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Humankind | 14 December 2018

Upcoming Employment Law Changes

You cannot underestimate the importance of getting the basics right.

At Humankind, we want to help you to create the best employee experiences, and in doing so you cannot underestimate the importance of getting the basics right, including ensuring your employment agreements, policies and practices are up to date with legislation changes.

The Government has recently passed two bills which come into force next year. The changes are mostly focussed on enhancing employee and union rights.

As a result, in 2019 you will need to review your employment agreements, policies and practices to ensure they reflect these changes.

The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act 2018

The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill 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. Employees will be able to take this leave as needed – similar to the existing sick leave and bereavement leave provisions.

The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018

The Government finally passed the Employment Relations Amendment Bill on 6 December 2018. The Bill largely repeals the National Party’s amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) over its nine years in Government and restored a number of employee and union rights. Some changes will come into effect the day after Royal Assent on 12 December 2018 and the rest come into effect on 6 May 2019.

What do the changes mean for employers? 

From 12 December 2018: 

  • Union representatives will be able to enter a workplace without consent if the employees are covered by a collective agreement (or bargaining for one). Representatives must still be respectful of the business’ operation needs and follow health and safety rules. If your workplace does not have a collective agreement, Union representatives still need to seek consent before entering the workplace.
  • Employers will not be able to make pay deductions for partial strikes.
  • Employers must enter into bargaining for multi-employer collective agreements (MECA), if asked to join by a union. Employers will not have to settle the MECA if they have a reason/s based on reasonable grounds not to.
  • The grounds for discrimination against union members is extended.
  • Reinstatement will be the primary remedy considered by the Employment Relations Authority (if requested by the employee) in cases of unjustified dismissal.
  • Unions can initiate collective bargaining 20 days ahead of an employer.
  • New categories of employee may apply to have the protections given to “vulnerable employees” in a restructuring process (currently it is just employees in certain cleaning, catering and laundry roles). The application process set out in the Act will need to be followed.

From 1 April 2019: 

  • Employers must give affected employees up to 10 days’ domestic violence leave if required.
  • Employers must respond within 10 working days to a request from an employee affected by domestic violence for a short-term variation to their working arrangements (up to two months or shorter).  Employers cannot unreasonably refuse a request made under this provision.
  • Employers must not treat an employee adversely in their employment on the grounds that they are, or are suspected to be, a person affected by domestic violence.

From 6 May 2019: 

  • Only employers with less than 20 employees will be able to use trial periods (employers with more than 20 employees or more will be able to use probationary periods but employees dismissed under probationary periods would be able to claim for unjustified dismissal).
  • Employers have to give employees the minimum rest and meal breaks set out in the Act.  This will depend on how long they work, for example, an employee working an eight-hour work day must have two 10-minute paid rest breaks and one 30-minute unpaid meal break, while an employee working four-hours work day must have one paid 10-minute rest break (a limited number of employers offering essential services will be exempt if certain criteria are met).
  • Employers have to employ new, non-union employees on terms consistent with the collective agreement for their first 30 days of employment (the 30-day rule). Once the 30 days have concluded, the employee and employer can negotiate an individual employment agreement.
  • Employers must provide information about unions to prospective employees, and a copy of the collective employment agreement.
  • Collective agreements need to set pay rates and any pay increase over the term of the collective agreement.
  • Employers need to allow union representatives reasonable time to perform their duties within working hours and must pay employees at the same rate for doing union work as they would ordinarily be paid during their ordinary employment duties. Employer can refuse the request if it will unreasonably disrupt the business or the performance of the employee’s duties.

We would be delighted to help you ensure your employee experience foundations are strong and up to date. Contact us today here

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