COVID-19: Impact on employment

Coping with changes to your employment due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed our working lives a lot. You might be working from home, have lost your job or be trying to work while you’re still recovering from COVID.

On this page, you can find the following information:

If you're looking after someone with COVID or recovering from COVID, you might be working at home for a while, which can affect your mental and physical health. Working from home can be hard, especially if you're used to having work colleagues and friends to spend time with.

Looking after your mental health when working from home

Working from home can be hard, especially if you're used to having work colleagues and friends to spend time with.

Things that could put you at risk include:

  • not having a good space to work in
  • having no boundaries between work and home life
  • not having the things you need to do your job
  • lack of social support
  • having too much work to do, time pressures or a lack of flexibility in your schedule.

Talk to your employer

The most important thing you can do is talk to your employer about managing your work at home. They have a responsibility to ensure you have a safe work environment and that includes protecting your mental health, eg, it's good to talk about:

  • How to get hold of any equipment or technology you need for doing your job at home.
  • Which of your tasks are more suited to doing at home.
  • How to stay in touch with your team and your boss so you don’t feel too isolated.
  • Being more flexible with deadlines and expectations while you are working from home.
  • Any problems you are having, including managing home life and emotional distress, so that you can work together to find solutions.

 Things you can do for yourself:

  • Set up a suitable workspace that you feel happy to work in.
  • Try to maintain boundaries between work and home life by working in a separate room or covering your work area with a sheet or blanket when it’s home time.
  • Get outside for some light exercise each day.
  • Take breaks away from your workspace and stick to your schedule.
  • Organise virtual catch-ups with friends, whānau and workmates over lunch.
  • Go easy on yourself. Depending on your situation, you might not be as productive as normal and that’s OK.

Image credit: Canva

Looking after your physical health when working from home

Working from home can cause physical injuries if your workstation isn't comfortable. Your employer is responsible for doing what they can to make sure you don’t get injured at work. Talk to them about whether you might need a health and safety risk assessment, especially if you’re going to be working at home for a longer period.

Some employers will reimburse employees for any additional equipment they need to purchase or will pay an allowance to cover your working at home costs like power, internet and telephone. Talk to your boss about these things.  

What are my rights when working from home?

If you think you're being treated unfairly while you have to work at home, consider getting support from your union. If you aren't a member of a union you can look up which union to contact.

You can also read more about your rights as a worker during the pandemic. 

Working while you’re recovering from COVID-19

If you're experiencing symptoms (eg, fatigue, breathlessness, poor concentration) it's likely you're still recovering from COVID-19 or you have long Covid. Symptoms can come and go and make it difficult to work. COVID can also affect your mental health, which makes working difficult as you recover. 

Talk to your boss

The most important thing you can do during the transition back to work, is talk to your employer about your needs during this time, eg, it might be good to discuss:

  • Returning to work gradually as you recover.
  • Working from home until you feel able to travel to work again.
  • Being flexible about when you work depending on your symptoms.
  • What sick leave or other entitlements you have to cover your time off. 

What if I’ve run out of sick leave?

If you have run out of sick leave or you’re not entitled to it yet, you may be able to get financial support from Work and Income. There is some information about this here or you can phone Work and Income on  0800 559 009 to find out what help they can provide. 

Need support?

If you think you're being treated unfairly during the recovery period, consider getting support from your union. If you're not a member of a union, you can look up which one to contact using this tool here.

Read more about your rights as a worker during the pandemic.

Talk to your doctor about your working conditions and your health. They can support you by providing medical certificates and making recommendations about a suitable return to work plan. 

Look after yourself

It's important to take good care of yourself while you're recovering from COVID. Doing too much too soon can slow down your recovery. As you return to work, these tips for managing fatigue may be useful for your planning.

If your job involves physical activity, it's important to think about how to return to it safely. You can share this information about returning to exercise with your employer, as you talk through a gradual return to work. 

Supporting your employees as they recover from COVID

After the symptoms of COVID have passed and they are no longer infectious, employees will be ready to return to work. However, we know the period of full recovery can, for most people, last from 2–6 weeks. Some people will experience long COVID, where symptoms persist for over 12 weeks. 

What to expect?

Employees in the recovery period or with long COVID can experience a variety of symptoms that may come and go, eg, fatigue, breathlessness and poor concentration. Their mental health may also have been impacted, especially if they have a pre-existing condition or have needed to go to hospital.

How to support the return to work

It’s important to keep in touch with employees as they enter the recovery stage of COVID-19. Feeling cared for by an employer greatly increases the chance of return to work after illness or injury.

Some things you might discuss while planning an employee’s return to work include:

  • Planning a gradual or phased return to work.
  • Supporting them to work from home until they feel able to travel to work again.
  • Offering flexibility to work around ongoing symptoms.
  • Providing information and reassurance about sick leave or other entitlements they have, to cover any further time off required.
  • Altering tasks to support their physical recovery, eg, starting them off with light duties only.
  • Allowing time off for appointments.
  • Adjusting their workspace to help with impaired concentration.
  • Encouraging them to pace themselves with breaks and rest as required. 

Financial support

There's a range of financial support available to employers with staff who have to isolate and can’t work at home. 

Job loss

Many industries have suffered job losses since the start of the pandemic. If your industry has been affected, you may still be trying to get back on your feet following a job loss or a period of unstable work.

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples offers a Tupu Aotearoa programme for Pacific people aged 15 years and over who are New Zealand citizens not currently employed or training. Read more about how the Tupu Aotearoa programme works. 

Financial support

If you're struggling financially, there is a variety of support available even if you’re on a low income and have some work.  If you’ve recently been made redundant there is information about financial support and support with finding another job or retraining. 

Your rights

If you've been made redundant, consider getting support from your union. If you are not a member of a union, you can look up which union to contact. 

You can read more about your rights as a worker during the pandemic.

Overseas workers 

If you're a worker from overseas and your employment here in New Zealand has been affected by COVID-19, there's support available for you, too. For support with your visa, income support, healthcare and finding new work, Immigration New Zealand has put together this useful information.

Your embassy is another place to access support if you are in New Zealand and have lost your employment due to COVID-19. For more information contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Remember that you have the same employment rights as all other New Zealand workers. Read more about your rights as a worker during the pandemic. 

(Health Navigator NZ and Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand, Waitematā, 2022)
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References

Staying mentally healthy when working from home Worksafe NZ, 2021
Things to consider when working remotely Employment NZ, 2020
Working from home – health and safety considerations Duncan Cotterill, NZ, 2017
COVID-19 your rights at work NZ Council of Trade Unions 
Supporting return to work business.govt.nz
Stopping work because of health condition or disability Work and Income NZ
What's happening in the job market careers.govt.nz, 2020
Migrant or refugee Immigration NZ

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.