Working and Employment Law Changes – keep up to date

Dec 18, 2020 2:15:52 PM

Three areas of employment in New Zealand have changed recently and business owners need to keep up to date to make sure they’re meeting their obligations. This article explains what small businesses should know about equal pay and pay equity, health and safety for flexi-working, and forced labour. There are a lot of changes, if you need help navigating them reach out to us and we can connect you to a Business Mentor.

Equal pay and pay equity

The Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020 sets a new framework for pay equity. Wondering about the difference between equal pay and pay equity? Equal pay is about women and men getting the same pay for doing the same work. Pay equity is about women and men getting the same pay for jobs of equal value, even when the work is different. Equal value is determined when roles require a similar level of skill, responsibility and effort.

The new framework aims to make it easier for employees to make claims. It also aims to resolve more claims through mediation rather than through the courts.

Under the new framework, any employee can raise a pay equity claim if they their work is usually done by females and is undervalued – either now or in the past. As an employer, you have 45 days to decide what to do with this claim. You can either dispute the claim or start the bargaining process. A union can also raise a claim. You can read more about the process here.

For small businesses, any pay equity claims will likely be raised by an individual within a business, not by all workers across a sector-wide lawsuit.

Gender bias is often unintentional. You can help check and address pay equity and equal pay issues in your own business with a three-stage process – preparing, reviewing, and implementing a plan. Employment NZ recommends and outlines the process here.

Employing contract staff

Currently, your contractors negotiate their compensation and any other rights with you. In contrast, employees all have minimum rights under law such as leave and breaks. A proposed change would give some contractors more employment-like rights. This is to protect those who may be wrongly labelled as a contractor, or caught between employee and contractor status.

The updated framework would mean businesses would need to meet new disclosure requirements around contractors. Contractors who believe they’re employees could go to the Employment Court. Furthermore, Labour Inspectors can decide on a worker's status. You can read more about this here. 

Health and safety for flexi-working and for employees working from home

One of the biggest changes of 2020 is that more people are working from home than ever before. Businesses should continue to look after their people, take a realistic approach, and act in good faith.

Employers need to consider health and safety anywhere their employee’s work. The law requires employers, as far as reasonably practicable, to provide and maintain a work environment that is without risks to safety and health. This includes mental health.

Here are some things you should consider if you have staff who work from home.

  • Encourage your staff to move around and get outside for some fresh air from time to time, working from home can be stressful.
  • Make sure their computer setup keeps them in a natural position – they may even prefer to stand.
  • Remind them not to overload powerboards or multiboxes, and to keep cords out of the way.
  • Stay connected with regular online or in-person catching ups to reduce the risk of social isolation.

You can find more information here.

Forced labour, exploitation of migrant workers and modern slavery

New Zealand is part of an international treaty on forced labour - The Forced Labour Protocol 2014. The Government has announced several changes that will allow us to maintain our obligations to protect against forced labour. These are often thought of as modern slavery measures.

Many of the new changes are to prevent exploitation of migrant workers. The changes include higher standards for franchises, labour-hire companies and similar businesses. If you’re a fair employer, you’ll welcome these changes because they will help guard against competitors undercutting you because of their exploitative practices.

You can read more about the Government's work in this area here.

Keep on top of your obligations with the right support

Many changes are happening in employment law and how people are working. Of particular importance is pay equality and equity, flexi-work and forced labour. Even though employment law is complex, every business is responsible for meeting their obligations.

If it feels overwhelming, a business mentor is a great person to talk to. Although they don't offer professional advice, they can share their experience and ideas on balancing the demands of business ownership. They can also help you consider when and how you might access further specialist support, information, or resources.

You can find yourself a business mentor now through Business Mentor's online registration process.