While our travel bubbles have been long awaited and signal an important step toward turning around our embattled tourism industry, remember that as an employer you need to have the mechanism to approved or decline leave applications from your staff. You can refuse a request for annual leave – for overseas travel or not – if you have:
- reasonable grounds; and
- a fair process for considering all applications.
If you are in a position to approve a leave request, MBIE have assured the business community it is the responsibility of your employee to stay safe and cover any costs related to the travel, including the cost of any managed isolation that may apply.
However, it is good practice, particularly in these uncertain times, to agree together a course of action if anything unexpected happens before your employee takes off for their mid-winter break. For example, can that a staff member takes their laptop and work remotely if they happen to be stuck overseas or in MIQ?
If the occasion arises and they cannot work remotely and do not have enough annual leave to cover an extended period, then you need to talk to your staff member to see if they can use other types of leave, eg unpaid leave for part of the time they are away, and how long you are able to hold their job open.
Please note the following three important points:
- You cannot automatically dismiss your employee if they become stranded overseas beyond their approved leave. You must act in good faith, so you need to consider other workplace changes (changing hours of work, arranging remote working, approving further types of leave, etc.), and follow a fair and proper process before making any decision.
- If your staff member become stuck during any personal travel and is unable to work remotely, then you will not necessarily be required to pay him/her under the employment agreement.
- If your staff member contracts Covid-19, they can take any available sick leave.
Acting in good faith
Employers and employees need to discuss, in good faith, any changes in work arrangements, leave and pay, or health and safety measures. Make sure you can evidence these discussions have taken place, should the need arise.
As MBIE reminds us, employers and employees need to work together to protect New Zealand and keep each other safe. This means that normal obligations to keep in regular contact and to act in good faith are more important than ever.
Regular employment law still applies to all employment relationships – regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. This includes anything that has been agreed to in an employment agreement, and any policies or procedures you have outlined in your employee handbook. If you are uncertain you have all your bases covered, or feel like your leave application (approval and declination) processes could be improved, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at hello@FixHR.co.nz.