2019 Employment Legislation Changes

This article has been written by Anca Popoviciu, HR Manager, Garage Project for the Brewers Guild of NZ

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 has passed by Parliament and employers can expect to feel some deja vu as most of the changes roll the law back to how it was as recently as 2015. It’s a Labour government so many of the changes focus on renewed rights for unions pre-National government and include changes such as giving union reps access to workplaces without consent.

More importantly, the changes that affect our industry include the reinstatement of prescribed meal and rest breaks and the limitation of the  90-day trial period to business with fewer than 20 employees.

These changes take effect 6 May 2019, which means if you are an employer with more than 20 staff, you will not be able to use the 90 Day trial period for any new hires dated 6 May and after. That means, any contract that is signed on or after the 6th of May cannot include this provision but you can still use it until then and if you need to execute the provision after this date, the law is retrospective to the time the agreement was signed.

Employers can still use probationary periods, which can prescribe an underperformance dismissal process to include a shorter notice period and can vary in length. However, the employee can bring a personal grievance for being dismissed and it requires a fair, reasonable and prescribed process for dismissal that must be followed closely.

What this means for employers with over 20 staff, and in general, is that we have to be hypervigilant when we are recruiting to make sure we are getting the right person as there is no simple, easy safety net any longer.

I imagine this law change will make practices such as ‘work trials’ and casual contracts more commonplace - but a word of caution if you are intending to do either is to make sure you have the right intentions with these as they can be tricky to navigate. ‘Trials’ should be referred to as ‘practical interviews’ to avoid confusion against the trial period, they should be well communicated, documented and agreed to before commencement, they shouldn’t be longer than half a day and they shouldn’t be paid as this can misconstrue employment.

Prescribed Breaks

Breaks are currently not prescribed and left to the employer to ensure they are being reasonable. Changes will mean there will prescription to what is provided, from the outset of the agreement, such as:

·     i.e for an 8 hour shift, the employee will be entitled to 2x rest breaks and 1 meal break

·     i.e for a 4 hour shift, the employee will be entitled to 1x rest break.

·     Rest breaks are 10 minutes long and are paid

·     Meal breaks are 30 minutes long and are unpaid

I do not believe it is likely going to be as prescriptive as far as the specific times. From the 6th of May, all shift rosters need to take consideration of these breaks, particularly the meal break as it is a minimum of 30 minutes and generally unpaid, although you can choose to pay for this break but should still be noted to be able to demonstrate compliance to the new legislation.

Other important changes outside of this Bill include the Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill, which was passed and the changes will come into effect on 1 April 2019.  The new law entitles employees affected by domestic violence to up to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave per year in order to deal with the effects of domestic violence.

For more information on the changes, you can check out the Employment website: https://www.employment.govt.nz/about/employment-law/employment-relations-amendment-bill-2018/

If you have any comments or questions on this, please feel free to contact Anca by email anca@garageproject.co.nz


Cathrine Van Venrooy