Shake up on the Employment Front

28 April 2016

Just in case you thought things might finally settle down having navigated the financial years’ end, Parliament has decided to keep you on your toes with a sweeping reform targeting the Employment Relations Act, Holidays Act, Minimum Wage Act, Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act and Wages Protection Act. A number of changes came into force on 1 April and we expect these to have quite an impact on the workplace. It is important to get on top of the changes now to avoid hefty penalties coming your way.

Paid parental leave is one area that looks a bit different under the new law. The entitlement extension from 14 to 18 weeks heralded in Budget 2014 is now here, along with increased employee flexibility within the scheme. The biggest changes are that leave doesn’t have to be taken as a solid block and casual and seasonal workers are now eligible; as are a wider group of primary carers (anyone who is primarily responsible for the upbringing of a child under six years of age, not just biological or adoptive parents). If you have employees who may be eligible for paid parental leave it will be important to give careful consideration to the new criteria.

The changes are aimed at striking a fine balance between giving employees more certainty in terms of employer obligations, while maintaining flexibility in an increasingly dynamic market. So called “zero-hour contracts” are one of the main practices caught in the crosshairs of reform. Employers can no longer require employees to be available to work without a ‘genuine reason’ for doing so and without ‘reasonable compensation’. Employers are now precluded from cancelling shifts without ‘reasonable notice or compensation’. In addition, ‘unreasonable restrictions’ on employees having secondary employment are also now off the table.

Now is the time to seek legal advice if any of these changes sound as though they could affect the way your business operates. Discussions with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment suggest that employers will have a 12 month ‘grace period’ to comply with the new rules. Those 12 months ought to be used wisely as the new legislation gives enforcement of employment standards much sharper teeth. Serious breaches will now attract sanctions potentially greater than $100k as opposed to the previous maximum of $10k. Employers also run the risk of being publicly named for breaches of minimum standards. Don’t be one of them!

This article is intended to provide a general guide on this topic.  Legal advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.


Carolyn Gardner is a Senior Solicitor in the Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon. Contact Carolyn at [email protected]