Forthcoming Changes To Employment Relations Act – 2016
Employers, particularly small and medium enterprises, need to consider the potential implications to their businesses of proposed changes and to ensure that they comply with the new minimum standards and obligations if and when they are introduced.
1. Zero Hour Contracts –Availability Provision
This refers to workers on contracts who have no guarantee as to how many hours work they will be provided with from week to week.
Employers will be prohibited from having an “availability provision” in an employment agreement unless there are genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds and the employee is compensated for making him/herself available to perform work. Genuine reasons include whether the employer can meet business demands without resorting to an availability provision with the aim that employers put other strategies in place to cover workflows instead.
2. Parental Leave
Parental leave is to increase from 16 weeks to 18 weeks from 1 April this year.
Also, it is intended that parental leave is to be extended to cover “primary carers”, or their spouses/partners, and to casual or seasonal workers and those who have recently changed jobs. Parents of premature babies will be entitled to receive parental leave payments for longer.
There will also be increased flexibility including “keeping-in touch” days which would allow a person on parental leave to work (perhaps attend project or team meetings) a maximum of 40 hours without being treated as having returned to work.
3. Enforcement of Standards
Clear record keeping will be required to show compliance with minimum standards. An employees hours of work must be included in their employment agreement or else a clear indication of the arrangements as to when the employee is to work.
A record of actual hours worked is to be kept, including for salaried workers, as well as the pay for those hours. This is to protect low-salaried workers working in excess of their usual hours even where the employment agreement requires them to work all necessary hours to complete their duties or make themselves available for additional hours of work. Employees will also be able to seek penalties against their employer for breach of the Holidays Act, Minimum Wage Act and Wages Protection Act and also pursue action against those “being involved” in any non-compliance to recover unpaid holiday pay or unpaid wages to which the employee is entitled or arrears of wages.
4. Unreasonable Deductions from Wages
It is intended that unreasonable wage deductions will be prohibited, particularly where to compensate the employer for loss or damage caused by a third party outside the employees control. For example, it would be unreasonable to have wages docked to cover loss caused by customer theft.
5. Flexible Working Arrangements
It is intended to extend the right to request flexible working arrangements to all workers as well as allow workers to ask for flexibility from the commencement of their employment (no longer wait 6 months), remove the limit on number of requests which can be made each year and reduce the time in which an employer must respond, with the response in writing and setting out an explanation of any refusal.
Source: InBrief AUTUMN 2016