2021 Payroll Update

Are your employment agreements and payroll systems updated for recent employment and tax law changes? There has been a flurry of changes introduced in the past year, so now is a good time to ensure that you are up to date.

If you do need to update your employment agreements, remember that you will need to act in good faith, communicate the changes, i.e., what is changing and why it is necessary, and give your team time to consult with their advisors and provide feedback before they sign the updated agreement.

Man in yellow overalls processing fish

These are the key employment changes in the past year:

Minimum wage increasing 1 April 2021

Adult minimum wage rates increase from $18.90 to $20 an hour. Starting out and training minimum wage rates increase from $15.12 to $16 an hour. Consider how this will impact other employees in terms of internal wage relativity and external benchmarking in your industry. We expect that wage bands will compress as lower wage bands will be affected more that higher wage bands.

Remember to consider salaried employees and piece rates or commission employees to ensure they will also be earning minimum wage or higher.

Support for businesses due to Covid-19

The Covid-19 Resurgence Support Payment from IRD is for businesses affect by 30% loss of turnover due to the 28 February increase in Alert Levels is open for applications until 12 April 2021. The RSP can be used to cover wages and fixed costs. You can apply for the RSP and the MSD payments below if eligible. You can read our explanation of the RSP here.

Employers cannot make employees take annual leave or sick leave if they can't go to work due to increases in Alert levels. Employers can ask employees to work from home or alternative location, or to carry out reasonable alternative duties.

Covid-19 Short Term Absence Payment can support businesses with a one-off $350 payment from MSD for each worker who can't work from home and need to stay home while waiting for a Covid-19 test result. Leave Support Scheme is a two-week lump sum of $585.80 per full time worker a week ($350 per part time worker) for each worker either sick with covid-19 or required to self-isolate as a close contact or high-risk or a parent/caregiver of the person required to self-isolate.

The Wage Subsidy March 2021 from MSD opened on 4 March and closed on 21 March, for businesses affected by 40% loss of turnover due to alert level changes on 28 February 2021. It paid businesses a two-week lump sum of $585.80 per full time worker a week ($350 per part time worker) for each worker. The scheme can be re-opened in future too if needed. You can only claim one of the Short Term Absence Payment, Leave Support or Wage Subsidy for the same employee at the same time. Employers are required to retain the employees named in the wage subsidy application for the period of the subsidy.

Increase in Top Marginal Tax Rate to 39%

From 1 April 2021, the marginal tax rate for income over $180,000 increases to 39%. This increase has flow on effects for paying bonuses, superannuation contributions and Fringe Benefit Tax. Make sure your payroll system is updated. Read our explanation here.

Sick Leave Entitlement increasing to 10 days

A Bill was introduced in Parliament to expand sick leave entitlements from 5 days to 10 days. The maximum entitlement will stay at 20 days. The additional sick leave days will be added on a date relative to the person's start date. The Bill is expected to pass in mid-2021 with effect two months after Royal Assent. The Government argues that businesses benefit with fewer bugs spreading, leading to fewer absences and more productivity. Some employers I have spoken to are sceptical, as they know of workers who always take their maximum sick leave allowances.

Bereavement Leave to cover miscarriage and stillbirth

Passed unanimously into law on 24 March 2021, granting up to three days bereavement leave if they or their partner experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. Also available if a surrogacy or adoption plan ends by miscarriage or stillbirth. Miscarriages occur in 1 in 5 pregnancies and stillbirths occur in 1 in 200 pregnancies, and can be traumatic for those involved. No proof is required and leave does not have to be taken straight away or on consecutive days.

Employees become eligible for bereavement leave after six months of employment at present, but the Holidays Act Taskforce has recommended that bereavement leave and sick leave entitlements start from the first day of employment, so watch for this change in 2022.

Easier application for Paid Parental Leave

Applications for paid parental leave can be made online and IRD will be able to use its current tax records to determine eligibility in most cases. Paid parental leave payments from IRD were extended to 26 weeks from 1 July 2020.

Equal Pay and pay equity

The Equal Pay Amendment Act came into force on 6 November 2020. It allows workers to make a pay equity claim with employers, and provides a process for resolving issues. Pay equity is about women and men receiving the same pay for doing jobs that are different, but of equal value (that is, jobs that require similar degrees of skills, responsibility and effort).

Workplace change process, even in Covid times

This isn't a new law, but the Employment Relations Authority determination against Eastern Bays Hospice Trust reminds us that good faith and an employee's considered agreement is required, before changing the pay or conditions of employment. Even when Covid-19 forces a business to adopt new work patterns, they can't make unilateral changes without consultation.

Similarly, redundancies must follow the same pre-Covid standards of good faith and consultation.

Collective bargaining timeframes were extended during the first Lockdown.

Personal grievances extended to Third Parties

From 28 June 2020, an employee can apply to ERA to add a third party to the personal grievance claim if the third party has caused or contributed to the problem, in a triangular employment situation. Triangular employment involves three parties – the employer, the employee, and a third party. In these situations, the employee is employed by one employer (the agency), but works under another business or organisation that directs or controls the employee's day-to-day work (controlling third party) such as a temp or secondment role.

Matariki public holiday

Friday 24 June 2022 will be the first public holiday to celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year. Future public holiday dates are yet to be announced, as the exact timing of Matariki changes each year.

Budgetting for Increased Employment Costs

Some of these employment and tax law changes, like the increase in minimum wage rates, are going to have a significant impact on your business budgets. Without adjusting for other factors, the cost of employment will increase between 3-5%. The cost of supplies will also increase. How will you mitigate this increase? Improve employee engagement to increase productivity, work harder yourself, restructure away from labour intensive activities, move offshore?

Please talk with JDW about your options. We can help you by creating multiple budget scenarios to assist your strategic decision making. We can also advise on appropriate payroll systems to adopt if you need to upgrade.

Serena Irving

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Serena Irving is a director in JDW Chartered Accountants Limited, Ellerslie, Auckland. JDW is a professional team of qualified accountants, auditors, business consultants, tax advisors, trust and business valuation specialists.