A big welcome to 2015 from the BuckettLaw team!
2014 moves into the rear view mirror we look forward to what promises to be a big and exciting year for employment law in New Zealand, both for employers and employees.
There are approximately 173 babies born each day in New Zealand. That’s over 63,000 NZ mums, and 63,000 NZ dads welcoming a wee tot into their family each year. With new promises being made around paid parental leave, we thought it important to remind parents-to-be of their entitlements under the current and future laws, and to inform employers of their obligations.
Worksafe New Zealand was established to reduce our workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020. The incentive arose from the Pike River disaster, in which 29 of our men perished. The Health and Safety Reform Bill is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the health and safety of our workers. The Bill allows for greater participation from all workers to get involved in health and safety discussions in the workplace. There will be higher legal requirements placed on managers and company directors to manage risk, and to ensure a safe working environment. At present the penalties for non-compliance range from $250k – $500k and 2 years imprisonment. The suggested penalties in the new Bill range from $300k – $3m and up to 5 years imprisonment – plenty of reasons to not be caught short of full compliance.
The Bill means that there can be no passing the buck, nor is there any room for ignorance. Directors and senior managers must be aware of the positive duties imposed on them and their obligations under the new legislation.
Similarly, employees should be aware of health and safety risks/requirements and should raise any concerns with their employer. A worker was recently fired from Top Energy for not following safety procedures. The Employment Relations Authority found that the employer was justified in terminating the employment due to the employee’s failure to follow safety procedures which resulted in a serious situation – his own electrocution. Therefore it is up to everyone in the workplace, not just employers/managers, to ensure safety comes first.
Worksafe also aims to focus on occupational health. You don’t need to be working in a dangerous physical environment for your health to suffer. Workplace hazards which need to be managed include physical, mechanical, biological, chemical and psychological. In particular, there are many psychological stresses on employees, such as:
Directors and managers must recognise and control potential hazards. Education and a broad knowledge of the legal requirements and duties imposed on individuals will be extremely important to avoid accidents or penalties moving forward. Liability will be based on the new standard set to kick in early 2015.
For further information or advice to ensure compliance, contact BuckettLaw – the employment law experts.
The horse is a showy beast with an unremitting desire to be challenged, to progress and triumph. 2014 is the year of the horse – a sign of speedy success, a time to shine, to ride to your destination. Christmas holidays have come and gone, the New Year celebrations can’t carry on, we’ve all had a little too much to drink over the past few weeks and we are back to the confines of the office, still pasty, left to gaze at the sunshine outside and remember the holiday that was… It is easy for the post-holiday blues to set in, leaving us feeling discouraged and disheartened. But tis the year of the horse! We must grab hold of the reins and canter ahead.
8 Tips for Workplace Productivity in the New Year & summer months
1. Start your year over
Already broken your New Years resolutions? Feeling pessimistic? Simply begin the year again. If you have already slipped back into bad habits, reassess your way of thinking and start again today. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. Attitude is key – try bringing your positive holiday energy back into the work place and infect your co-workers with your optimism.
2. Set goals
No matter what stage of your career you have reached, there is always room for improvement. Once again, a positive attitude will assist you in setting achievable goals. Assume success and have confidence that your goals will be reached. Be ambitious, focus on a new project. Anticipate needs around your workplace and aim to satisfy those needs by using your initiative. Push your boundaries in order to work harder and smarter. To achieve that raise or promotion you shouldn’t have to increase your work hours. By working smarter and more efficiently during work hours you can increase productivity and job satisfaction. Concentrate on one thing at a time, or one thing per day to ensure you stay focused on particular goals.
3. Get physical
The abundance of daylight hours in January leaves no excuse for laziness. Enhance your personal wellbeing by getting physical. Get outside on your breaks and lap up the sunshine. A change in routine will bring positive results. If you usually exercise in the evening, try an early morning jog, or organise a team of workmates for a game of touch rugby at the park during your lunch break. We all know exercise boosts our energy levels, de-stresses and increases productivity. Make the most of our stunning summer days – get outdoors and get physical.
4. Eat well & hydrate
Peaches, sweet corn, nectarines, cucumber, spinach, apples, plums, apricots, beans, avocados, cherries, limes, melons, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, beetroot and tomatoes are all in season over the summer months. Eat them! It is so easy to make healthy food choices with an abundance of fruit and veg available. Kick start 2014 with these nutritious options and set a high standard for the rest of the year. Drink water and lots of it. If you are getting bored with plain water, add fresh lime, or invest in a SoadSparkle for the office. Your mind and body will love you for it (as will your boss).
5. Get to work earlier
With the cloudless blue sky luring us outside it is understandable to want to finish work early and head to the beach. Why not see if you can start work earlier and finish up earlier? If this is not possible, get to work bright and early and accomplish all of the important tasks first thing in the morning when you are at your most productive. This way you should, at the very least, not be slogging away in the evenings. You can’t do everything in a day and the sun will rise tomorrow whether or not you have finished your tasks.
6. Spring clean
There’s no point in waiting 9 months for your next spring clean: begin 2014 with a workplace makeover. Getting a head start by organising you work space will increase productivity and help reduce stress. A clean and orderly environment will keep you organised and efficient throughout your hectic day. Go through the stacks of paperwork towering in the corners of the room and take time to consider whether you really need to keep that manual from 2007. De-clutter your computer, make folders for documents you will reuse and remove everything else. Make the time to organise, rearrange and tidy now, and save time in the long-run.
7. Improve relationships
Positive workplace relationships are crucial to promote teamwork, morale and productivity. There is no better time to focus on improving relationships and communication than the beginning of a new year. Keep lines of communication open by making yourself available and freely conversing with others. Ask your boss how you can improve. Cooperate with co-workers and make an effort to be an interested observer. Do not assume anything – always ask, “why?” This will encourage others to communicate more effectively while improving interactions and understanding.
8. Be productive outside of work
Keep busy with the outdoor activities New Zealand has to offer over the summer months. Filling your evenings and weekends with social events and keeping a healthy work/life balance is sure to increase your happiness, which should reflect in your work. Embrace networking opportunities and encourage your colleagues to be social. There are free activities offered throughout the country such as the St John’s Bar outdoor cinema in Wellington, Music in Parks and Movies in Parks in Auckland, the Saturday Night Market in Christchurch just to name a few. Get out, horse around and be productive.
We all love a good James Bond film – plenty of action, guns, spies, a gorgeous woman, and Bond comes out on top. But when this becomes your reality, minus the action, guns, and gorgeous women, who will come out on top?
GPS technology is becoming a common tool used by employers to keep tabs on their employees whereabouts. This aims to prevent employees from abusing their privilege of having use of a work vehicle, diverting from their destination, and falsifying timesheets. That brand new iPhone 5 given to you on your first day of work may have seemed like a generous gesture at the time. But when you realise your employer has been using it to track you, I would imagine you’d like to throw their generous gesture right back at them.
Why shouldn’t an employer track their employees? If their employees are where they say they are, and doing what they say they are doing, what’s the problem? Employer-friendly apps are in abundance. Beginning at the tempting price of ‘FREE’, these apps are advertised as perfect for tracking your friends, children and work colleagues. ‘Trackster’ ($2.59) is a popular choice, claiming it can “make a big difference to businesses” by increasing productivity. These GPS tracking apps can track an employee’s whereabouts, how long they have been there for, where they have been previously, and follow them while they travel. James Bond isn’t so unrealistic after all! But with this incredible technology comes major issues of privacy, consent and reasonableness.
Should an employee have to know and consent to being ‘spied on’ by their employer? And if they do consent, where does the ‘spying’ stop? It is unreasonable for this tracking to be 24/7 surveillance. Surely it should shut off as you leave the office at the end of the day, and resume upon your return the following morning. Yet none of the apps pride themselves in having this automatic capability yet. If your iPhone or Android is being tracked during work hours, then chances are your employer can check your whereabouts any time of the day or night. The old croaky call into work on a Friday morning because you have come down with something overnight will no longer suffice when your employer can log into their Bond technology and see you happened to be within a 30 meter radius of the local bar only 4 hours ago. Good luck explaining that one.
This leads into the issue of privacy. Surely it is none of your employers business where you were last night, whether it be a bar, gay strip club or another employee’s residence. This could lead to all sorts of other employment issues – discrimination, workplace bullying – don’t get me started! So the decision to ‘spy’ on employees could have adverse effects. In 2010 the Law Commission reviewed the law of privacy and considered the issue of surveillance in the workplace. Their report acknowledged the concern of the inequalities of power between employers and employees. The issue stated that “employees cannot be assumed to have freely consented to restrictions on their privacy, and workers need some legal protection of their privacy in order to redress the power imbalance”. However the Commission came to the conclusion that the existing law, in particular the duty of good faith contained in the Employment Relations Act 2000, was at present, adequate to deal with workplace surveillance issues.
To combat privacy issues, companies can issue policies so employees understand they shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy during work hours or when using a work vehicle. But this isn’t a guaranteed solution. What’s to stop an employee purposefully misplacing their smartphone, or accidentally leaving it at work? This would allow them some privacy and completely undermine the whole tracking regime. Ha! This Bond technology isn’t foolproof!
Or that’s what a Christchurch man thought until he was dismissed for serious misconduct after falsifying his timesheets. Mr Stuart was discovered by GPS technology fitted into his work vehicle when his supervisor became suspicious and requested their employer review the GPS records. This review revealed that often Mr Stuart’s work vehicle was parked at his residence well before he claimed to be finishing work each day. The Employment Relations Authority found that Mr Stuart was justifiably dismissed as he was employed in a position of trust, and falsifying timesheets was considered to be serious misconduct in the company’s Code of Conduct. This recent decision indicates the reality of GPS tracking in the workplace. Understandably employers want to maximise productivity, and there are employees out there willing take advantage of any situation.
Is GPS tracking the solution? Employers will love it – nothing will go unnoticed. Employees will hate it – nothing will go unnoticed. What is reasonable ‘spying’? We will have to wait with anticipation for this Bond sequel to play out.
Exciting news for all of you struggling to make ends meet – the government has proudly announced an increase in the minimum wage is set to take place from April 1st. Woohoo! 25 cents more an hour! This takes our minimum wage from $13.50 to $13.75 an hour. That’s a $2 increase per day, and workers will earn around $10 more a week. This is before tax. Can our lowest paid workers afford to live off an income of $550 (pre-tax) a week?
There are thousands of real people, doing real work with real responsibilities in our communities such as caregivers, security guards and cleaners to name a few. These people have families to feed and bills to pay, purely for survival. But what if they wish to go on a holiday, pay for a child’s school camp or dabble in a bit of Wellington’s culture? Maybe for people in minimum responsibility jobs, some might view $13.75 as a fair representation of their efforts. When making a comparison to the UK minimum wage of £6.19, our $13.75 doesn’t look so bad. But Australia dishes out a grand $15.95, or a minimum of $606.40 per week. No wonder so many young Kiwis are heading over the ditch.
And the governments excuse for this pitiful increase? Labour Minister Simon Bridges claims our wage rates represent “a careful balance between protecting low paid workers and ensuring jobs are not lost as the economic recovery gains pace.” Thus, we must consider reality. In a utopian world all employers would have the funds to comply with minimum wage requirements, no matter the economic situation. This seems to be the belief of writers of an independent report prepared for Service and Food workers union. This report published two weeks ago identified $18.40 as a suitable ‘living wage’. Wouldn’t this be amazing! That’s an extra $186 per week – now that would be something to get excited about! But in this economy, with job losses being a regular occurrence, this prospect is unfortunately out of reach. Still, workers and employers need to stay positive. 25cents is better than nothing. And if recent trends are anything to go by, the minimum wage should continue its climb, taking you along for the ride.
And for all you employees on minimum wage, remember:
Employers paying minimum wages, take note:
Q: How do you get a message home to a nation of gun ho kiwis who grew up with a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to safety?
A: A rugby analogy
So… We fill Eden park right, four times.. For the sake of the story let’s say four Rugby World Cup matches, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The stadium is full to the brim. Thousands of fans, all there to see the boys in black.
But, during each game, around about the point when the crowd is thinking “Oo that’s a bit close for comfort” and ponders if the ABs can make it through a World Cup without choking, something goes horribly wrong. Panic spreads, mayhem ensues.
At the end of the weekend 100 people are dead, 25,000 have been hurt severely enough to be off work at least a week, 370 have been admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a life threatening condition and more than 190,000 are hurt badly enough to send a claim off to the folks at ACC. Every single man woman and child that went to watch those games has been hurt. The cost of the carnage, $3.5 billion.
It’s front page news, worldwide, Thousands Maimed in Rugby Disaster, New Zealand’s Darkest Day.
OK, so it’s a little far-fetched, no analogy is perfect, but it gets the message through. That’s how many people get injured in the workplace each year, according to the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, the job in hand, cutting that number by 25%, one full Eden park. No mean feat.
Likely outcomes? A large-scale cracking down on those at the top, meaning heftier fines and penalties for companies and directors. Even our biggest fines fall far short of Australia‘s. ( And we all know how much we hate falling short of anything particularly when it comes to the ‘strayans).
So while we look across the ditch and ramp up our fines your company might get caught in the spotlight. The spotlight will be expensive.
Check your health and safety policy before it’s too late. Be proactive, check with us if you need help with the nitty-gritty.
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It’s always good to exceed your employer’s expectations, but what if you do it just by not dying when everyone thought you would. And then you get fired for it.
This is what happened to Len Clapham, whose employers knew full well he had terminal cancer. In fact they created a position for him on this basis and employed him on this basis. The only problem for the Auckland-based survey company Alexander and Co came when Len didn’t cash in his chips when he was expected to.
Len resigned from his former position as a CEO in Wellington and moved up to Auckland. The expectation of Alexander and Co. was six months, “even a six month period might be optimistic” , so they asked Len to sign their standard employment agreement rather than a fixed term contract. What they in fact got was near to a year, longer if Len hadn’t been shown the door in May 2011.
Len’s employers then made him redundant in what Clapham called a “sham redundancy”. The Employment Relations Authority agreed that the employers had “at best mixed motives”, heavily weighted in favour of edging Len out for reasons other than the downturn of business. Indeed, interest in Lens health and performance show that his employers had a great deal more than redundancy on their mind.
The Authority slammed Alexander and co for the “strong suggest[ion] that the redundancy was a sham” and the accompanying absence of consultation and Len duly received 14 weeks salary and $12,000 in compensation.
Cold comfort, perhaps.
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