UPDATE: Employment law has changed… again

On 6 May, new amendments and additions were made to the Employment Relations Act 2000. Here’s everything small business employers need to know.

One of the major focuses for Jacinda Ardern’s government has been to reform laws relating to employment in New Zealand, and this means Kiwi employers are having to get up to speed on changes as the arise.

The latest updates to employment law have been made to the Employment Relations Act 2000, taking the form of a set of amendments and of additions.

New changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000

Amendments:

  • Set rest and meal breaks
  • 90-day trials restricted to employers with less than 20 employees
  • Increased protections for vulnerable workers when a business is transferred or restructured
  • Reinstatement to be the primary remedy in unfair dismissal cases

Additions:

  • Pay rates to be included in collective agreements
  • Provide reasonable paid time for union delegates to represent other workers
  • Pass on information about unions in the workplace, along with a member opt-in form and first 30-day rule coverage
  • Extending the 12-month threshold to 18 months relating to discrimination based on union activities

Rebalancing worker protections a Coalition priority


To get a better insight into why these updates have been made, as well as how small business operators might expected to be impacted, we spoke to MyHR’s Jason Ennor.

One of the more interesting points Ennor made was to highlight how the law regarding unions may indicate the current government’s appetite for increasing worker protections.

“I believe the government’s aim is to restore strength to the trade unions by re-instating laws removed [by the previous government] over the past nine years, as well as increasing protections and benefits for all workers,” said Ennor.

“I believe the Coalition government feels that labour laws had tilted too far in favour of the employer, so they want to re-balance it.

“This is, of course, a matter of debate.”


Legislation impacts to vary from business to business


In making sure your business is compliant, you’ll have to first check to see which element of the legislation specifically relates to your operations.

“These new laws are quite specific, with consideration for businesses of less than 20 employees, more than 20 employees and businesses with collective agreements with unions,” said Ennor.

1. Less than 20 employees

If you have less than 20 employees and there is no collective agreement in your business, then the main law changes that will have an impact are: breaks, reinstatement and Domestic Violence Leave.

“Employers must make sure they have a structured breaks plan in place and ensure the proper scheduling of breaks.

“This could be particularly challenging for smaller hospitality or retail outlets that might trade with only one employee during quiet times.”

2. More than 20 employees

A business of 20 or more people can no longer use the 90-day trial period for new hires.

“At MyHR, we recommend a shift to ‘probationary periods’, which are explained in more detail via our blog,” said Ennor.

3. Businesses with collective agreements with unions

“If the business has unions in place with collective agreements, they may need to change the process for bargaining with unions, onboarding new employees and administering collective agreements,” said Ennor.

4. For all employers

These updates should have one blanket outcome for all employers, and that’s to trigger a revisit to key HR policies and processes to make sure they’re relevant, up to date and watertight.

“We recommend having an effective Domestic Violence leave policy in place,” said Ennor.

“We also recommend very robust termination processes to ensure employers do not have to reinstate somebody they legitimately let go.”


The cost of doing nothing


So what happens if you fail to take action in making certain your business is compliant with the current letter of the law?

Well, according to Ennor, this is also something that will depend on the size of your organisation.

“Businesses with 20-plus employees who believe they can still use a 90-day trial period will almost definitely lose any unfair dismissal grievance if they let somebody go under the mistaken assumption they can still use trial periods,” he explained.

“This could cost them a lot of money or they may find the employee is reinstated to their job.”

Other businesses should pay careful attention to how their administering breaks and handling other worker wellbeing-related issues.

“Those who fail to implement proper breaks may be up for claims for additional pay and unfair treatment,” said Ennor.

“Health and safety issues or claims may also arise due to fatigue or overwork.”

 

Want to know more? MYOB is joining forces with Jason Ennor and MyHR for a special edition of our popular Employer Essentials seminars in Hamilton, 11 June.

Covering everything from employment law updates, minimum wage increases, improving cash flow, and AIM for provisional tax, you have the option to attend the seminar live on the day, or access an abridged, live webinar soon after.

Click here to find out more about our Employer Essentials seminars.

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