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Eye on employment law changes

In the rush of business, it is easy to take our eye off the ball when it comes to employment law compliance. The beginning of the year is a good time for many businesses to take stock and review changes to employment law, and how they may impact on your business. Here is a brief overview of the key changes that have taken place over recent years:

1. Tougher penalties and sanctions for breaches of employment standards. You are required to keep records in sufficient detail to demonstrate that you have complied with minimum entitlement provisions.

2. If you do not provide a written employment agreement to an employee, a labour inspector may issue you with $1000 infringement fee.

3. Addressing zero-hour contracts. All employment agreements must include any agreed hours of work and, if you “require” an employee to be available for additional hours, you must include an availability provision in the agreement and ensure the employee receives reasonable compensation for the “required” availability. Also, the introduction of “shift cancellation” provisions requires you to provide reasonable notice or compensation to cancel a shift.

4. You cannot restrict secondary employment for employees unless you have a genuine reason based on reasonable grounds, and record these grounds in the employment agreement.

5. Before any deductions are made in accordance with a general deductions clause, you must first consult with the employee.

6. Reinstatement is back as the “primary remedy” if requested by an employee when a proceeding is before the Employment Relations Authority or employment court.

7. Meal breaks and rest periods are specified as having to be at least one 30-minute unpaid break and two paid 10-minute breaks in a typical eight-hour day. Unless there is agreement about when these breaks are taken, the law requires the breaks to be taken at times as specified in the Act, so long as it's “reasonable and practicable” to do so.

8. Ninety-day trial periods have been restricted to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

9. After six months of service, employees are entitled to up to 10 days paid per annum to deal with the impact of family violence. This could relate to dealing with the impact of historical violence that occurred prior to them being employed by you.

10. Changes to parental leave provisions include extending payments and entitlements to a wider group, the introduction of “keeping in touch” hours during the paid leave period, and allowing employees to resign and continue to receive payments from IRD.

11. Collective bargaining provisions have been strengthened. This has included restoring the duty to conclude collective bargaining as a part of “good faith”, the provision of reasonable paid time for delegates to undertake union activities, and the requirement to provide new employees with information about the union (provided by the union). The 30-day rule has also been restored, which means that for the first 30 days, new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the applicable collective agreement.

Coming Up in 2020

12. “Triangular employment” relationships. This refers to the situation where you have the employees of other contractors on your site, but you effectively control their day-to-day work. From June 27, 2020, if such an individual is dismissed unfairly, they will have the ability to “join” your company in any personal grievance proceedings.

13. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is reviewing the concept of “vulnerable/dependent contractors”. We are also waiting to see the draft legislation in relation to a new Holidays Act and Fair Pay Agreements.

■ Craig is the HR and employment relations specialist for Business Central in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne. He works with small, medium and large businesses in a range of industries. To contact Craig, email: craig.sidoruk@businesscentral.org.nz

Craig Sidoruk