With the further modifications to the wage subsidy scheme, and the removal of the $150,000 subsidy cap, some employers who have recently made employees redundant have been revoking those redundancies as they are now able to claim the wage subsidy and pass the payment to those employees. Most employees are likely to be better off under the modified wage subsidy scheme than they would be on Work and Income benefits, however this depends on their personal circumstances.
You can ask employees to use the Check what you might get (external link) calculator from the Ministry of Social Development to check what additional assistance they may be entitled to. This includes supplementary assistance such as the accommodation supplement, temporary additional support, and other one-off assistance payments.
These modifications are to help ensure people do not lose their jobs during the national lockdown.
If you decide to consider this ensure any agreements are in writing and use your HR staff, consultant or lawyer to assist.
The modifications took effect at 4 pm from Friday 27 March they include:
- The obligation for an employer to use best endeavours to pay employees 80% of their previous income still stands, but where that is not possible, for example where all business activity has ceased, they must pass on at least the whole value of the wage subsidy to each affected worker. (The Minister has made it clear that if the worker’s income is normally less than the subsidy, they can be paid their normal salary. Employers should make the assessment of what is to be paid by looking at the employee’s normal hours in the period before COVID-19.)
- Businesses must undertake to keep employees in employment for the period of the subsidy (12 weeks).
- The previous sick leave scheme has been merged into the wage subsidy scheme to prevent double-dipping. Originally designed when few people were in self-isolation, it is no longer fit for purpose. The Government is working on arrangements for those in essential work requiring sick leave due to COVID-19.
These measures are to ensure that businesses not able to operate do not need to lay off staff. Businesses whose workers can still work during the lockdown are still required to pay them in accordance with their employment agreements for the hours they do.
The wage subsidy is $585.80 a week for full-time workers (i.e. those who worked 20 or more hours per week before COVID-19) and $350 a week for part-timers (working fewer than 20 hours). It will be paid out in a lump sum covering the 12 weeks.
The receipt of the wage subsidy to the employer is considered non-taxable and is not subject to GST.
Updated guidance on the scheme is available on the Ministry of Social Development website: www.msd.govt.nz. The website states that the sick leave payment scheme became no longer available from 3 pm on 27 March 2020 but that applications received before that time would be processed as normal. It also advises how to determine hours of work when they are variable: use the average hours worked each week over the last 12 months, or over the time the worker has been employed if that is less than 12 months. Employers, contractors, sole traders and the self-employed may qualify for the wage subsidy.