News Article

latest news in employment law

When Natural Disasters Strikes

Published 02 Dec 2016

The recent Kaikoura earthquake has shaken many New Zealand businesses and is a reminder for all employers to check that their agreements and policies set out what happens in the event of a natural disaster.

A natural disaster could cause work to be halted, shops to shut, employees’ transport to be cut off, or require employees to take time away from work.  In these situations, people have important and genuine personal, family and community responsibilities, for example, childcare when schools are closed.

When it comes to payment for time away from work in a situation when, for example, an employee can't get to work or the employer can't open their business, both parties need to look at their employment agreement to see if this type of situation is covered. If it’s not in the agreement, then it would be up to both parties to talk about it and agree what the time away from work will be classed as, for example, agreeing to take annual leave, a paid day off, an alternative holiday or taking leave without pay.

Whichever option they agree on may depend upon the circumstances, including the nature and extent of the disaster and how long it lasts for. Employers can’t assume that time away from work in these circumstances would be either paid or unpaid without looking at the employment agreement and workplace policies and the specific circumstances.

Sick leave

Employees can take sick leave if their partner or dependents are injured or sick and they have sick leave available. If they don’t have any sick leave available, then employers and employees will need to agree on what basis the employee is off work. Options, such as anticipated sick leave, annual leave, other paid or unpaid leave, may be available in their employment agreement and any related workplace policies.

Other options

If the employee's partner or dependent family member is not injured or sick but he or she requires care, for example, because their child's school is closed, the employee can’t take sick leave. In some situations, employees may be able to continue to work while caring for their family, if the employer and employee agree to this arrangement. If it’s not appropriate or possible for staff to continue working, employees and employers will need to agree on what basis the employee is off work. Options such as annual leave or other paid or unpaid leave will be available depending on what’s in their employment agreement and related workplace policies.

Once all leave entitlements under the Holidays Act and any negotiated additional leave or any anticipated leave entitlements run out, employees and their employers will need to consider alternative options in good faith and consider the impact the options will have on business recovery later.