Employment experts are reminding businesses to act in good faith when dealing with Covid-19 related redundancies or restructuring to avoid expensive disputes.

Calls to employment advisers, community lawyers and employment specialists have more than doubled since Covid-19 hit the New Zealand workforce.

Most calls are related to job loss, reduced hours, pay cuts and forced annual leave and the message is clear - employers and employees have the same rights and obligations as they did before the virus hit New Zealand.

Any changes to work hours, job description and pay have to be agreed upon by both parties, and redundancies and dismissals all have to follow the same legal process they did pre-Covid-19.


The Employment Relations Authority, which works to resolve employment relationship disputes, advises employees and employers to act in good faith to avoid employment issues.

Workers and businesses were urged to keep in regular contact with one another and act in good faith.

"Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) has developed comprehensive guidance for employers and employees on how to navigate issues that may arise during the Covid-19 alert levels," a spokesperson said.

"This includes information about the process to follow when making changes to employment arrangements and employment agreement conditions."

There had not been any marked increase in the number of employment cases because of Covid-19 but it was expected, the spokesperson said.

Last week the ERA heard its first Covid-19 related case. It involved a former senior manager employed by retail chain Kathmandu who accused the company of an unfair restructure during the pandemic.

Community Law, a nationwide charity, which provides free legal advice, has seen a spike in calls about employment matters.

A spokesman said this was directly related to Covid-19, with a significant jump in the past eight weeks.


There was also a noticeable increase in non-traditional demographics.

"While we've always had a high number of low-income clients, we've seen much higher demand from middle-income people," he said.

The Employers and Manufacturing Association recorded more than twice the number of calls to its AdviceLine fielding questions on redundancies and restructuring.

Matthew Dearing, head of legal with the EMA, said companies were doing everything they could to avoid redundancies.

"No business wants to lose trained and skilled staff so they are doing all they can to avoid that situation," he said.

"They are taking measures such as offering reduced pay, reduced hours, and in some cases changing duties to keep people employed."

Dearing said all changes needed to be agreed upon by both parties and there needed to be good communication throughout the process.