More education, flexible work also encouraged to better support struggling workers
The government is being encouraged to "reconsider" sick leave arrangements offered to employees given the "far-reaching consequences" of COVID-19 to New Zealand.
In a report prepared for the Ministry of Health — based on a survey of 990 Kiwis who caught COVID-19 before December 1, 2021 — researchers at the University of Victoria sought to identify key lessons from New Zealand's COVID-19 response, and develop recommendations on how the country can respond to future pandemics or similar crises.
Among the recommendations is a reconsideration of sick leave arrangements offered to employees.
"Reconsider sick leave and employment support policies to ensure that in future pandemics or crises, people are able to take time off work when unwell," the report said. "Encourage employers to work more flexibly; and provide education to employers so they can support their employees and reduce stigmatisation within workplaces."
Impact on work, study
The sick leave recommendation came as around two-thirds of the respondents said their work or study was affected by COVID-19.
The average number of days off was 18 days for Tāngata Whenua and non-Pacific Tāngata Tiriti respondents, while it was 15 days for Pasifika peoples, according to the report.
"Some interviewees reported that after having time off work, they struggled back at work, for quite a few weeks. Some felt they had little choice but to return to work. Flexibility from employers was seen as key but was not always forthcoming," it said.
To address this problem, the report recommended that sick leave arrangements should be "strong enough to ensure that people can stay at home while unwell, returning to work when able to do so."
"Ensure that employers provide support and flexibility for people to take time off work or to work from home as they 'recover' from COVID-19," the report added.
Employees across New Zealand are entitled for up to 10 days of sick leave annually, depending on their length of service for the same employer, according to Employment New Zealand.
New Zealand currently has a Leave Support Scheme for employers so they can pay employees who cannot report to work because of COVID-19. Employers can receive $600 per week for full-time employees and $359 per week for part-time staff, according to Employment New Zealand.
Impact on financial wellbeing
Meanwhile, the report also covered the impact of COVID-19 on the financial wellbeing of employees and employers alike.
It found that 12% of Tāngata Whenua respondents lost their jobs because they had COVID-19 or because of the pandemic. Job loss also hit 13% of non-Pacific Tāngata Tiriti participants and eight per cent of Pasifika respondents.
Many employers, however, were reported to be supportive of staff at remote work and collected wage subsidies to keep their people employed, according to the report.
Business owners also reported struggles over their incomes, finding staff, keeping staff safe, and keeping staff employed while feeling unwell.
Previously, the government offered a COVID-19 Wage Subsidy scheme to help businesses pay staff affected by COVID-19.
The report recommended the extension of this scheme to "ensure employees keep their jobs and ensure employees can take sick leave as needed to 'recover' and to prevent the spread of infection."
"Ensure everyone can get access to accurate information about their rights and responsibilities, and that people are well supported in getting their entitlements, including from their employers," the report added.