You should all be aware by now that new health and safety laws are in the pipeline. The impetus for change came from the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River mining disaster, and the tragic loss of life, serious injuries and emotional trauma they resulted in. These and the official enquiries that followed them, persuaded the Government to adopt a brand new health and safety law modelled on the Australian legislation. Obviously this is not the first time we have had health and safety laws – we have had them for more than 100 years – but in the past people have not taken them seriously enough and they have not been enforced effectively.
To many business owners and managers, occupational safety and health (“OSH”) law is a body or rules that is intended to be punitive rather than preventative.
It seems to impose on them an impossible obligation to insulate others from every conceivable risk, and removes the incentive for others to exercise common sense and personal accountability. Liability seems to automatically flow from accidents or illnesses the firm was powerless to anticipate or prevent, as if it was simply a tax on business.
Owners of small-medium businesses must dream about operating in a business environment where you are free to choose who you want to employ and who you don’t.
In that idealistic land of fantasy, if the employer simply had a bad feeling about a particular employee – caused perhaps by an indifferent attitude or a “do the bare minimum” approach that wasn’t consistent with the demands of the business but wasn’t quite bad enough to justify dismissal, the employer could choose not to employ that person any more.
Restraints of trade are reasonably common in the commercial world.
You often see them in the context of a sale of business, where the buyer requires the seller not to compete with him for a specified period. They are also frequently found in employment agreements, especially where senior staff are involved, in which case they prevent the employee from undermining the employer’s business for a specified period after the employment comes to an end.
On 1 March 2009 the Government’s 90 day trial employment law comes into force.
This was rushed through under urgency immediately before Christmas - as part of the Government’s emergency response to the current economic crisis - without much advance notice and without any opportunity for public submissions (although a similar Bill introduced by National’s Wayne Mapp had been extensively debated).
Relationships between employees and their employers are generally amicable, but occasionally hostile.
That is a natural consequence of putting two groups of people together with different needs and expectations, in an occasionally stressful environment.
From my experience a large proportion of businesses who employ staff on individual rather than collective employment agreements, have never bothered to record those agreements in writing.
A similar number have written employment agreements but they have not kept up with recent changes of the law, and are now out of date. In both cases the employer may be breaking the law.
In the UK, Canada and Ireland, you can hire someone on the basis that they can’t bring a personal grievance action for unjustifiable dismissal during the first 12 months of employment.
The period is 6 months in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Greece. In Australia you can have a 3 month probationary or trial period for new employees and terminate the employment within that period without having to face an unfair dismissal action.
The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill has now been through the select committee hearing process.
One of the most controversial aspects of the Bill is the proposal to protect the employment of employees when a business is sold or their work is contracted out. Assuming the Bill will soon be passed into law relatively unaltered, it is time to focus on precisely how it would impact on businesses that are up for sale, or are looking to contract out some of their operations. It may be that business owners should bring their plans forward, urgently.
Putting aside all the philosophical arguments for and against the new Holidays Act 2003, the reality is that it is now law, and there are a number of things that employers are required to as from 1 April this year as a result.
There are some changes to your employment agreements you will have to make by 1 April, some further changes you would be wise to make, and certain records you will have to maintain as from that date.