Employment-Related Changes Affecting Employers in 2019

This year is gearing up to one of frequent new developments and changes for Employers, with many of the coalition government’s programmes of work in the employment arena coming to fruition.

December 2018 saw the passing of the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, with many changes affecting mostly employers with unionised workforces. However, there are some changes that will affect a broader range of employers, including reinstatement of the right to specified rest and meal breaks; restriction on the use of 90-day trial periods to those employers of less than 20 employees; and reintroduction of reinstatement as the primary remedy if an employee with a personal grievance requests this.

Some key changes you should know about:

  • Minimum wage increase from $16.50 gross per hour currently to $17.70 gross per hour ($708 (gross) for a 40 hour week) from 1 April 2019;
  • Introduction of domestic violence leave (10 days paid per annum) and the right to request flexible working from 1 April 2019;
  • Re-introduction of specified meal and rest-breaks from 6 May 2019;
  • Restriction of the use of a 90-day trial period to employers with 19 or fewer employees – from 6th May 2019;
  • Proposed changes to the employer assisted migrant worker scheme – currently under consultation.

What should employers be doing to prepare for these changes?

Changes to the 90-day trial period

Employers need to be aware that if they employ more than 19 employees they can no longer rely on a 90-day trial period for new employees. However, any 90-day trial period in an employment agreement entered into by such employers before the 6th May 2019 will still be valid. The wording in the law passed has created some uncertainty as to exactly how the change will affect employers (e.g. is an “employer” defined as an individual or a legal entity). If an individual has structured their business into a number of legal entities – each employing fewer than 20 staff – because of genuine operational reasons, and not to by-pass the law, then their use of the 90-day trial period should be less open to scrutiny. Employers (i.e. legal entities) with more than 19 employees should remove the 90-day trial period clauses from their employment agreements after the 6th May 2019.

If you are an employer with more than 19 employees, you can still use a probationary period instead of a trial period with new employees, and this should be outlined in your employment agreements.

Changes to rest and meal breaks

Employers should revise the wording in any employment agreements issued to new employees to reflect the new provisions and ensure their practices going forward are compliant. Ideally, there should be agreement reached with all employees around how they will take their rest breaks to meet the new provisions. You may want to consider how these changes to rest and meal breaks can be accommodated into your operations and discuss what you are proposing with your employees. In the absence of any agreement otherwise, the Act sets out when the breaks must be taken.

New entitlements to Domestic Violence Leave

It is now possible for employees who are victims of domestic violence, or employees who regularly have residing with them a child who has been the recipient of domestic violence to request up to 10 days of paid leave in each entitlement year. The Act also introduces the right to request a temporary flexible-working arrangement in relation to the domestic violence. These provisions are included in the Holidays Act 2003 (domestic violence leave) and the Employment Relations Act 2000 (flexible working) and were passed under the Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Act 2018. A concise policy and procedure statement in your Leave Policy will ensure that everyone is clear on what this leave is, how it can be applied for and what evidence needs to be provided along with the leave application.

Increase in the Minimum Wage

If you have workers currently paid on the minimum wage of $16.50 (gross) per hour, you will need to confirm the increase in writing to the employee and amend your payroll to ensure the increase becomes effective 1 April 2019.

If you would like to discuss how any of the above employment changes may impact on you as an employer, or would like some support with revising you employment agreements or policies to ensure compliance, please contact one of Safe Business Solutions Ltd HR Consultants on 0508 424 723.