PositivePeople August 13, 2020 No Comments

Responding to Level 3 Requirements in the Workplace

Responding to Level 3 Requirements in the Workplace

Below we have set out the likely guidelines and rules at the various Alert Levels for Covid-19 in New Zealand, as well as what this would mean for most businesses and how they might handle these scenarios.

We acknowledge that in the past things have changed very quickly with Covid-19, and as such, this guidance is subject to change. However, we hope it assists you with setting out your plans to respond to changing alert levels.

 

At Alert Level 3

People must work from home unless they are essential workers OR working from home is not possible and a safe work environment can be provided.

 

At level 3 people are instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement — including to go to work if you have to, school if they have to or for local recreation. You may also travel to the pharmacy, supermarket and petrol station.

Keeping your team, their families and communities safe will be your priority, along with the ongoing financial viability of your business and job security for employees.

  • People who can work remotely will stay at home.
  • If workload is reduced significantly, you may elect to look at options for reducing the number of employees onsite to allow for physical distancing and to reduce costs. This may include a proposal for some or all employees to take annual leave (with employee agreement or 14 days notice) or a proposal to reduce hours for some or all employees or a temporary closedown for some or all roles, or similar.
  • Any changes to your terms and conditions of employment should made in consultation with employees and seek  written agreement where applicable
If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t come to work. If your employees need to be onsite to work or you provide an essential service –

  • Ask employees to contact you to discuss as soon as they can, and before their normal start time.
  • They must contact Healthline as soon as cold or flu symptoms present themselves. If it is recommended that they are tested, you should encourage them to do so as soon as possible.
  • Generally, this period will be treated as sick leave – including the period leading up to testing (if delayed) and as you wait for results following testing.
  • If employees do not have sufficient sick leave balance, you should discuss any relevant alternatives with them on a case-by-case basis.
  • If an employee has been unwell and Healthline recommends a Covid-19 test, you may ask the employee to provide you with a screenshot of their  test results prior to them returning to the workplace, as evidence of their safe return to work.
Physical distancing of 2 metres outside home including on public transport, or 1 metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces. Employers are required to implement health and safety measures to ensure a 1 metre physical distance is maintained in the workplace if employees need to be onsite to work or you provide an essential service.

You should also follow and implement the latest official advice regarding hand-washing and sanitising practices, cleaning surfaces, the use of face masks, gloves, other PPE and any other recommended measures.

It is likely that schools between years 1 to 10 and Early Childhood Education centres can safely open but will have limited capacity – usually reserved for children of essential workers. Children should learn at home if possible. Childcare responsibilities may impact some employees’ ability to attend work – or even work from home in some cases. You should work with affected employees on an individual case-by-case basis to come up with an appropriate plan.
Businesses can open premises, but they may be asked not to physically interact with customers. Businesses should close their sites to all visitors – including customers, suppliers, delivery drivers. If recruiting, defer interviews or hold them via video call. Put click and collect processes in place and make arrangements for safe drop-offs of items being delivered to site.
Public venues are closed. This includes libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets. Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained. Inter-regional travel likely to be highly limited to, for example, essential workers, with limited exemptions for others. These measures along with others implemented at Alert Level 3 are likely to impact on the workflow for many businesses. As a result, you may need to consider changes to terms and conditions to reduce staff at work or enforce a temporary shutdown. See top row of this table for guidance on this.
People at high risk of severe illness such as older people and those with existing medical conditions are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work. You should manage this on an individual case-by-case basis. Together you may agree for the employee to take Annual Leave, paid special leave, unpaid special leave (at no pay or a pay reduction), sick leave or a combination.
Known or suspected Covid-19 cases and their households are put into mandatory quarantine. People possibly exposed may be directed by the Ministry of Health to self-isolate. If your employee has Covid-19, is a suspected Covid-19 case or has come into contact with someone who has or could have Covid-19 – they should let you know as soon as possible and of course, not attend work.

If they haven’t already been directed to self-isolate (or enter a quarantine facility), they should seek advice as to what to do and let you know the outcome.

You should discuss with them how this leave will be treated on a case-by-case basis. They may qualify for the Covid-19 leave support scheme https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/covid-19/leave-support-scheme/index.html. You may agree to use sick leave to top this up to 80% or 100%, use Annual Leave to top up to 80% or 100%, or a combination of the above.

You should also agree on a return-to-work plan – this will follow official advice but may involve seeking a Covid test after 14 days  and providing evidence of a negative result before returning to work.

 

Preparing for Possible Alert Level 4

  • People instructed to stay at home in their bubble other than for essential work and essential personal movement.
  • All gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed.
  • Businesses closed except for essential services, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations and lifeline utilities.
  • Educational facilities closed.

In the event of a national lockdown or a Level 4 lockdown of our local region, you should communicate with employees via phone calls, texts, whatsapp/messenger group chats and emails. The duration and conditions of the lockdown will dictate the actions you may take but may include:

  • Seeking authorisation to share employee information in order to apply for a government wage subsidy if applicable
  • Consulting with employees regarding how they will be paid for the duration of the lockdown period
  • Discussing expectations with regards to what work, if any, employees will complete from home during a lockdown
  • Setting up a communication system to keep in touch and ensure that all employees are well supported
  • Discussing plans for returning for work – this may include a staggered return-to-work as you account for lower workflow, allow for physical distancing and seek to ensure the financial viability of the business

 

Available Support

It is normal to experience elevated levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. You should advise your employees to speak to their manager if they require additional support. The government site https://covid19.govt.nz/health-and-wellbeing/mental-wellbeing/ has helpful information, tools, apps and links to a number of support services. This includes a 24/7 helpline where you can speak to a trained councillor – free call or text 1737

If Covid-19 has had a negative impact on employees individual or family financial situation, they can also access tools, apps and links to support services here https://covid19.govt.nz/business-work-and-money/financial-support/financial-support-for-individuals-and-whanau/

Adjusting to the New Normal

Adjusting to the New Normal

We’ve all learnt a lot through the Covid-19 crisis – and not just about how to make a sourdough starter. For many business owners and managers, it has been a time of reflection on what was working well pre-lockdown and what was already a problem that now needs to be addressed. Aside from the few industries that are suddenly booming, we’ve all realised that it’s time to dig deep and work out how to survive the recession. Below you’ll find some HR opportunities we’ve been thinking about.

 

Realising the benefits of long-term flexible work practices

Flexible work arrangements have a multitude of benefits for employers and employees.

Employer Benefits

  • Reduces absenteeism (as employees can often still work if they are at home with a dependent who is unwell). This assists with productivity with less disruptions to continuity of work
  • Better work-life balance increases employee morale, engagement and commitment
  • Reduces employee turnover
  • Builds your employment brand and attracts top talent
  • Increases your potential candidate pool to people who live in other locations or too far away to consider a daily commute
  • The opportunity to reduce your office footprint and associated costs

Employee Benefits

  • Reduces the time required to commute and the expense of petrol and parking
  • Better flexibility to meet family and personal needs
  • Increased control of work schedule and environment
  • Ability to work at times of highest energy and not during troughs – for example, starting early when energy levels are highest, and then having a longer break in order to exercise to re-energise

Flexible work practices can also make a positive contribution to environmental sustainability.

However, to make flexible working arrangements work for your business, you must look to overcome some of the disadvantages:

  • Employees who do not work well without supervision. It’s always important to set clear goals and expectations. If the employee cannot meet these working from home, this must be addressed. If the problem is ongoing, then it’s time to review the arrangement. Flexible working arrangements are largely a ‘privilege’ and not contractual, so going back to a traditional model is appropriate if it’s not working for either party.
  • Where the role is client-facing, client availability and relationships may suffer from the employee trying to compress their time in the office. Again, this is something to be addressed and discussed – this may include clear goals for client-facing time to ensure it doesn’t drop off. It’s not practical for all office-based roles to include work from home or flexible hours, however, this it can usually be accommodated to some degree. It’s about finding the ‘sweet spot’ that works for the employee and the business.
  • Feelings of unfairness when some roles are able to work from home or choose their hours and others cannot. This is probably one of the most difficult issues to address. Consider what benefits you could implement for onsite staff to help offset these feelings. For example, a well-stocked kitchen, or an upgrade to the coffee machine. Where work from home isn’t possible, consider if flexible start and finish times are. You may wish to also consider an additional benefit for 100% on-site based staff only (be careful to communicate to the team that this is to offset the travel time that flexible workers gain through working from home some days).
  • Health and safety concerns. If working from home is going to be a long-term and regular arrangement, you must be satisfied that the employee is doing so safely. You can review our guidelines for Safe Work from Home here 

 

Reducing cost and saving time through virtual meetings and other tech solutions

Video conferencing has been around a long time, but the use of video calling and virtual meetings for team meetings, training and recruitment seems to have taken a lot longer to gain momentum than perhaps we might have thought.

Why? Maybe it’s the belief that the human connection can only be fully achieved face-to-face. This is still true, but if lockdown has taught us anything it is that far more can be achieved via video calls than we ever thought possible.

As we all look to cut costs wherever possible, now is the time to re-look at all of your normal practices that require people to travel from one location to another (even if that is within the same city) and consider if that can’t be achieved through video call or another on-line solution to reduce time and cost.

 

Updating and streamlining your other processes and systems

Following on from the above, we must all examine where else we can streamline and improve our processes and systems. Get your employees involved in looking for more efficient and effective solutions to literally everything you do. Incentivise this focus on continuous improvement where possible.

Look at your organisational structure. If you’ve had reductions in employee numbers or needed to pivot your business and offering, does your current structure still make sense or does it need to change? Look at the functional responsibilities of roles and teams and re-organise where necessary.

Where changes to work practices interact with your employee policies, ensure that these are updated to reflect your new ways of working. For example, many businesses will need to update:

  • Flexible working policies that may have previously stated that working from home was to only take place on occasion and with express management permission.
  • Expense policies may need to be tightened
  • Travel policies temporarily updated to mandate that essential travel only is to take place and cost-reduction measures are implemented (e.g. lower budgets for accommodation, rental cars etc.)
  • Health and Safety policies will have temporary changes and a ‘Covid-19’ specific policy created with clear guidelines and expectations

 

Capture those Culture gains

If you’ve ever watched Survivor, you know that in times of adversity, groups of people can go one of two ways – we either thrive and come together or we fall apart and turn against each other. During the Covid-19 crisis you may have some employee behaviour from both camps and any divisions need to be addressed.

Whether you are looking to nurture those Company Culture gains or need to start to re-build, we have some ideas for you here

 

Employee development – why it is more important than ever

Many businesses are unfortunately in the position of needing to reduce hours, pay or carry out redundancies. This can have a very negative effect on productivity and reduce the trust within your work environment. One way that you can look to re-build this is through investing in employee development. This both demonstrates the value you place on your employees while also benefiting your business through increased productivity and performance.

Employee development does not need to be a costly exercise. Some ideas include:

  • Online and virtual learning options – on-line seminars and short courses, virtual conferences, TED talks
  • Coaching and mentoring – either an internal program (informal or formal) or involving external contacts
  • Increased one-on-ones and performance appraisals. Getting more disciplined in your focus on setting objectives and monitoring progress against these costs nothing. In return, it will deliver results to both the employees development and your bottom line
  • Give learning lunches a try – these can also be virtual. Use an external speaker (again, virtual may be a cost-effective option) or simply have employees share information and learnings from projects they’re working on. If an employee attends a seminar, have them share the knowledge with the team and distribute their notes and reference material

 

Positive People have been working with and helping to grow SME’s for 25 years. We have the experience and systems to guide, support and provide customised HR solutions for you.  We deliver a range of services across the full HR Management spectrum. Our services are tailored to meet the particular needs of your business and we take the time to get to know you and your business. Call us on 09 445 1077 or email info@positivepeople.co.nz

Preparing for Alert Level 2

Preparing for Alert Level 2

The transition from Alert Level 3 to Level 2 will represent only a small change for some employers, but for others there will be a lot to do to prepare.

 

Staggered returns and shift/hours changes to allow physical distancing

Due to physical distancing requirements and decreased workflow, only a few employers have been in a position to have all of their staff return to site at the same time on the same hours as before the lockdown.

If you re-opened at Level 3 with a skeleton staff which will ramp up under Level 2, or if you are not able to open until Level 2, here’s what you need to know if you want to stagger your teams’ return to work:

  • You must establish a fair selection criteria for deciding who will return to work and for what hours:
    • Firstly, what are the roles that are required?
    • If there is more than one person in the same role, you may choose to base this on tenure (longest standing employees given the option to return first), or you may rotate – week about or some other practical arrangement.
  • You must then communicate with all employees regarding the proposedplan for their return to work. This letter should outline your plan, include the rationale for what you are proposing, and include a feedback form where the employee can accept the proposal and/or provide comment (ideally allow 24 hours for feedback). The letter should include all proposed changes to terms and conditions, including:
    • The payment arrangements for each employee. Consider what you will propose for people able to work full-time hours, people working reduced hours, and those still unable to carry out work – bearing in mind that if you received the wage subsidy, this must be passed on in full, regardless of hours worked or not.
    • Will you be requesting or directing (with 14 days’ notice) people to take their Annual Leave entitlement?
    • You may, for example, want employees to take one day per week, with half the team having a Monday off and the other half Friday off
    • Are you proposing a temporary change or reduction in hours? This may be to allow for physical distancing, a reduction in workflow, or both.
    • Are you proposing a change in role responsibilities? You may be able to re-deploy people into different roles or re-distribute work. Your operation may have changed to look quite different under Alert Level 3, which will change employees’ duties.
  • After allowing your employees to respond to your proposal, you must consider any feedback received
  • Confirm your final decision in writing and implement the plan

 

High-risk employees – to return or not to return?

At this stage, the recommendation at Alert Level 2 is that high-risk people should stay at home where possible. However, like at Level 3, the Covid-19 website outlines that high-risk employees should agree alongside with their employer whether they return to work or not. Our recommendation is that, if it’s practicable, allow your employee to make the decision and then build a plan around their preference. If they are returning to work, extra care should be taken to ensure that they are safe. Involve the employee themselves in the process of coming up with a plan that works for the business and the employee.

 

Planning and communicating for new work practices as a result of Covid-19

Good communication has always been vital and key to a successful business. It is even more crucial during times of change and adversity. We recommend that you:

  • Sort out your communication channels – ideally use as many as possible to ensure you reach everyone in a way that works for them. While meetings will be limited in size and frequency, use phone calls, Zoom, Whatsapp groups, emails, memos, letters and whiteboards/notices in the kitchen or work areas.
  • Remember that good communication is a two-way street – ask for feedback, ideas and responses. Take feedback on board and let the team know that you are making adjustments based on what you’ve heard from them
  • Finding ways to get the team to contribute is especially important in matters of Health and Safety and is a key requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. If you don’t already have a H&S committee, now is the time to get one going. Your employees are the experts at what they do day-to-day and you will get a lot more buy-in when the messages come from within and not above.
  • Don’t just rely on training and memos – use signs and notices to communicate new ways of working as people take on new ways of working and break old habits. Consider language barriers and use multiple languages and pictures where required
  • Celebrate the bright spots and the wins. Consider instating (or re-instating) employee of the week/month, company newsletters and other ways of sharing good news stories. This is how you can reinforce your new work practises.

 

For those that have been working from home, we must consider if/when/how they return to office environments

Under Alert Level 2, we are still asked to work from home wherever possible. If you need the team to return to the office, think about how you can safely achieve this. It could be that people work from the office every second work day or for half of the week. These arrangements may be in place for some time, so before making a decision, seek feedback and ideas from your team.

 

Reducing hours, pay and carrying out redundancies

Despite best efforts, unfortunately many employers will need to look at pay/hours reductions and redundancies as a result of Covid-19 and the economic fallout. We’ve shared this before, but if you missed it, here are the steps:

  1. Plan
  • First, you will need to write a business case for why you believe change is required. Include important details such as sales figures and projections.
  • Next, write a communication plan – who is potentially impacted by this proposed change and how will you communicate with them? Individually, team meetings or a company-wide briefing? Will anyone be on leave during this time? How and when will you communicate with them?
  • Finally, get your ducks in a row. Review Individual Employment Agreements, read Job Descriptions, pull payroll information to double check details such as current pay, titles and hours. Run a risk assessment for each – is the role you are considering to be disestablished similar to another role in the business? If so, do both employees need to be included in the consultation process as two positions becomes one?

 

  1. Consult

Draft up letters for all affected employees. The letter must:

  • Explain the proposed change
  • Outline the proposed impact to their particular role
  • Give the reasons for this proposed change
  • Say what will happen to them if the change goes ahead
  • Include the details for how the employee can submit feedback and the deadline for this
  • Either propose a time for a meeting to hear feedback, or offer the opportunity for the employee to book a meeting if they want to ask questions or provide verbal feedback
  • Emphasise that no decision has been made, and that this won’t happen until you have received their feedback
  • Give details of a proposed timeline. Seek feedback on this as well
  • Hold your consultation meetings.
  • Ideally, where only a small number of people are impacted and redundancy is a possibility you will hold these face-to-face. You can set this meeting up ‘informally’ by simply inviting the employee to a meeting, but we recommend that you let them know that what you need to discuss may impact their role, and that they are welcome to bring a support person – allowing them time to arrange this. In large company-wide restructures, and with the Covid-19 restrictions, this ‘heads up’ will not always be possible.
  • Read through or summarise the letter
  • Answer initial questions, but try not to get into receiving feedback in this meeting
  • Hold feedback meetings. Often questions will be raised at these meetings. If you don’t know the answer, commit to coming back with it as soon as possible. You must remain open, honest and communicative throughout. If you take too long to respond to questions or do not answer them at all, you risk an argument that the deadline for feedback should be extended.

 

  1. Consider Feedback
  • It is important to consider feedback in good faith. If, as a result of the feedback, you want to make changes to the proposal you need to decide whether to go back and consult on the new proposal.
  • Give yourself time to adequately consider feedback – usually 48 hours
  • If you’ve received a lot of feedback from numerous employees, group it into themes and write out your response to each ‘thread’ and any changes to the proposal made as a result

 

  1. Confirm
  • Having considered any feedback and made a decision, you need to draft up a second letter outlining your decision. This should include:
  • A summary of feedback received and your response
  • Any changes made to the proposal as a result of the feedback
  • What your final decision is, and the outcome for the employee’s role, including timing. If applicable, you may include details around final pay
  • If redeployment is an option or a selection process will follow, provide the details for this
  • Consider what outplacement support you can offer and outline this in the letter – this could include career coaching, assistance with writing a CV, an interview technique workshop, and financial planning resources.

Note: If you have applied for the wage subsidy for an employee, you must retain them for the 12-week period of the subsidy. You may consult with the employee during the subsidy period and confirm your decision, but the last day of employment must fall after the wage subsidy ends. Otherwise you will be in breach of your obligations and will be required to pay the wage subsidy back. 

 

Every business is different and, as such, will have different employment issues and concerns presented by COVID-19. Positive People is available to help. Call us on 09 445 1077 or email info@positivepeople.co.nz

The Employment Practicalities of a Return to Work

The Employment Practicalities of a Return to Work

* Last Updated 14 April 2020

While we wait for confirmation on when the Alert Level will drop from 4 to 3, and what restrictions will be in place at Level 3, now is the time to draft your plans. Here we cover some of the key issues to consider right now, as well as the communication process to follow.

 

High Risk Employees

At both alert level 2 and 3, high risk people are advised to stay at home. ‘High risk’ includes employees over 70 and anyone with a pre-existing medical condition including:

  • Serious respiratory disease such as chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Immunocompromised conditions, including cancer treatment, smoking-related illness, bone marrow or organ transplantation, prolonged use of immune weakening medications, such as anti-rheumatic drugs and cortisteroids
  • Severe obesity — a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • People undergoing dialysis
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnant women may also be at a higher risk, and caution is advised for this group as well

As many of these conditions are common, most workplaces will have a group of employees that fall into this category. We recommend identifying these employees early, so you can plan for a reduced workforce and consult with this group so they know what it means for them.

 

Different Alert Levels have Different Impacts on Different Roles

In addition, there are specific jobs/roles that will be impacted by the restrictions at these lower alert levels:

  • At level 3 some businesses will be required to remain partially or fully closed. This may mean parts of your operation and team are up and running, but other parts are not
  • At level 2 there is a request to limit non-essential national travel, at level 3 this is likely to be further restricted although we’re waiting on additional detail. Some roles (for example regional sales roles) involve regular travel that may not be deemed ‘essential’ and will therefore be impacted by these restrictions
  • Restrictions and/or bans on gatherings will continue at level 2 and 3. Some roles (for example training and events) involve organising and running gatherings and will therefore still be impacted at alert level 2 and 3
  • Even at level 2, there is a ‘request’ to continue with alternate ways of working where possible (i.e. working from home). At level 3, this will likely be ‘required’ in many cases. For some workers whose jobs allow for remote work, this may not be possible due to not having a suitable workspace in their home environment.
  • At level 3 (and possibly level 2), some schools and pre-schools will remain or be closed, impacting some employees’ ability to return to work and/or work from home
  • Many businesses are likely to have reduced workflow – depending on the nature of your business, this is likely to impact some roles more than others
  • Physical distancing requirements are also likely to impact some or all positions – you may need to make significant changes to hours and/or stagger shifts to accommodate the distancing requirements
  • PPE requests and requirements – depending on the nature of your work, some roles may require PPE. You will need to ensure that there is enough available for all that require it and that this supply is maintained. If this is not possible initially, it could lead to shift cancellations and roster changes for some roles
  • There will be more work for some roles/areas of many businesses – for example, Health and Safety reporting and work

 

Being Fair and Equitable

So how do you manage things fairly when some of your team can return to work and others cannot? Or where for some roles you have sufficient work but not for others?

Every business is different and so is every employee and every unique role within your business. There will be no one-size fits all, but you must be fair, reasonable and, as always, operate in good faith.

We suggest at this stage, you go through each employees details and consider for both alert level 2 and 3 and for any possible future periods at alert level 4:

  • Can they return to the workplace?
  • Can they work from home for some or all of their hours?
  • If they can recommence work, either from home or in the workplace, will their current hours and role responsibilities be appropriate?
  • Could an employee with low/no workload be redeployed or given additional/different responsibilities?
  • If they cannot return to work and cannot work from home at one or more of the alert levels, what should they be paid during that period?

 

Communicate, Consult, Communicate Again

Once you’ve drafted up the proposed plan for each position at each alert level, it’s time to put this to the employee and ask for their feedback. Remember, with any change in terms and conditions (even if only temporary) you will ideally want written agreement. If this cannot be achieved, ensure you can document your process.

 

Document Your Process

In most cases we recommend issuing a consultation letter with a feedback/agreement form that the employee returns signed to you, followed by a confirmation letter. You should write into this confirmation letter when the arrangement will be reviewed or, alternatively, you may include the plan for each alert level and simply review that when the alert level is dropped to 1 or below.

 

Dealing with the Exceptions

Ideally, you will be treating people in similar roles and situations in the same way. For example, you could decide that all those that must stay home and can’t work are paid the wage subsidy only, all those that can do limited work from home are paid 80% of normal earnings. Those that return to work or can work from home full-time are paid 100% of normal earnings.

However, it is important to be prepared to make exceptions in response to information received in the feedback stage. It is likely that you will face some challenges and need to make changes as a result. This is OK and demonstrates that you are meeting your obligations to consult in good faith. You will not always be able to share with other employees the exact circumstances and reasons that one employee has a different arrangement to others – unless you obtain the employees permission to do so. However, if you have treated everyone fairly throughout you will be able to stand by your decision knowing that you have been fair and reasonable if challenged.

 

Fair treatment is a non-negotiable and always enhances the culture in a business.

 

Positive People can help you work through the employment practicalities of the coming weeks and months. Email us at info@positivepeople.co.nz or call 09 445 1077.

Managing Mental Health and Wellness Concerns

Managing Mental Health and Wellness Concerns

* Last Updated 14 April 2020

 

Supporting employees with mental health and wellbeing has been an increasing concern for employers over recent years. However, the Covid-19 crisis has had a huge impact on every single one of us – in the form of varying degrees of increased stress, anxiety and financial worries. In addition, those with mental health problems and/or addiction issues may be finding themselves struggling with these pre-existing problems given the added pressures and uncertainties of the Covid-19 environment.

Fortunately, the government has recognised the scale of this issue and has allocated additional funding to mental health support and wellbeing initiatives.

 

If you or one of your team feel that you’re not coping, you can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.  

 

Visit the mental health section of the  Covid-19 website for more information https://covid19.govt.nz/individuals-and-households/health-and-wellbeing/looking-after-your-mental-wellbeing/

 

The Covid-19 crisis may also lead to increased financial distress and worry, addiction issues or family violence. For these issues specifically:

  • https://sorted.org.nz/ has a range of financial tools, resources and information or for personalised support contact MoneyTalks on 0800 345 123 help@moneytalks.co.nz, or text 4029
  • Alcohol Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797 or text 8681 for a free and confidential chat with a trained counsellor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Family Violence Information Line – 0800 456 450 for information as well as services in your own region. The phoneline operates 9am – 11pm every day of the year

 

Finally, we recommend all employers consider implementing a Mental Health and Wellness Programme. This doesn’t need to be a costly exercise. Make a start with a policy and a set of guidelines that assist in building a workplace that supports mental health and wellbeing by:

  • Increasing employee knowledge and awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues
  • Linking managers to practical resources to support them in working through problems that arise due to a mental health issue with one of their team members
  • Providing a list of support agencies and their contact details that managers can refer to when someone presents with a mental health problem
  • Outlining the considerations and providing a plan for return-to-work after time off due to a mental health problem
  • Setting the expectation that all employees and managers will normalise the conversation and reduce stigma around mental health problems in the workplace

 

Positive People can help you to write your own mental health and wellness policy and guidelines, build a programme or support you in working through individual employee problems and concerns. Email us info@positivepeople.co.nz or call 09 445 1077.

Workforce Planning and the Prospect of Restructuring

Workforce Planning and the Prospect of Restructuring

* Last Updated 14 April 2020

 

Planning

Over the past 4 weeks we have all become somewhat accustomed to constant and rapid change. We’ve learnt pretty quickly to take a step-by-step and day-by-day approach to avoid wasting time and energy on plans that quickly become irrelevant.

 

But, having dealt with the blow of the lockdown, the time has come to get ready to adapt and adapt again. Having contingency plans in place will be essential for you to navigate the next 12-18 months by being nimble and flexible.

 

A good starting point is to map out at least three possible scenarios – perhaps starting with a best case, worst case and a middle ground. These might include:

  • Best case – Level 3 after 4 weeks of lockdown. Reverting to level 2 the following week. No further lockdowns eventuate. Borders remain closed, but non-essential national travel re-starts in June. Government stimulus packages are relatively successful and the economy, including your industry, shows promising signs of recovery.
  • Middle – Lockdown is extended to 6 weeks. The country remains at level 3 for an additional 6 weeks, with some businesses needing to remain closed. National non-essential travel is restricted on and off throughout the year, there are regular school closures and occasionally it looks like another lockdown is possible.
  • Worst case – NZ returns to Level 3 after 4 weeks but it’s too soon or community transmission of Covid-19 has sprung back under the radar. After a few weeks at Level 3, another lockdown is announced and this one continues for another 6 weeks. After that, Level 3 with heavy restrictions for a further 6 weeks. Your business is unable to open properly at Level 3 but can operate to a limited extent on-line, but your industry has been heavily impacted. Sales are virtually non-existent.

Now think through what impact each scenario will have on your workflow and cashflow. Then, how will you need to change or downsize your workforce to match this footprint? What will be the triggers (sales figures, production levels, cashflow) that will force you to look at headcount reduction? Consider how you can avoid ‘death by a thousand cuts’ – where you need to downsize, will it be possible to make a more significant change to avoid constant redundancies and hours reductions.

 

Restructuring

Having completed the planning, you should have a clearer idea of the conditions and thresholds that may necessitate a change process. Or, in some cases, it may be clear that you already need to consider the prospect of restructuring your organisation and reducing your employee numbers. This is a complex and difficult process.

Here is a step-by-step overview of what you will need to do next:

  1. Plan
  • First, you will need to write a business case for why you believe change is required. Include important details such as sales figures and projections.
  • Next, write a communication plan – who is potentially impacted by this proposed change and how will you communicate with them? Individually, team meetings or a company-wide briefing? Will anyone be on leave during this time? How and when will you communicate with them?
  • Finally, get your ducks in a row. Review Individual Employment Agreements, read Job Descriptions, pull payroll information to double check details such as pay, titles and hours. Run a risk assessment for each – is the role you are considering to be disestablished similar to another role in the business? If so, do both employees need to be included in the consultation process as two positions becomes one?

 

  1. Consult
  • Draft up letters for all affected employees. The letter must:
    • Explain the proposed change
    • Outline the proposed impact to their particular role
    • Give the reasons for this proposed change
    • Say what will happen to them if the change goes ahead
    • Include the details for how the employee can submit feedback and the deadline for this
    • Either propose a time for a meeting to hear feedback, or offer the opportunity for the employee to book a meeting if they want to ask questions or provide verbal feedback
    • Emphasise that no decision has been made, and that this won’t happen until you have received their feedback
    • Give details of a proposed timeline. Seek feedback on this as well
  • Hold your consultation meetings.
    • Ideally, where only a small number of people are impacted and redundancy is a possibility you will hold these face-to-face. You can set this meeting up ‘informally’ by simply inviting the employee to a meeting, but we recommend that you let them know that what you need to discuss may impact their role, and that they are welcome to bring a support person – allowing them time to arrange this. In large company-wide restructures, and with the Covid-19 restrictions, this will not always be possible.
    • Ideally, read through the letter
    • Answer initial questions, but try not to get into receiving feedback in this meeting
  • Hold feedback meetings. Often questions will be raised at these meetings. If you don’t know the answer, commit to coming back with it as soon as possible. You must remain open, honest and communicative throughout. If you take too long to respond to questions or do not answer them at all, you risk an argument that the deadline for feedback should be extended.

 

  1. Consider Feedback
  • It is important to consider feedback in good faith. If, as a result of the feedback, you want to make changes to the proposal you need to decide whether to go back and consult on the new proposal.
  • Give yourself time to adequately consider feedback – usually 48 hours
  • If you’ve received a lot of feedback from numerous employees, group it into themes and write out your response to each ‘thread’ and any changes to the proposal made as a result

 

  1. Confirm
  • Having considered any feedback and made a decision, you need to draft up a second letter outlining your decision. This should include:
    • A summary of feedback received and your response
    • Any changes made to the proposal as a result of the feedback
    • What your final decision is, and the outcome for the employee’s role, including timing. If applicable, you may include details around final pay
    • If redeployment is an option or a selection process will follow, provide the details for this
    • Consider what outplacement support you can offer and outline this in the letter – this could include career coaching, assistance with writing a CV, an interview technique workshop, and financial planning resources.

Change processes can be very complex and are difficult for everyone involved. Emotions are likely to run high and it is so important that you get it right. Positive People can help. Email us at info@positivepeople.co.nz or call 09 445 1077 for a confidential discussion.

More COVID-19 FAQs Answered Here (issued 3 April 2020)

Issue #2: More COVID-19 FAQs Answered Here

 

Question: Do I need to consult or get agreement to reduce pay?

The COVID-19 lockdown is an unprecedented event, and there are differing views about whether you need written agreement to a pay reduction, or if you only need to consult. It is generally agreed that a unilateral pay reduction with no consultation is a high risk strategy. We recommend running a short consultation and seeking written (email or text) feedback or agreement prior to confirming the temporary change to terms and conditions. You can also use this opportunity to have employees indicate in writing if they would like to ‘top up’ their pay by taking some annual leave (e.g. one day per week).

 

Question: Can we use annual leave balances to top up the wage subsidy?

If you are passing on the wage subsidy, employees may agree to take Annual Leave to top up the subsidy. Likewise, if you have reduced pay to 80%, they may request or agree to take one day Annual Leave per week to maintain 100% pay. You may also direct an employee to take Annual Leave, but you must first try to reach agreement. If agreement can’t be reached, you must give 14 days’ notice and it must be from the Annual Leave ‘entitlement’ – you cannot direct an employee to use their ‘accrued’ balance.

 

Question: If I accept the wage subsidy can I make people redundant during this period if things change?

You need to try your best to retain your employees you are currently receiving the wage subsidy for. If you applied for the wage subsidy for any employees after the scheme was modified at 4pm on 27 March 2020, you must retain those employees or you will be in breach of your obligations. The WINZ website states that if you breach your obligations by making someone redundant you need to repay the subsidy within five days.

 

Question: What are the options if someone has signed an employment agreement but haven’t started work yet?

If you have offered someone work and they have accepted, they have the same rights as other employees – even if they haven’t started working for you yet. You can apply for the wage subsidy and pass this on from after their start date. Just like with current employees, you need to consult if you wish to change their terms and conditions (reduce hours and/or pay) or make them redundant. If you have a Business Interruption clause in your agreement, you may choose to invoke this. But remember, even with this clause you must ask for feedback before confirming suspension without pay.

 

Question: What happens if an employee was due to return from parental leave during the lockdown period?

Similar to the above, if this was the agreed date for the employee to return to work you must proceed with that plan. Therefore, you can apply for the wage subsidy for this employee and pass it on to them from their planned return date. You should still consult with the employee prior to confirming any changes to pay or hours during the lockdown period – even if they haven’t returned to work yet.

 

Question: An employee had an overseas holiday booked to take place during the lockdown and had Annual Leave approved. Now they want to retract that request (we are not an essential business) but I want them to take the Annual Leave. Can I enforce that?

Technically you can, but for fairness and simplicity, many employers have wiped all Annual Leave requests from the start of the lockdown and will review this at the end of the initial 4-week lockdown period.

 

Question: Can/should casuals qualify for the wage subsidy and be paid something during the lockdown?

Yes, they can – you use average weekly hours to calculate the amount. However, as casuals should have no expectation of ongoing work and you have no obligation to offer it, technically you don’t need to apply for and pass on the subsidy. If you review a casuals average hours and decide to apply for the wage subsidy scheme on their behalf, you should also consider whether they are a true casual. If they regularly work a pattern of hours and could reasonably expect this to be ongoing, they may be considered ‘permanent’. An important definition if you need to restructure down the track.

 

Question: What are the potential scenarios where we might be at risk of having to pay back the wage subsidy to the government?

You need to repay some or all the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy if:

  • You no longer meet the criteria for the subsidy
  • You’re not meeting your obligation to use the subsidy to retain and pay your employees,
  • You’ve received insurance (eg, business continuity insurance) for any costs covered by the subsidy
  • You have provided false or misleading information in your application.

You can check the obligations here.

Obligations if you applied before 4pm on 27 March

Obligations if you applied on or after 4pm on 27 March

You can also make a repayment if you were overpaid or made a mistake on your application.

 

Question: Did the minimum wage increase go ahead? I’m worried that I won’t be able to access the system to make the changes.

The adult minimum wage rate increased $1.20 from $17.70 to $18.90 per hour on 1 April 2020. However, MBIE recognises that some employers may not be able to action the increase immediately, while also complying with lockdown requirements. If you cannot process the raise in time, you should communicate with your employees about this. You should then process the increase as soon as you are able to do so in compliance with any COVID-19 restrictions in place. You will need to pay employees back for any hours that were worked, but for which the required pay rate could not be processed at the time.

 

Question: Does the wage subsidy always need to be passed on in full?

Not always. If your employee’s usual wages are less than the subsidy, you must pay them their usual wages. Any difference should be used for the wages of other affected staff.

 

Question: Can I reduce an employees pay if they’re on minimum wage but can’t work? What happens when they come back to work – partially or fully?

During the lockdown and beyond, you must still pay workers for the work they do. This means employees—regardless of whether they are working from home, or from premises to do essential work—must be paid at least the new minimum wage for each hour they work. If the employee cannot work during the lockdown and does not wish to use any Annual Leave entitlements, you can access the wage subsidy and pass this on in full without topping it up to minimum wage for the employees normal hours, or requiring the employee to do any work. You should still follow a consultation to implement this reduction in pay.

 

Question: What should employees be paid for the public holidays over Easter?

For employees who would have otherwise worked on the public holiday (had the lockdown not been in place and had not been a public holiday), then they should be paid for that public holiday at their relevant daily pay as set out in the Holidays Act. If the employees pay has recently been reduced, then the relevant daily pay rate is this reduced pay rate – unless otherwise agreed with them. We know some employers who have reduced pay are choosing to pay public holidays at the employees ‘normal’ full pay.

 

Question: How do we manage pay for staff returning to work on reduced hours – specifically the point at which we have to ‘top up’ the wage subsidy (if the wage subsidy is what we are currently paying)?

Employees must be paid for any hours worked at a minimum – however, the wage subsidy can go towards this pay. However, many employees who cannot work and have taken a pay reduction during the lockdown, will expect to be paid more when they return to work. How you manage this is really going to depend on what pay reduction you have applied, and the hours worked on return. We think it all comes down to communication. If you think that pay reductions will need to remain in place even when employees return to work (either at normal or reduced hours) it is important that you communicate this possibility early and then consult with employees fully when the time comes.

 

Question: What are our H&S obligations when people do start returning to work?

Employee safety is paramount. It is likely that when employees return from the lockdown changes will need to be made to the way you work to keep everyone safe. We will be looking to government advice when the time comes and implementing all recommended measures (e.g. social distancing) as a minimum. We also recommend the following:

  • If you don’t have a Health and Safety Manager, appoint one person to be the COVID-19 co-ordinator. Communicate this person (ideally a senior manager) as the first point of contact for any related matters
  • Identify your risks and work to eliminate, isolate or mitigate these risks
  • Involve employees in a brain storming session to get their ideas on how best to manage the risks to themselves and their colleagues
  • Make an emergency plan
  • Review your sick leave, absence and travel policies. You may need to issue amended versions of these policies for the duration of the COVID-19 threat
  • Communicate regularly, in over-drive, with employees via email, text and social media
    • Publicise the supported need for employees to go home if unwell or not to come in if unwell
    • Publicise the hygiene recommendations like hand washing, management of coughing/sneezing etc.
    • Publicise the Ministry of Health guidelines and information
  • If practicable, promote remote working/video conferencing and flexible work options where required
  • Keep up-to-date with the current situation in the country and follow official advice as it is presented
  • Develop a relationship with a medical provider/doctor. Alongside Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number (0800 358 5453), this will ensure you have trusted guidance available to answer questions and deal with concerns such as when an employee needs to self-isolate
  • Discuss and agree (as much as possible) anything that comes up with employees

 

We know that every business is different. If you need help with working through the HR implications of Covid-19 in your workplace, call us on 09-445 1077 or email us at info@positivepeople.co.nz