Edmonds Judd

ERA

Extended from 90 days to 12 months

The Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Act came into force on 13 June 2023. It has extended the timeframe in which a personal grievance (PG) can be raised when sexual harassment has occurred at work.

The timeframe now allows a PG to be raised within 12 months of the harassment occurring or coming to an employee’s attention, rather than the former period of 90 days. The purpose of this amendment is to allow sexual harassment victims more time to come to terms with what has happened before deciding whether or not to raise a PG.

Employment law fundamentals

Employment law in New Zealand is underpinned by the Employment Relations Act 2000; it promotes productive employment relationships and encourages employers and employees to act in good faith in all aspects of the employment environment. This is achieved by specific processes to help parties resolve employment disputes in a quick and flexible way, such as allowing an employee to raise a PG. A PG is a complaint that allows an employer and employee to address, amongst other things, a sexual harassment claim.

What is a personal grievance?

You may raise a PG against your current or former employer if you believe you have been treated unfairly or unreasonably. This includes situations where you think you have been:

  • Unjustifiably dismissed
  • Unjustifiably disadvantaged
  • Discriminated against in your employment
  • Sexually harassed in your employment
  • Treated adversely in your employment on the grounds of family violence, or
  • Racially harassed.

When deciding if an act or dismissal was justified, your employer, the mediator or the Employment Relations Authority must consider what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time the dismissal or action occurred.

You can choose to raise a PG with your employer directly or via the Employment Relations Authority. To raise a PG, you have 90 days, or  12 months for instances of sexual harassment, from the date the action or dismissal occurred or from when you became aware of it. You can, however, raise a PG after the 90-day period has expired in other circumstances if your employer agrees.

Defining sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is either repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect. It can be direct or indirect. Sexual harassment does not have to be physical; it can also be through written, verbal or visual materials/actions. You may only raise a PG for sexual harassment if it has occurred during the term of your employment. Sexual harassment is defined in sections 108 and 117 of the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Know your rights

It is important for both employees and employers to know their rights and obligations surrounding personal grievances. Employers should ensure their employment agreements are updated to reflect the above amendments.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Postscript

Minimum wage increased on 1 April 2023

The adult minimum wage increased to $22.70/hour on 1 April 2023.

 

This is a significant increase, up from $21.20, and aligns with the 7.2% rate of CPI inflation in the year to 31 December 2022.

 

Also increased on 1 April were the training and starting-out minimum wage rates that are increased to $18.16/hour; this is 80% of the adult minimum wage.

 

For an employee who works 40 hours/week, the minimum wage rise to $22.70/hour means they earn an additional $60 each week before tax.

 

The government says it will review the minimum wage rate later this year.

 

Renew your employeespay rates

If you haven’t done so already, you should review your employees’ pay rates to ensure you are compliant with the new minimum wages. For employees on a wage this is a straightforward process as you only need to ensure that their wages are at least $22.70/hour. This is not the case for all employees, however, as it includes those on a salary whose current pay rates may be sufficient when they work overtime.

 

During busy times, salaried employees often work hours over and above their regular employment agreement hours. You should check the pay of these employees every pay period to ensure their pay divided by the actual hours they worked meets minimum wage requirements. If not, your employee’s pay must be topped up to at least the minimum wage, regardless of whether any term in their employment agreement says otherwise.

 

Failing to keep accurate time records could lead to a penalty under the Employment Relations Act 2000 or Holidays Act 2003.

 

You should also take the opportunity to ensure your time recording systems are accurate.

 

 

Improving the sustainability of your supply chain

All businesses in New Zealand should be working towards making their supply chain more sustainable – we all have a responsibility to help save the planet.

 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment states that about 70% of your business’s sustainability impact comes from your supply chain – so this is a good place to start.

 

Launched in February 2023, Docket provides a free (and short) online assessment, and practical tools and guides for you to see how well your business is caring for the environment and your team. Docket was created by the Sustainable Business Network in partnership with the government and the private sector.

 

To find out more, go here: https://sustainable.org.nz/docket/

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Insta # dismissal?

Employers, disrepute and social media

Whether we like it or not, social media affects almost every aspect of our daily lives, including employment relationships. How can employees’ ‘private’ social media posts bring an employer’s business into disrepute and lead to an employee’s dismissal? Shouldn’t employees have privacy out of work? On the other hand, if a post adversely affects an employer, shouldn’t they be able to act?

 

The problem with social media

Gone are the days of casual conversations with a limited audience. Social media can reach thousands of people with the click of a button and filter into real life to have an impact on our working environment. An employee’s social media posts ‘shared’ only with family and friends, may ultimately be far from ‘private’. That post or a screenshot can be forwarded and shared with a limitless audience.

 

A social media post (or a like, comment, hashtag or tweet) is often made emotionally or in the heat of the moment, but can be permanent and can quickly cause damage and/or have effects on a business — with far-reaching consequences.

 

Bringing your employer into disrepute

As an employee, if your conduct impacts (or potentially impacts) adversely on your employer’s business or reputation, you could be deemed to bring your employer into disrepute. It is conduct that intrudes on your workplace relationships and obligations, or your ability to do your job. It could be during working hours or outside of it, but there must be a clear link between the conduct and employment.

 

The line between personal opinion and employer disrepute is murky. Employers need to consider whether an objective, fair-minded and independent observer aware of the circumstances could have considered an employee’s actions/posts have brought or carry a reasonable risk of bringing it into disrepute.

 

Some examples leading to dismissal

The range of behaviour is wide but whether it is bad enough to warrant dismissal will depend on an employee’s position and the sector in which the employer operates.

 

In a recent case[1], the dismissal of a nurse was justified after she posted her views on vaccination on Facebook. While she argued the posts were private, was unaware of their reach and posted opinions often shared by others, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) disagreed. There was a significant risk of harm to her DHB employer’s reputation if her posts had been viewed by the wider public, especially as she was a community nurse.

 

In some cases, liking or commenting on someone else’s posts may be enough to bring an employer into disrepute. In a 2014 case[2], an employment advocate (who was representing an employee) made negative posts about that person’s employer. The employee (whose Facebook identified her employer) liked the advocate’s posts.  She was endorsing disparaging views and ensuring the posts were shared with her ‘friends’ who were other employees or customers. Her dismissal was justified.

 

Social media posts may also affect the work environment, or lead to claims of bullying and harassment within it. Examples include employees sharing explicit videos with other employees (even outside of work) via Facebook Messenger or making offensive comments about other employees. All employees should think twice before posting embarrassing work party photos, as this could also be found to be bullying or harassment.

 

What about privacy?

As an employer, you may become aware of social media posts because you are a ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ of your employee or have been provided them by someone who is.

No privacy breach will occur if a legitimate recipient provides this to you; as social media is objectively in the public domain and may go beyond ‘friends’ and ’followers.’ You cannot force your employee to give you access to their private accounts or coerce others into doing so.

 

When the matter ends up before the ERA, it has the power to order disclosure of this material, if it is relevent. The ERA may also order your employee not to make any posts on social media about your business, employees or any confidential information.

 

What can you do?

Employees must always think twice when posting on social media. If you are posting anything which may be associated with your employer, your workplace or that may impact on your ability to do your job you should err on the side of caution. Where your workplace has a distinctive brand or uniform ensure these are not in any post unless your employer has authorised this placement.

 

Employers should have a social media and internet use policy in place and/or a clause in employment agreements. Investigate any allegations and follow a full and fair process before making any decisions, particularly where there is the possibility your employee may be dismissed. You must also be careful of your own social media posts of, or about, employees.

 

Social media can be a minefield from an employment viewpoint. If you need any guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

[1] Turner v Wairarapa District Health Board [2022] NZERA 259

[2] Blylevens v Kidicorp Limited [2014] NZERA Auckland 373

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650