Employment Contracts in NZ: What Employers Need to Know

13 March, 2013 | Carolyn Ranson

Every employee in NZ must have a written employment agreement.  If you employ staff and you do not have a written agreement in place you might be liable for a fine of up to $20,000.

That is certainly one incentive to have a written agreement in place, but even without that potential slap on the hand, it is simply good business practice to have a robust employment agreement that has provisions designed to protect the employer.

Employment agreements date back to ancient Rome, and the consistency and discipline these contracts provided contributed to Rome’s success.   In those days, the employers had all the power and they ensured that this was reflected in their agreements.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you are) those days are long gone and employers need to ensure that the protections available to them are included in the employment agreement.

It is tempting, especially for small business owners, to download an agreement off the internet and use that to cobble something together themselves.   The problem with this is that the types of agreements available online are typically drafted from an employee’s point of view and do not have the provisions, that an employer is entitled to put in, to protect the business and to avoid a personal grievance.

Personal Grievance Claims

The two words that no employer wants to see at the top of a letter received is personal grievance but these claims are becoming more common.  Awards by the Employment Relations Authority for hurt and humiliation alone can be up to $15,000.  Add on an average of 13 weeks lost wages, legal fees and $20,000 penalties and the cost to the business can be severe.

However, a personal grievance claim can be avoided just by making things clear in the employment agreement.   So, why not take a leaf out of the Romans’ book and use the employment agreement as a mechanism to protect your business.

Extra clauses to protect you, the employer

This is where an experienced employment lawyer can assist.  We can look at the worst case potential situation and protect our clients from those issues with careful drafting, as much as it is possible to do so.  Specific clauses can be included that relate to the particular business, its mode of operation and the type of employees it typically employs. The types of clauses that can be utilised are:

  • 90 day trial periods;
  • probationary periods;
  • dismissal for medical reasons;
  • mandatory drug testing;
  • driving licence status;
  • qualifications;
  • work permit;
  • secondary employment; and
  • specific definitions of serious misconduct.

An employment lawyer can also advise you on the inclusion of specific clauses to protect your business assets.  The types of clauses that achieve this are:

  • confidentiality clauses;
  • restraint of trade clauses;
  • non-solicitation clauses; and
  • protection and ownership of intellectual property clauses.

The key factor to keep in mind is that if it is not in the agreement then it can’t be relied on for your benefit.

If you would like advice on any employment law related matters, please contact Suzanne Sumner, Personal Assistant to employment law expert, Carolyn Ranson to find out how you can become a client of Smith and Partners and to set up an appointment to discuss your employment matter with Carolyn.
Suzanne Sumner
Ph: 09 837 6840
Email: Suzanne.sumner@smithpartners.co.nz
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(Please note we do not offer no win – no fee payment arrangements)

Do you need assistance with your employment contracts?

We can help set you up with employment contracts that protect you as an employer – contact specialist Employment lawyer, Carolyn Ranson today to set up an appointment.

email Carolyn
+64 9 837 6891

About the author

An experienced employment, estate litigation and elder law lawyer, Carolyn completed her law degree at City University, London in 1996. She was in house legal counsel for a large retirement village operator, before entering private practice in 2000. She joined
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