A nail and beauty salon manager claims she was asked by her employer to pay a $30,000 bond to keep her job and visa status amid the coronavirus outbreak.
This comes as the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) reported an increase in the number of complaints and inquiries relating to employment since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
Most were around how the wage subsidy are being applied and whether employers can direct people to take leave, a ministry spokeswoman said.
One salon manager and nail technician - a Vietnamese national on work visa - said she was told by her employer to pay a $30,000 "deposit" if she wanted to keep her job.
With many businesses laying off employees during the outbreak, the employee, who did not want to be named, felt it was "an impossible time to find another job".
When she told the employer she didn't have the money, the employer sent her a redundancy letter and threatened to report her to Immigration NZ (INZ) to cancel her working visa.
However, the employer said the deposit was to ensure she kept her promise about working with the business for two years.
"I am really worried about what is going to happen because my work visa is linked to my job," said the employee, who did not want to be named.
"This is creating just one stress after another and I can't talk to my employer any more," she said.
The Herald contacted the employer, who said she "won't talk to anyone not involved in this situation" and said she has a lawyer - but would not provide the lawyer's contact when asked.
In an email to the employee after being contacted by the Herald, the employer said: "The proposed $30,000 deposit was not a payment to me to keep your residency or work visa application in any way at all. The proposed deposit was to ensure that you do not renege on your agreement to work for me for two years, which you have already verbally agreed to do on many occasions."
But the Covid-19 lockdown made her employment with the company no longer sustainable, the employer said.
"Accordingly, I issued you the redundancy letter on 6 April 2020 after having carefully considered the future of the business and lack of any source income coming in," she added.
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An MBIE spokeswoman said no complaint has been received over this case but what the employer allegedly did was against the rules.
"An employer demanding payment for a job, which is referred to a premium, is a breach of the Wage Protection Act," she said.
The spokeswoman said this was a time for employers and employees to be kind and work with each other.
"Employers and employees need to work together to slow the spread of Covid-19, protect New Zealand and keep each other safe," she said.
"This means that normal obligations to keep in regular contact and to act in good faith are more important than ever. This is how employers and employees can be kind to one another."
Regardless of the circumstances, she said regular employment law still applied and this includes anything that has been agreed in an employment agreement.
The spokeswoman said INZ and other government agencies involved in the Covid-19 response were regularly engaging with employers and other interest groups.
"Officials are urgently looking at further options to provide flexibility to visa conditions for temporary work visa holders and providing advice to the Government," she said.
"The Government is actively considering a range of options and will make decisions as soon as possible. However, the priority is on ensuring the continuation of essential services."
Migrant workers who feel they are being exploited can report their situation to 0800 209 020.
Further information can also be found on https://www.employment.govt.nz/leave-and-holidays/other-types-of-leave/coronavirus-workplace/