Published on 01 May 2020

From the team at Three60 Consult.

When it comes to working and COVID-19, businesses have had to navigate the obstacles and new requirements that come with Alert Level 3. We are employment relations experts and, over the past couple of weeks, we have been assisting and supporting our clients manage their workplace and deal with the tough COVID-19 questions. We would like to share our top four commonly asked questions that may help your business adjust to the “new normal” and weather the lockdown period.

Do businesses have to pay the wage subsidy back to MSD if an employee resigns during the 12 week period?

If the employee voluntarily leaves/resigns, then a business does not have to pay back the subsidy to MSD. You are however required to notify MSD that this employee has left. As the intention of wages subsidy is to pay wages, not other business expenses, it is our view that you would be required to use the remaining portion of the subsidy to pay other staff.

Do you have to pay employees if they refuse to return to work?

Firstly, you would need to understand why an employee is refusing to return to work. If they have health and safety concerns about returning to work, then these will need to be understood and worked through with the employee. If they are refusing to come to work based on legitimate health and safety concerns, then they may be entitled to receive pay.

If the employee is sick, then they may be entitled to paid sick leave if they have any available. However, if after consulting with the employee, and determining they have no valid reason for refusing to work, then they would not be entitled to be paid.

What are the main health and safety obligations businesses have during this period?

The health and safety obligations for businesses during this period differ depending on the industry the business works in, and will need to be assessed on this basis, including:

  • the ability to work from home if possible; and if this is not possible:
  • how your business will be contactless;
  • ensuring any employee displaying flu-like symptoms stay home;
  • how you maintain physical distancing within the workplace;
  • how you will maintain hygiene within the workplace;
  • whether the employees will require PPE to work safely.

All employers operating under Alert Level 3 must have a Covid-19 Safety plan, outlining how they will be operating safely.

Can I restructure my business during this time? If yes, what process must I take?

An employer is entitled to review their structures during this period, even if they are receiving the government wage subsidy. Normal employment law obligations still apply, which requires a full consultation process undertaken in good faith. A full consultation process requires engagement with employees on a proposal for change that has not yet been decided upon, an opportunity for employees to comment on that proposal, seek independent advice and careful consideration of any feedback received prior to making a decision on how the employer proceeds.

Restructure processes need to be specific to the employer's individual circumstances. We are happy to provide more guidance on this.

For more information get in touch with the Three60 Consult team at or visit their website.