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Reply To: I am looking at having to restructure parts of our business – (we have a hair salon and an online store) and shift the hours that our team are working – certainly in the early reopening days.I have never had to restructure the business or make these kinds of changes – I could really do with some advice on how I go about this

Hi Kelley. I’m a lawyer, but not an employment lawyer. However, the employment team at my firm has put together some useful information on our website here – https://minterellison.co.nz/our-view/covid-19-employers-can-still-make-commercial-decisions-regarding-their-workforce

Most relevantly:
“5. It is not the case that reorganising, or restructuring, a business is no longer a business owner’s prerogative
Businesses are entitled to make genuine commercial decisions about how they run their business and can make changes that affect employees so long as the changes are substantively justified and are made following a fair process. COVID-19 does not change those general principles, although it is relevant to considering whether the actions taken, and how the employer acted, were reasonable in all the circumstances.

At one extreme (from an employee’s perspective) is the right to disestablish an employee’s role, and for them to be made redundant if there is no other suitable role for them to be redeployed to in the business. The simple reality is that if employers retain the right to do that (which they do absolutely if they are not within the post 4pm on 27 March 12-week wage subsidy period), then they must be able to make other, less drastic, decisions such as reduction of hours.

The key here is ensuring the changes employers wish to make are substantively justified, and that a fair process is followed.

Let us think about this in terms of a 4-day week. It may be entirely appropriate for an employer to consult with employees and implement a 4-day week following consultation, so long as there is good reason to do so, and employers give employees a reasonable opportunity to seek advice and provide feedback on the proposal and incorporate that feedback into their decision making. This process is important, and something employers should seek advice on. To suggest that this option is not available to employers is simply wrong.

If employers are receiving the wage subsidy then there are restrictions on what they can do in this regard, but not in respect of things that they can reach agreement with their employees on. So, employers can still consult with their employees including during the 12-week wage subsidy period and see if agreement can be reached. If not, then employers will need to wait for the 12-week wage subsidy period to pass before taking further action (employers who applied for the wage subsidy pre 4pm on 27 March are in a slightly different situation).”

Hope that helps – in addition to the amazing practical advice from Fiona and Annah above.