Off with a Bang!

These first couple of weeks in April are certainly more than just the beginning of the financial year for a lot of companies. If this wasn't enough to be focussing on, we also have the introduction of the new employment standards and health and safety legislation and regulations.

Following is an initial update about some of the employment changes. As with the introduction of the 90-day trial period we expect to see the application of this new legislation tested through the Employment Relations Authority and Court. What is key to remember is that the new laws are aimed at businesses that are not currently meeting their employment obligations. In the case of health and safety it is an extension and modernisation of what was already requirements in law.

A quick roundup on the key changes are:

Zero hour contracts – these are not prohibited despite what the media has to say! However, if an employee has a set or minimum number of hours to work each week then this should be recorded in their agreement along with an indication of start and finish times or the days those hours will be worked. If hours and days of work are variable for genuine business reasons such as work being subject to uncontrollable conditions like weather, then you can continue to have flexible hours arrangements. However, you can no longer expect an employee to be available for more than the hours or times specified unless they are reasonably compensated for this. In practical terms this means that staff would be able to turn down additional hours that are not specified in their agreement if they are not reasonably compensated for being available to work these additional hours.

Changes in the law will also impact on some shift conditions and terms. Shifts can only be cancelled with reasonable notice or compensation.

Additionally, secondary employment cannot be unreasonably prohibited by an employer.

Parental leave – paid parental leave has increased to a minimum of 18 weeks for all babies born on/after 1 April, 2016. Entitlements to parental leave and payments have been extended to a broader group of employees and 'keeping in touch days' have been introduced. If you have a staff member applying for parental leave, contact a member of the Grow HR team for more information and advice on understanding and applying these new entitlements.

Minimum wage – this has increased to $15.25 per hour for adult workers over 16 from 1 April 2016. The starting out wage (this is not the minimum wage!) has increased to $12.20 per hour.

Deductions from wages – going forward employees must consent to employer deductions from their wages and these must not be unreasonable. Government department deductions such as child support and court fines can continue to be deducted without specific written consent. If you are intending to recover monies owed to your company for any reason, contact Grow HR for more advice. This may no longer be a simple case of making deductions by relying on a clause in an employment agreement.

Clearer record keeping – it is required that employers will maintain an accurate record of all the hours employees have worked and the pay received for those hours where these are not standard and clearly set out in the employment agreement. Where additional hours are worked by lower paid employees (particular on salary) an employer will need to record and be able to confirm minimum entitlements such as payment of the minimum wage have been met. Contact a member of the Grow HR team for more information about maintaining time and pay records.

So what do you need to do now:

Update the health and safety clauses in your employment agreement and contract for services templates. Do contact a member of the Grow HR team for updated wording or a full review of you agreements. Start to review your workforce structures if you have flexible or zero hour employees and/or shifts in operation with a view to determining whether any changes to working practices may be required – contact a member of the Grow HR team for assistance with this Implement time recording systems where these are not in place – contact a member of the Grow HR team if you would like a template timesheet or recording sheet for this

Don't forget to also update (or develop) your health and safety systems for the new requirements and terminology. Contact a member of the Grow HR Health & Safety team where you require assistance with this.