Private sector health employees are the most vulnerable during this lockdown. While private healthcare is still deemed essential and operating, it is currently at operating at a reduced capacity and employers are getting nervous, that once lucrative profit margins are evaporating. The DHBs are though looking at contracting out more work to private during Covid, so we can expect that things could pick up for some private employers in the coming weeks.

The Wage Subsidy Scheme

Most private sector health employers in have availed of the governments Wage Subsidy ($585 per employee for full time employees for a 12-week period) in which they must demonstrate best endeavors to pay you at least 80% if your salary. There are obligations for employers for receiving this subsidy and if they lie on the declaration, they can be required to pay it back to government.

So, does this mean my employer doesn’t have to pay me my full wages (100%)?

No, it doesn’t, we are of the view that your employer still must pay you 100% of your, salary or wages for contracted hours of work.  While there are obligations under the Wage Subsidy Scheme there are also obligations under the Employment Relations Act and employment agreements (individual or collective) that an employer is required to comply with. Employment legislation has not changed with Covid-19.

Even if you are currently working reduced hours, at your employers directive, if your employment agreement /cover letter states  you have x number of hours/days of work, or a salary,  then that is what your employer is required to pay you. Wages are also protected under the Wages Protection Act.

They can only pay you less for less hours of work, if you agree to it. We advise that no one should willingly agree to reduced hours for reduced pay and to contact us for advice.

Currently many employers that are shut down including even Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut) and Wendy’s that are shut down are paying their employees, their full 100% wages. So, if they can do it, then private health certainly can.

Hasn’t the government said that an employer needs to only pass on the government wage subsidy of 585 per week?

Yes, Grant Robinson recently clarified this, but the inference was if in a circumstance that a company was no longer financially viable- ie they are going under/insolvent. This does not apply to companies that are still essential and still have income streams. Even if times are tough, they need to everything in their capacity to still pay you 100% of your wages.

Can my employer just force me to take my annual leave with giving 2 weeks’ notice?

No, they can’t. Leave needs to be taken by agreement between an employer and employee. So, this means your employer needs need to sit down and try to reach agreement on when to take your leave. Only after this process has been exhausted can an employer give 14 days’ notice of a requirement to take leave.  You can also only be required to take leave that you have become entitled to after 12 months. You cannot be required to take leave that has been accrued before then.

If your leave has been pre-approved then they need to honor this, and not change it now.

However, recent announcements from Grant Robinson have indicated that the government view is that employers (receiving the Wage Subsidy) cannot  force any employees to take any annual leave during the lockdown. Watch this space.

If you have any questions, please email

Read more COVID-19 resources here.

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