The global spread of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown in New Zealand changed the way that many organisations conducted business. Employers and employees needed to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep each other safe. This meant that normal employment obligations to act in good faith were more important than ever.
The implications of COVID-19 and working arrangements meant that if businesses were required to close during the lockdown, they needed to consult with their employees in good faith in order to reach an agreement in the way the workplace would carry on remotely. In addition, employers needed to adopt a more flexible approach to work hours and productivity and implement stricter policies around staff staying at home when they are sick.
Employers and employees may have wanted flexible ways of working during this time (for example, staggering start times). Parties should have discussed these matters and agreed to arrangements in good faith. These changes may have been temporary or permanent and the length of time for this change must have been recorded in the employment agreement variation. Any changes had to be recorded in writing and signed by both parties, and the parties given reasonable time to consider the proposal.
During the COVID-19 period, there may have been circumstances where consultation on changes could reasonably have been shortened if the employer genuinely needed to make rapid adjustments to cope with their circumstances. Shortened processes must still occur in good faith and provide opportunity for workers to seek advice.
As we are now in the COVID-19 recovery phase, normal consultation processes should be followed for any workplace changes proposed during the COVID-19 recovery period. This includes normal consultation timeframes and provision of information.
New Zealanders are notorious for the ‘she’ll be right’ approach when it comes to being sick, however this is no longer appropriate in the post COVID-19 climate. The slightest of runny noses are now considered more seriously and employees are generally told to stay at home, in order to keep the rest of the workplace safe from illness.
It is likely that more New Zealanders will split their time between working from home and from the office in the wake of the pandemic. Where a day away from work was once considered a burden, it is as simple as logging in remotely and continuing to work from home now. COVID-19 has forced New Zealand into the future, and it is likely that it will never be the same again.