Self-isolation is a vital tool against the spread of omicron – and it will mean many of us taking time off work. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Self-isolation is a vital tool against the spread of omicron – and it will mean many of us taking time off work. (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyJanuary 26, 2022

Your rights as a worker if omicron finds its way into your life

Self-isolation is a vital tool against the spread of omicron – and it will mean many of us taking time off work. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Self-isolation is a vital tool against the spread of omicron – and it will mean many of us taking time off work. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Self-isolating while waiting for test results or if you test positive is a vital part of protecting each other from Covid-19. But how can you ensure you can still pay your rent if you have to stay home from work?

While we should be doing everything we can to steer clear of Covid-19 (meaning: vaccinations, boosters, avoiding high-risk environments and wearing good quality masks), with the fast-spreading omicron variant now in our community, it’s more likely than ever that we will encounter the virus in one way or another. Because of this, there are myriad reasons we might need to self-isolate – to protect ourselves, whānau and communities. But how do we make sure we can still pay our rent and bills while we’re doing the extremely important job of isolating? 

If you’re in a position where you can work from home this is a lot easier, and you should still be paid as normal. Although, even if you can do your job from home, you obviously don’t have to work if you’re unwell. 

For those who can’t work from home, it gets a little more complicated. 

Theoretically, if your ability to work is impacted by Covid-19 you should be paid your regular wages by your employer and you shouldn’t need to dig into your leave, especially because the government has created support schemes that cover most situations. Here’s a bunch of scenarios and what you should be entitled to during that isolation period if you can’t work from home.

I’m waiting for test results because I’ve been at a location of interest/ I’m a close contact/ I’m symptomatic

Your employer should apply for the Covid-19 Short-Term Absence Payment for you while you await test results at home. This is a one-off $359 payment to pass on to you. You can also apply for this if you’re self-employed. Your employer can only apply for it once, for each eligible employee, in any 30-day period. 

I need to look after a dependent who is waiting for test results

Same as above. 

Someone in my household is a close contact or has been at a location of interest

You’ll likely need to isolate at home while they await their results too, so you’re entitled to the same as above if you’ve been directed to self-isolate too by health officials.

I need to self-isolate for a second time while waiting for test results

Unfortunately, your employer can only apply for the short-term payment once a month for each employee. If you find yourself, your dependent or a household member waiting for test results more than once in a month, your employer should still attempt to pay you. If they don’t pay you during this time, get in touch with your union or Work and Income for support.

The Covid-19 testing centre at White Cross St Lukes in Auckland (Photo: Matthew McAuley)

I’ve tested positive and can’t work from home

If you’ve been asked by health officials to self-isolate for four or more consecutive days, your employer should apply for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme to support you until an official says you no longer need to self-isolate. You can apply for this if you’re self-employed too. 

Your employer can get $600 each week if you work full time (20 hours or more a week), and $359 each week if you work part time (less than 20 hours a week) to pass on to you. 

Someone in my household or a dependent has tested positive

Because you’ll have to be isolated too, your employer should apply for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme to pass onto you.

A health professional has told our household to isolate to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19 to vulnerable household members

Your employer should apply for the Leave Support Scheme on your behalf.

What if I’m a casual worker?

You should still be entitled to these support payments and your employer must seek them for you. It’s important to note that if you have a regular pattern of work over a period of time, the law would classify you as an employee rather than casual – so you have the same rights as a permanent worker.

What if I’ve just been hired but haven’t started work yet?

Your employer should still apply for these schemes if you end up having to self-isolate.

I can technically work from home as a positive case, but I’m feeling unwell

It’s important you look after your health if you’re feeling sick because of Covid-19. So, if you’re feeling unwell, take sick leave or ask your employer to apply for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme.

What if I’m in one of these situations and my employer still wants me to come to my workplace?

The Employment New Zealand website guides explains that if you have Covid-19 or are required to self-isolate under Ministry of Health guidelines, “the first consideration for an employer should be to look after people, contain Covid-19 and protect public health”. 

Your employer cannot require or allow workers to come to a workplace if they are required to isolate for Covid-19. If they do this, they could be in breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

What if my employer isn’t supporting me to isolate?

It could be useful to bring this up with your employer ahead of time, to get clarity around what the plan is if you end up needing to self-isolate at some point. If you’ve been considering it, take this opportunity to join your union. Check in on your coworkers and do what you can to make sure you’re all being treated fairly and consistently and approach your employer with concerns as a unified group if you need to.  

Your health and safety should be the top priority for your employer. Employers not supporting staff to isolate poses a pretty massive risk to public health, the health of individuals and their business too. So, if there are issues, it’s certainly worth bringing them up with your employer. If you can’t pay your bills get in touch with Work and Income. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox