Taking care of Your Employees in an Extreme Weather Event
New Zealand’s government declared a rare state of emergency on February 14 as Cyclone Gabrielle caused destructive flooding, landslides and huge ocean swells.
In such an extreme weather event, the health, safety and security of people should be the main concern of all employers and employees. This comes before thinking about the interests of the business or organization. It is critical that employers and employees keep regular and proactive communication and deal with each other in good faith.
What may have happened?
There are different reasons during and after a natural disaster or emergency that the employee may be unable to perform their work as usual, such as:
- The workplace cannot be accessed, or is closed;
- The workplace is deemed unsafe;
- The employee is prevented from getting to and from work due to road closures, power outages, or transportation disruption
- The employee has to care for their dependent because usual care is unavailable (e.g., school closures)
- The employee (or their dependent) is sick or injured during the disaster; or their house is damaged.
Working from home
Working from home during and after the disaster may be an option, provided their home is safe and it is possible for the employee to work remotely. If this is a viable option, the employee must be paid as normal for each and every hour that they work as set out in their employment agreement, or at a different rate which is discussed and agreed by both parties in good faith.
Checklist for an employer when asking their employees to do all or some of their work from home:
- Do your diligence to confirm if their house is safe, and the employee is well-equipped to work remotely (e.g., IT set up, desk, internal systems).
- Provide robust support whenever and wherever possible – Let them know who to contact when they need, the ability access EAP or other support, and their rights to refuse work if it is unsafe under Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
- Keep proactive communication by frequently checking in with the employee, and making sure that they feel taken care of.
- Be aware that emotional or mental wellbeing of the employee can be negatively impact, and that it is your responsibility to take initiatives to minimise these risks
If the employee is unable to work
Check if the specific circumstance is covered in employment agreement(s) and workplace policies. If yes, follow the procedures, provide leave options as set out, and ensure robust support to your employees.
If the situation is not covered in the employment agreement, it is up to both parties to discuss the situation in good faith and determine what basis the employee is off work.
Options for leave and payment:
- Annual holidays, or anticipated/ additional annual holidays
- Using entitled alternative holidays
- Special leave as provided in the employment agreement/ policies or by agreement
- Sick leave – if their partner or dependents are injured or sick, or if the employer agrees to provide sick leave
- Unpaid leave
- Other paid leaves as provided for by agreement between both parties
- Advance on wages
Whichever option the employer and employee agree on may depend upon the circumstances. If all leave entitlements under the Holidays Act 2003 and any negotiated additional leave run out, both parties will need to consider further options and the impact these options will have on business recovery later.
- Don’t require your staff to work in the workplace or at home if it is unsafe to do so.
- Proactive communication is critical – Advise them as soon as possible of the workplace situations, your expectations, and any updates. Texts and social media could be used.
- Robust support must be provided given the risks of physical impacts, emotional, mental and financial stress.
- Consider flexibility during and after the emergency – E.g., if the road is closed, or public transport is unavailable, or the building is deemed to be unsafe.
- Be flexible in your approach to the situation – E.g., temporary changes to your leave policies.
- Think about any negative impact on staff pay – E.g., processing of payroll
- Act in good faith and be honest with your team about the situation
Government actions and what you shoud know
Immigration New Zealand Update: Recovery Visa - the new Specific Purpose Work Visa
Recovery Visa is for migrant workers who are assisting with the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and other extreme weather events in North Islands.
This new visa allows employers to sponsor experts such as engineers, technicians, and insurance assessors to come to New Zealand. Migrant workers on this visa can come to New Zealandfor a short time (up to 6 months).
Please note: The visa is not limited to roles in the North Islands only, however it is not available to industries providing indirect support or to backfill vacancies of people leaving roles to work on the recovery.
Applying for the Recovery Visa
- Employer finds migrant workers
- Employer completes Employer Supplementary form INZ 1377
- Migrant applies for the visa
- Application will be processed - within a week or less
The NZD $700 fee will be refunded automatically for successful applicants. More information
Gorvernment Grant: You can apply for a grant of up to $40,000
The grants are to help you keep operating and position you for a successful recovery and maintain cashflow.
You must meet some criteria, including being in one of the seveon regions, and how you have been affected. More information
Farmer and grower recovery support: You can apply for a grant of up to $10,000
The grants are to help farmers and growers get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
The Government is providing $25 million for farmers and growers to undertake urgent work, including fencing, and clearing silt to save trees and vines. More information
Support you can provide to your employee:
- EAP – Employee Assistance Programme
- Counseling services either internally or externally
- Health, Safety and Wellbeing Committee or Representative
- IT support if your employees are working from home
- Financial subsidy within your organisation’s capabilities
- Proactive communication and regular check-ins with your employees
- EAP (Employee Assistance Program): https://www.eapservices.co.nz/ or call 0800 327 669
- WorkSafe: https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/contact-us/ or call 0800 030 040
- Employment NZ: https://www.employment.govt.nz/about/contact-us/ or call 0800 20 90 20
- Human Rights Commission: https://www.hrc.co.nz/ or call 0800 496 877
- All employees are entitled to seek independent advice externally (union, lawyer, support person, etc.)
Resources for yourself and for your employees:
- Tools to deal with stress and uncertainty - by Hummingly
- First Steps Resources – for Mental Wellbeing
- Work-related Stress – by WorkSafe
- Stress Leave – Information by Employment NZ
- Managing Stress in an Emergency – Ministry of Health
- Work and Income – for Financial Wellbeing
- HR Guide on Health and Safety – by HRNZ
- Extreme weather information for Business – by Business.govt.nz
- Employment during and after disasters - by Employment NZ
- Get Ready – Emergency Planning
- Tax relief for emergency events - by IRD
- How SMEs can keep operating during an emergency - by Digital Boost