Keeping up to date with employment law is really difficult, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter who you are or what training you have, (unless you happen to be a lawyer who specialises in employment law, in which case you already know what you’re doing, so feel free to move on!). What you need to know about employment law in New Zealand can also differ depending on the way you interact with it, the area in which you live in, and what you’re responsible for.

We’ve broken down three main ways in which people use or are affected by employment law, including business owners, HR professionals, and employees. Many of these will overlap regardless of which area you fall into, but your rights and responsibilities may change slightly.

As a business owner

As a business owner, you are required to treat your employees fairly, with respect, and in adherence to employment law standards. But also as a business owner, your main priority is usually keeping yourself in profit rather than debt. Balancing these two things, running a fair business, and staying in a strong profit margin can be extremely difficult to do. One of the biggest challenges facing small business owners is purely a lack of employment law knowledge, and access to education around it.

To help combat potential issues, it’s important that small business owners make an effort to learn as much as they can and as quickly as they can, before any issues arise. To start with, read through the Employment Standards Legislation Bill. This will give you insight on the requirements for things like holidays, time off, parental leave, and minimum wage in NZ. These can change, and without too much announcement, so make sure you take a look through the government employment site often for updates.  

Unfortunately, business owners can be hit really hard with fines or lawsuits and complaints when they don’t follow employment laws, even if it’s completely by mistake. If you’re in doubt at all about what you’re providing to employees regarding leave, probation periods, your hiring processes, contracts or anything else, it might be best to work with an employment law professional to review your system with you.

As a HR professional

If you’re an HR professional, this should all be old news to you. Employment work standards are part of your daily repertoire, and you should know them inside and out. As mentioned above, however, laws change and get amended all the time. To help you stay up to date, make sure you’re also reading the government employment law standards and subscribing to any updates and/or newsletters.  

Taking regular employment law classes, especially if your company will pay for you to attend, is also a great way to stay up to date as well. There are also many forums and conferences with topics like employee relations strategies and explanations on complex new legislation. Besides that, it’s an excellent time to network with other HR professionals and to get better ideas for implementing strategies.

Many times, other HR workers will have knowledge on a topic you won’t, and the simple sharing of the knowledge can save a potential issue later on. For example, you might meet a property law specialist from Hamiliton who can assist with your company’s relocation, or a lawyer who can advise you on a tricky potential lawsuit.

Along these same lines, consider finding a mentor who is in your industry and is a known expert in employment law issues. One of those conferences can be a perfect time to look for one. Find someone who you respect and is respected by others as well, and make the ask, being prepared to be turned down. If they’re that good, they’re probably quite busy, and a no is often times likelier than a yes. But, if you’re successful, use some of these tips to keep the mentor relationship successful. Evaluate the relationship often and make sure that you are providing support to your mentor as well as asking for it.  

As an employee

As an employee, you are often at the mercy of your employer and hoping that they are providing with all of your rights in the workplace. It can be a vulnerable place, especially when you’re not familiar with employment standards. Many young workers, international workers, or low paying workers are especially vulnerable, and reading through New Zealand employment legislation may not be the easiest thing to do for them. Unfortunately, these vulnerable workers are also the most taken advantage.  

One thing that could really help is to at least read through minimum rights as an employee, and take a look at your contract or agreement to make sure they line up. Some of the big hitters you should make sure you are getting is annual leave, paid public holidays, and paid time and a half for overtime worked.

The New Zealand government has a contact page for employees who have questions on these issues, or if they believe they aren’t being provided minimum rights. If you have any questions on your contract or aren’t sure what you’re entitled to at work, use this page to contact them.

As you might have gathered, you are your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to understanding and applying employment law. You are also responsible for speaking up if something isn’t right or doesn’t sound fair, no matter what position you have. There are plenty of resources out there to help you stay up to date with any changes in the legislation, as well as employment law specialists who you can often reach out to free of charge to see if there actually is an issue. Stay informed, read as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to reach out when an issue gets confusing or complicated.

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