By: Amanda Douglas, Naoimh McSparron
Published: 29/11/2016
As time moves on from 14 November, the wider issues related to the damage begin to emerge.
 
One such issue is the effect of disruption to work due to damage to buildings, loss of suppliers, broken or impassable roads.  There is a particular effect on trucking, transport and tourism companies which rely on our roads and infrastructure to carry out their businesses, but there will be others who find the jobs that they are providing are disrupted.
 
Where work is disrupted because of these issues, operators may need guidance on how to continue employing those who rely on them for work.
 
Shift cancellation: employers may need to cancel shifts due to the earthquake.  If an employee's shift has to be cancelled, an employee needs to be given reasonable notice.  The reasonable notice should be in the employment agreement.  If it isn't, then make a note that your employment agreements need to be amended as this will be illegal by April 2017.
 
If the employee is given reasonable notice (say 8 hours) that the shift is cancelled, the employment agreement should say how much the employee will be paid for the cancelled shift.
 
Unless the employee is a casual employee, you cannot cancel a shift and not pay the employee anything.
 
If you cancel the shift with less than the reasonable notice, you must pay the employee what they would have earned for that shift.  For instance, a driver normally drives an 8 hour shift starting at 6am. The employment agreement says that if the shift has to be cancelled, the employee is entitled to 12 hours' notice.  The employee is only given 6 hours' notice.  The employee should be paid for the 8 hour shift.
 
If the employment agreement says nothing about how much the employee has to be paid if the shift is cancelled, the employee has to be paid what they would have earned if they had worked anyway.  If this is the case, make a note to have your employment agreements looked at and updated when you can.

Disruption for natural disaster: there may be a clause in the employment agreement allowing the employer to suspend operation of the employment agreement, if the employee's position is surplus to requirements due to a natural disaster, until the circumstances change.  At most, this will only be a short-term fix and should be relied on with caution.  It might help to alleviate short-term overstaffing if the employer's business has been disrupted by the earthquakes.  The government's subsidy for business may work in well with this clause.
 
Taking leave: if work is reduced, some employees may wish to use annual leave.  It is acceptable to offer this to employees, but they should not be required to use annual leave in these circumstances. In certain circumstances, however, employers can give notice to employees to take some leave.  If employees have no annual leave, they may agree to take leave without pay.  Again, this cannot be insisted upon by the employer, but it can be agreed.
 
Flexible working: it is possible that some employees may need to work flexibly over the coming months, including dealing with changes in their personal circumstances.  If any employee requests a flexible working arrangement, the employer has a legal duty to consider that request in good faith.  It can only be refused for a select number of reasons set out in the Employment Relations Act 2000, which includes if the request cannot be accommodated because of the operational needs of the business.
 
In our work, we support these industries and guide employers and employees through the varied situations which can arise, including in exceptional circumstances such as these.  If you have any questions, or need guidance, we would be happy to hear from you. 
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