COVID-19 Protection Framework: Financial support, the Close Contact Scheme and increase to the Adult Minimum Wage

COVID-19Consulting

11 February 2022

As cases of the Omicron variant spread through our communities, New Zealand is now at ‘Red’ under the COVID-19 Protection Framework. While not a lockdown, this puts restrictions in place to slow the transmission of the virus and protect our most vulnerable and the health system.

Workplaces are open, and businesses can have employees onsite, provided they meet the operating guidelines for their sector at ‘Red’. Nevertheless, staff must isolate if they have COVID-19, display symptoms or are a close contact of a case, and businesses should actively prepare for this situation arising.

To assist businesses and their employees during this period, the Government has announced several support measures including financial support for employees who are self-isolating, the Close Contact Scheme for Critical Services and the Bubble of One initiative.

Financial support for employers where an employee is self-isolating

There are two financial support options available where employees are self-isolating:

1. COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme

Provides employers with assistance towards wages and salary costs if your employee is self-isolating and can’t work at home. This scheme also covers wages if your employee’s household includes anyone who is self-isolating or in a high-risk group.

2. COVID-19 Short-Term Absence Payment

Provides employers with support towards wage and salary costs if your employee can’t work while waiting for a COVID-19 test result. This helps your employee stay at home if anyone in their household is waiting for a test result.

Both employers and people who are self-employed can make an application. Employment and privacy laws still apply, including the terms and conditions established in employment agreements, particularly around wages. There are no revenue tests, but employers will need to get a consent from their employee before applying.

Close Contact Exemption Scheme for Critical Services and Bubble of One initiative

Critical services are just that – critical to people’s basic needs, whether its health services, key infrastructure or supply chains. Accordingly, the Government has introduced the Close Contact Exemption Scheme to support critical services manage absenteeism and continue operating as Omicron spreads. It will come into effect from Phase 2 of the Omicron strategy.

There are three phases of the Omicron response plan, with each phase presenting different isolation and quarantine requirements.

We are currently in the ‘stamp out’ Phase 1, which requires:

  • Anyone with symptoms to isolate and get a test.

  • Cases to isolate for 14 days (release by health officials).

  • Close contacts to isolate for ten days (with tests at days five and eight, although if symptomatic then must test immediately).

During Phases 2 and 3 of ‘slow the spread’, workers at registered critical services, who are vaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts of a COVID-19 cases, will be able to continue to work, as long as they return a negative rapid antigen test prior to each shift during the isolation period, and they follow specific health protocols.

For non-critical services at Phase 2 and 3, any business or sole trader may have a worker who is a close contact at work, provided the worker is not customer facing and can maintain a ‘bubble of one’ while at work. The worker must also be vaccinated and asymptomatic and again, adhere to strict health protocols.

Adult Minimum Wage to increase to $21.20

The Government has just announced an increase to the minimum wage from $20 per hour to $21.20 per hour, which will come into effect from April 2022. The starting-out and training minimum wage will also increase from $16 to $16.96 per hour.

If you would like further information on any of these initiatives or to would like to discuss the financial support available for businesses through the COVID-19 Protection Framework, please get in touch with our Consulting team who specialise in supporting SMEs through Human Resources and Health & Safety Consulting.

Author: Charlie Arms-Harris

Charlie is a specialist workplace investigator and human resources consultant with over 10 years’ experience providing pragmatic guidance to businesses throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand and globally. Charlie can use her practical experience and knowledge as an employment and health and safety lawyer to assist in developing and implementing human resource strategies and policy. Charlie advises clients in a range of diverse industries such as tourism, agriculture and hospitality and enjoys delivering learning and development training to clients.