30 Apr 2020

The wage subsidy: Your questions answered

1:52 pm on 30 April 2020

Welcome to the wage subsidy, Your Questions Answered, series six or seven (I lose count). It's certainly one of our most popular Q&A shows.

Working during pregnancy

Photo: 123rf

Today Quigg Partners employment law expert Simon Martin and independent employment specialist Ashleigh Fechney tackle some particularly curly queries.

I am self-employed and have received the government wage subsidy. I am due to go on maternity leave from next week. I assume that I will be required to pay back the subsidy once I go on maternity leave but have been unable to find out if this is the case. What is your advice?

Simon: I don't think there is any need to repay the subsidy because at the time it was sought the individual was eligible (I presume, based on the revenue criteria). They continue to be an employee during a period of parental leave, and I don't think that anything eligibility-wise is affected by this. As long as they were eligible at the outset, they continue to be, in my opinion.

My member of staff is coming back to work from maternity leave in a couple of weeks. Can I claim the Covid -19 wage subsidy for this employee?

Ashleigh: As long as you meet the criteria for the wage subsidy, then you can apply for this employee. If you are uncertain, I recommend calling MSD.

I am self-employed and have always worked full time except for the last 15 months where I have been a stay-at-home dad. My partner has worked to support our family but she is due to start maternity leave shortly for our second baby. I am currently trying to find work. Am I eligible for the wage subsidy?

Ashleigh: If you were self-employed at the time of the subsidy, and you meet the criteria, then you should be eligible. Please note that there is a part-time option for those who are self-employed.

When we go back to work can the employer still use the subsidy to pay employees if they are back working a 40-hour week? And can they ask some staff to only work four days a week and others five days?

Ashleigh: Now that we are back at level 3, if your company has re-opened then it is expected you will work. The wage subsidy will then be used to help pay your wages.

Your employer cannot unilaterally vary your hours of work; it must be done by agreement.

We have been taking some annual leave but wouldn't Covid-19 mean it falls full under special leave - under grounds of a national disaster?

Ashleigh: There is no obligation to receive paid special leave in New Zealand. However, it is my view that as you are "ready, willing and able" to work, then you should be receiving your full pay during this time. Understandably, this isn't economically feasible for many companies and that is why there is at least the obligation to pay the wage subsidy.

My dad, who is over 70, has been told if he doesn't return to work "they are thinking about redundancy". Isn't this blackmail?

Ashleigh: It's certainly indicative that any future redundancy wouldn't be "genuine". Your dad is presumably self-quarantining, pursuant to government guidelines, due to his age. His employer absolutely cannot threaten redundancy in this circumstance. His absence at work should have no bearing in any decision about redundancy.

My workplace stayed open during the lockdown as we were all able to work from home. However, we were told we had to take between 5-10 annual leave/ sick leave days. Which we complied with. We have since found out through the MSD website that our employer got the subsidy. They have not advised of us of this nor have we received any subsidy. Can we ask for our leave back?

Ashleigh: Absolutely. The wage subsidy is to help pay wages; not annual leave. You could ask that you are reimbursed the annual leave you took, as you should have received the subsidy. You are also able to make a complaint using the online complaints form.

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