Tricky employment law causing mistakes

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 11:48 23/05/2013

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Hard-to-understand employment relations law could be leading to costly mistakes by small business owners, experts say.

The 12th amendment to the Employment Relations Act of 2000 is before Parliament, in a bid to improve legislation around collective bargaining, strikes, and disclosure of job candidates' information.

Auckland University associate law professor Bill Hodge told a briefing in Auckland this morning that while some of the amendments would be positive for employers, they were difficult to understand, especially for small businesses.

"I'm trying to keep up with the changes. How do small businesses expect to keep up with them?" he asked.

The statutes were ordinarily written by the unions, big businesses, and big law firms for the big players, Hodge said.

The lack of understanding of the law could lead to mistakes.

Small businesses did not have the resources to call on lawyers whenever an employment relations incident arose, he said.

Small-scale employers often paid a couple of thousand dollars to settle disputes, so the courts did not see most of the smaller cases.

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts employment partner Jennifer Mills said the courts imposed a higher standard on big businesses, and investigations took into account the resources of the employer.

It was important to be up to speed on employment law, but some employers would not even know the law was undergoing changes.

While the amendments were employer-focussed, there were high ongoing compliance costs that came with the constant changes, she said.

The main points of the amendment bill focus on collective bargaining and strikes, allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer collectives, and to receive advance notice of strikes.

The amendments also aim to speed up Employment Relations Authority decisions by imposing investigation deadlines, and dictating that the authority must give an oral indication of its decision at the end of an investigation meeting.

The changes also limit the information employers can release about candidates during a restructuring or disciplinary process.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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