COVID-19 Government Financial Support/Pay for Isolating Staff

COVID-19 Government Financial Support for Isolating Staff
 
With Omicron now in the community, employees may need to self-isolate at home due to COVID-19 or while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. 
 
But what if an employee cannot work from home?  The following COVID-19 financial support is available to employers to help pay staff who cannot work from home while isolating: 

  • Leave Support Scheme
  • Short-Term Absence Payment. 

We provide a brief overview of these subsidies below.
 
Leave Support Scheme
 
The COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme (“LSS”) is a weekly payment, available to employers to help pay employees who have been advised to self-isolate because of COVID-19 and cannot work at home during that period.
 
The LSS payment is $600 per week for full-time workers (those working 20 or more hours per week) and $359 per week for part-time workers (those working less than 20 hours per week).
 
To be eligible for the LSS payments, an employee must be self-isolating for:

  • at least four consecutive calendar days, for a one-week payment
  • at least 11 calendar days or more, for a second weekly payment
  • for every further seven days of self-isolation, a third and subsequent payments.

Isolation requirements will vary as the country progresses along the Government’s three-phase plan for responding to Omicron, which sets out who must isolate and for how long under each phase.  Click here for details on the three-phase plan.  Please note, the Government has also announced a Close Contact Exemption Scheme (“Scheme”) to allow close contacts to continue working onsite for critical services, during their isolation period. The employee would not be eligible for COVID-19 financial support if they attend work under this Scheme.
 
Employers can apply for the LSS payment if an employee has been advised by a medical officer, a medical practitioner, or the contact tracing centre, to self-isolate for at least four consecutive days as the employee:

  • is sick with COVID-19
  • is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • is at a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19, as recognised by the Ministry of Health
  • lives with someone who is at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19, or
  • needs to stay home and look after a dependent child/household member who is required to self-isolate.

Click here for more information on the LSS.
 
Short-Term Absence Payment
 
The COVID-19 Short-Term Absence Payment (“STAP”) is a one-off payment, available to employers to help pay employees who cannot work from home while they await a COVID-19 test result. 
 
This is a one-off payment of $359 for each eligible employee.  
 
Employers can apply for the STAP if the employee is self-isolating in accordance with public health guidance and unable to work from home while they await a COVID-19 test result for:

  • themselves
  • their dependent child or household member who needs support to self-isolate safely, or
  • a household member or secondary contact who is a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, and the employee has been advised to stay at home while waiting for the close contact’s test result.

Employers can only apply for the STAP once every 30 days for each employee, unless a health official or doctor tells the employee to get another COVID-19 test.
 
Click here for more information on the STAP.
 
How to pay isolating staff
 
Employees who can work from home should receive their full pay.  If an employee is able to work from home, the employer will not be eligible to claim the STAP or LSS for this employee.
 
Employees who cannot work from home should be placed on unpaid leave (and/or sick leave if they are unwell) for the duration of the isolation period.  As the employee is being directed to isolate by the Ministry of Health, they are therefore not “ready, willing and able” to work.  This is entirely outside of the employer’s control and wages/salary do not fall due in such circumstances.
 
However, an employee can receive pay for the isolation period where:

  • COVID-19 Government financial support is granted
  • the employee is sick (and sick leave entitlements are available), and/or
  • the employee requests to utilise their annual leave entitlements (where available).  

Employers can only receive one COVID-19 payment for the same employee at any given time.
 
Government subsidy
 
Any Government subsidy should be passed on to the extent applicable/necessary.  Specifically, for the isolation period, the employee should receive the lesser of: 

  • the subsidy rate, or
  • the equivalent of their ordinary wages or salary (if this is below the subsidy rate). 

We note that, for the LSS, an employer must use “best endeavours” to pay the employee at least 80% of their ordinary wages/salary for the period covered by the LSS.
 
Employee entitlements
 
Annual leave entitlements may be utilised to top-up the subsidy, by agreement.  An employee must make a request with their employer to use their annual leave entitlements.
 
If an employee is sick with COVID-19 (or any sickness/injury) during the isolation period, sick leave entitlements can be paid.  For clarity, sick leave entitlements are to be utilised in the event of sickness or injury, not for other circumstances such as a direction to self-isolate where the employee is not unwell.
 
Employers may wish to consider discretionary paid leave for employees where the Government subsidies/schemes do not cover employee wages/salary and employees have exhausted their sick leave entitlements.
 
Employee consent
 
To include an employee’s name within its application for a subsidy, employers must seek consent from the employee, in writing if practicable.  In particular, the declaration for both subsidies require the employee’s consent for the release of information as it relates to the employer’s application. 
 
Employees have the right to request access to all information that the employer holds about them pursuant to the Privacy Act 2020, including information held by the employer in regard to their application for the LSS or STAP.  Employees can visit this webpage to make a request for such information as it relates to their employer’s application.
 
If you have any questions regarding how to pay isolating staff or the above subsidies, please feel free to contact us on 0800 339 002.

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