Employment law shake up coming in 2016

The Employment Standards Legislation Bill is designed to address growing concerns with enforcement of employment ...
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

The Employment Standards Legislation Bill is designed to address growing concerns with enforcement of employment standards and employee protection.

A raft of changes in employment law will happen over the next 18 months and small businesses in particular are being advised to take note.

Employment standards, and health and safety reforms, will introduce new compliance obligations for employers and the consequences for those caught flouting responsibilities could be disastrous.

Dundas Street Employment Lawyers partner Susan Hornsby-Geluk said small businesses in particular would need to get up to speed with new legislation.

Compliance with new minimum standards under Employment Standards Legislation Bill would require employers to have far more robust processes around record keeping.

The hospitality industry and primary industries such as dairy and farming historically had poor record keeping, she said.

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"Those employers will be particularly vulnerable and will need to take quite urgent steps to address the issue," Hornsby-Geluk said.

Over the last few years the Employment Relations Authority had dished out significant penalties for employers not adhering to minimum standards and it was likely to take an even harder line in future.

The new laws were intended to create a change in culture, she said.

"It will be a big change for employers."

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Employers should be meeting minimum standards already but many were not - particularly small and medium enterprises, she said.

"Yes it will come at an increased cost but the cost of compliance is probably modest compared to the risk of the penalties that could be awarded under the legislation."

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and law firm Russell McVeagh have each compiled a round up of law reform in 2016.

Here's what they include.

Employment Standards Legislation Bill

The Employment Standards Legislation Bill was introduced by the Government in August 2015 in response to growing concerns with enforcement of employment standards, employee protections and benefits.

If passed it will result in paid parental leave increasing from 16 weeks to 18 weeks.

It's planned that parental leave payments will be extended to casual and seasonal workers, workers with more than one employer, workers who have recently changed jobs and people who become the permanent carer of a child under the age of six, such as grandparents.

Parents of premature babies will also receive parental leave payments for longer.

The bill makes changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000, Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, Minimum Wage Act 1983, Holidays Act 2003 and Wages Protection Act 1983.

It addresses "unfair employment practices" including deducting pay for losses outside of an employee's control for example service station attendants having their pay docked for customer theft.

Zero-hour contracts

The term 'zero-hours' is not currently defined in New Zealand legislation but it basically means workers on zero-hour contracts have no guarantee how many hours work they will get from week to week.

If the Employment Standards Legislation Bill is passed employers won't be allowed to expect employees to be available to work with no guarantee of hours unless they pay reasonable compensation.

Employers must also not cancel a shift without giving employees reasonable notice or reasonable compensation, both of which must be set out in an employment agreement.

Unreasonable deductions from wages and unreasonably restricting an employee's secondary employment would also be banned.

A Select Committee report on the bill is due to be released by February 12. If passed it is scheduled to come into force on April 1, 2016.

Enforcement of employment standards

The bill also requires employers to protect vulnerable workers by strengthening the enforcement of minimum employment standards such as minimum wage and holiday entitlements.

Clearer record-keeping will be required and a new infringement notice regime will be introduced.

The most serious breaches, such as exploitation, will be heard at the Employment Court and maximum penalties will increase significantly.

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

The aim of this bill is to reduce the number of people killed or hurt at work.

In New Zealand about 50 people die on the job each year and one in 10 is harmed.

The new law comes into force on April 4 and requires employers to take "reasonably practicable" steps to manage health and safety risks at work.

To coincide with the act the Government's occupational health and safety service WorkSafe has set the goal of reducing the number of serious work-related injuries and deaths in New Zealand by at least 25 percent by 2020.

Consultation on the "worker engagement, participation and representation good practice guidelines" closed late last year and a 97 page copy of the draft can be found on the WorkSafe website. 

Changes to working on an Easter Sunday

The Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill proposes a reform New Zealand's traditional Easter trading laws that would give local councils limited power to create bylaws that allow shop trading on Easter Sunday and enable shop workers to refuse work on Easter Sunday without being required to give a reason.

Employers wanting staff to work on Easter Sunday must notify employees of their right to refuse to work at least 4 weeks out from Easter Sunday

The bill passed its first reading late last year and has been referred to the Commerce Committee with a report due on 3 May 2016, Russell McVeagh says.

Asbestos licences

More than 170 New Zealanders die each year from asbestos-related diseases.

To address the issue workers wanting to remove more than 10sqm of asbestos or materials that contain asbestos will need a WorkSafe removal licence under new Health and Safety at Work Asbestos Regulations from April 4.

The law helps ensure workers coming in to contact with asbestos have the skills and experience needed to keep themselves, and others, safe.

 - Stuff

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