can my employer reduce my hours?

Businesses may consider changes that could see workplaces temporarily closing or reducing hours. In some situations, reducing your hours may be suggested as an alternative to redundancy.

If your employment agreement states your hours of work, then your employer cannot change them without your consent, and this must be negotiated in good faith. Even if your employment agreement says the hours of work can change, the employer still must act fairly and reasonably beforehand. 

Important note: Any changes made to your working hours – temporary or permanent – must be stated in writing in your employment agreement variation.

Can my employer stand me down because of my vaccination status?

Your employer cannot make you take unpaid leave without your consent, and you cannot be deployed or disadvantaged for refusing to disclose your vaccination status.

It is up to your employer to communicate with you about the business’s vaccination expectations and work through those processes with you before deciding on an outcome.  

If you cannot work due to your vaccination status, special paid leave should be considered, especially in the short term while you negotiate an employment agreement variation. 

If you are unvaccinated and your job requires you to be, your employer must discuss with you any alternatives to continue working unvaccinated before making the decision to stand you down.

Can my employer make me redundant?

A redundancy should always be the last option after other alternative employment arrangements have been discussed with your employer.  

If you are made redundant, your employer is required to give you sufficient information to be able to understand the proposal and reasonable time to respond.

The Employment Relations Act requires employers to provide employees with at least four weeks paid written notice of termination. If you have a notice period longer than four weeks in your employment agreement, that longer notice period will continue to apply.

Our handy tip: Check your eligibility for support from Work and Income if you have lost your job because you have not received the COVID-19 vaccination.

What about my contract?

Regardless of the pandemic, the terms agreed in your employment contract must be seen by your employer. If your employment contract changed, all changes must be discussed with you in good faith.  

Employers must keep each written employment agreement up to date, including documenting in writing any changes to any terms and conditions of the employment they have agreed to.

If you have a collective agreement, your employer must engage with union representatives before any changes are made to the agreement. 

If your employment contract changed or you’ve been unfairly made redundant, stood down, forced to take a pay cut, or your working hours have been reduced due to COVID-19 and you have evidence that this was not required, contact our legal experts for advice on your legal rights. We can help you right wrong.

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