Recent Changes To The Employment Relations Act – May 2019

As an employer, it is your responsibility to stay on top of any legal changes that could impact your staff. Failure to do this could see you in breach of employment law.

That is a place that no one wants to be!

You, of course, want to make sure that your business is well protected and that your staff have a safe and healthy environment to work in.

But sometimes it can be hard to keep up.

Recently, there were changes introduced to the Employment Relations Act 2018 via the Employment Relations Amendment 2018. To make sure your business is fully compliant, we thought that we would give you a rundown on what the changes are and what they could mean for your business.

Changes To The Employment Relations Act 2018

As of Monday 6th May, the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 comes into full effect, except for the union changes which will take place on 12th June 2019. It brings with it a number of changes designed to improve fairness in the workplace.

Back in December 2018, the original Act passed into law. Its focus was to make working conditions fairer with less discrimination and fair wages.

The underlying theme was to give employees more protection. This was particularly true for vulnerable workers, and strengthened the power of collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace. A lot of the changes were familiar to employers as they were a rollback of the law to previously held rights.

So, what does it all mean? What exactly are the changes?

Let’s look at each of them in a little more detail…

Rest And Meal Breaks

While employees have always been entitled to a break, the requirement is now that they have set rest and meal breaks based on the number of hours worked. This is to allow them to work safely and productively.

The minimum rest breaks must be paid for by employers, but the minimum meals breaks do not have to be paid. Employers and employees should come to a mutual agreement on when the breaks should be taken so that there is adequate cover at all times and sufficient downtime.

If you are unable to reach an agreement with your employees, then the law states the breaks should be taken at set times as long as it is reasonable and practical to do so.

If you want to check out the breaks your workers are entitled to, then you can download this PDF from Employment New Zealand.

Trial Periods

There has been a lot of noise around the 90-Day Trial Periods ever since they were introduced to small businesses in 2008. They were designed for employers to ‘trial’ new employees to see if they had the right skill levels and attitude for the role. The trial period could last up to 90 days.

While great in theory to lower the risk for employers and to give both parties an easy way out of things simply weren’t working, there were also some negatives. Some employers took advantage of the provision, as did some employees.

To regulate the process somewhat, the change in law will restrict the 90-day trial periods to businesses with 19 or fewer employees. The thought behind this decision is that it will help to prevent unjustified dismissal.

Businesses with 20 or more employees can still include a probationary period for new hires. This will allow them the opportunity to assess the skills of an employee against the responsibilities their role carries.

Reinstatement Of Unfairly Dismissed Employees

This change is around prior unfair dismissal of workers. If an employee was found to be unfairly dismissed, then the Employment Relations Authority will recommend reinstatement as the first course of action. Meaning that the employee would be offered their job back.

Of course, an assessment would take place first to ensure that reinstatement is the most practical solution for both employee and employer.

Restoring Protection For Vulnerable Industry Employees

Workers in certain industries like cleaning, catering and caretaking are classified as vulnerable employees. This is because they are at greater risk of losing their job due to a lack of bargaining power. This is generated by the fact that these roles can be removed with the sale or transfer of a business, or can be easily contracted out.

The changes in this Amendment seek to give them more job security. This will be done by allowing employees to transfer their current contract terms and conditions, regardless of the size of their employer. There will also be a longer notice period where employees can choose to transfer to the new employer.

Union Activities

There have also been a lot of changes that strengthen union rights and the power of collective bargaining. These changes are all designed to ensure an actual resolution is reached during the process.

You can read more about the changes for collective bargaining, collective agreements and unions here on the Employment NZ website.

As you can see there are a number of changes to the Employment Relations Act that could impact your business. For more detailed information on the changes, you can download the Employment NZ Fact Sheet.

Make sure you stay on top of these changes with great HR software like Cloud My Staff and Cloud My Centre.