By: Amanda Douglas, Naoimh McSparron
Published: 6/03/2015
There have been multiple changes to New Zealand's employment law framework. The biggest of these, changes to the Employment Relations Act, take effect from today. But there are some other changes too which employers will benefit from being aware of.

Here is a summary of what employers need to know.

Changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000

Changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 take effect from 6 March 2015. In summary, what it means for employers is this:
  • Where there is a union presence in the workplace, employers do not now have to offer the terms of the collective agreement to new employees for the first 30 days of employment.
  • Employers can opt out of multi-employer bargaining and can also seek a declaration that collective bargaining has concluded, when deadlock has been reached, subject to the continuing obligation to act in good faith.
  • Rules around rest breaks and meal breaks have eased in favour of more flexible arrangements.
The right to request flexible working arrangements have been extended to all employees, not just those with dependants. There is no limit to when or how often an employee can request flexible working arrangements.
 
If an employer receives a request for flexible working arrangements, the time frame for considering that request is reduced from 3 months to one. The request can be refused by the employer on the basis that flexible working cannot be accommodated on one of the grounds set out in the Act.
  • Changes to protection of continuity of employment, most significantly, exempting companies with 20 employees or less from the requirement to provide continued employment to 'vulnerable employees' in a restructure.
  • Other changes include pay deductions for employees who take part in partial strikes, the requirement for a notice of strike, clarification regarding release of confidential information and timeframes within which the Employment Relations Authority must provide a determination. 
This all means that it is a good time to update your employment agreements to ensure that all recent amendments have been included.

Minimum Wage Increase

From 1 April 2015 the adult minimum wage will increase by 50c per hour to $14.75.

Paid Parental Leave Extended

Parental leave payments are extended from 14 to 16 weeks from 1 April 2015.
 
"Mondayising" of Public Holidays

Waitangi and ANZAC day have been 'Mondayised'. If they fall on a Saturday or Sunday (which is not otherwise a working day), they will be treated as falling on the following Monday. The first occurrence of this will be ANZAC day which is on 25 April 2015 so the following Monday, 27 April 2015, will be treated as a public holiday.

As with other public holidays, if a public holiday falls on a day that would normally be a working day, the employee is entitled not to work and be paid. If the day of the public holiday is not normally a working day for the employee, the employee is entitled to be paid time and a half for working that day.

Privacy Principles and the Use of Personal Information

Hammond v Credit Union Baywide has quickly become known as "the cake case" and is a recent decision of the Human Rights Review Tribunal in which a former employee was awarded $168,000.00 following a breach of her privacy. The employee posted a picture of   a cake iced with swear words aimed at her former employer on Facebook.  The privacy settings on her Facebook page were set to only show friends. 

The ex-employer obtained a copy of the post and distributed that information to recruitment agencies and the employee's new employers.  The Human Rights Review Tribunal found these steps were taken with the express intent of ensuring the employee would not find employment in the area, of terminating her new employment, and with the intent of portraying her in a poor light. 

This case serves as a warning to all employers to be very careful about the way in which they use personal information of prospective, current and former employees.  The Privacy Act does not allow unrestrained use of personal information and this case demonstrates that the tribunal will be prepared to compensate a person for a severe breach of their privacy. 

Certainly, if there is a "heat of the moment" situation, it is prudent to stop and think about privacy obligations.  If you are not sure, don't do it. 

Our Employment Team will be very happy to provide guidance on these kinds of issues or on anything else contained in this article.

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