Important Changes to Employment Law

There have been a number of changes to employment law recently, some of which took effect from December 2018, including changes to union access and collective bargaining processes, and a greater emphasis on reinstatement if employees have been unfairly dismissed.

A further raft of changes will be effective from 6 May 2019 with two of the major changes being:

1. 90 day trials

From 6 May 2019 only employers with less than 20 employees can include trial period provisions in new contracts. Provisions for 90 day trial periods contained in employment agreements signed prior to that date will still be valid regardless of the number of employees in that business. Employers should continue to be aware however that for a trial provision to be valid the employee must have had a chance to review and seek advice regarding their employment agreement before signing it, and the agreement must be signed prior to the first day of employment. We strongly recommend that any employer considering terminating a worker’s employment using a 90 day trial provision seek advice from us before doing so, as you may not be entitled to do so if you have not followed the right process.

2. Rest and meal breaks

The previous flexibility around meal breaks has been rolled back to be replaced with prescriptive provisions based on the hours worked. For example an employee that works eight hours will be entitled to a minimum of two 10 minute paid rest breaks and one 30 minute unpaid meal break. The timing of breaks is to be by agreement or failing that in accordance with specified rules. We recommend that employment agreements include specific rest and meal break times.

Other changes include expanding the protections around restructuring for vulnerable workers so that employers with less than 20 employees are no longer exempt and restoration of the 30 day rule. This rule requires that all new employees are covered by the same terms as an applicable collective agreement for the first 30 days, after which different terms can be agreed, assuming the new employee hasn’t joined the union.

Review your employment agreements

We recommend that employers should review their employment agreements to see if they comply with the new laws. The above points are not an exhaustive list of the amendments to the Employment Relations Act – if you would like to discuss how the changes may affect you, please call Teresa Mee on 06 8728210 or email her on [email protected] . She would be happy to help you make sure that your agreements are fit for purpose and that you are prepared for the upcoming changes.