NEW ZEALAND: Annual Update – Expected labour law changes in 2016

Cyber-bullying and harassment

Harmful Digital Communications Act: A new law has been implemented, which aims to prevent harm caused by digital communications. The measures address damage spread through methods such as emails, texts and social media posts. The rules tackle cyber-bullying, harassment and ‘revenge porn’ (i.e. sharing explicit sexual images on the internet without the person’s consent). The Act also introduces criminal offences and standard take down procedures.
The criminal offences became effective on July 3, 2015, but the take down procedures won’t begin until two years from July 2016.
Action required:
(1) Employers should put in place processes to monitor their website or App contents as they may be legally responsible for content posted by staff.
(2) Although not required, it is a good idea to address these issues in a digital communications policy (particularly for larger employers which are dependent on digital work). The policy can specify behaviour standards when using the business’ digital communication facilities.

Health and safety

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015: With effect from April 4, 2016 new rules and regulations will be introduced that replace the previous legislation. The regulations will cover general risk and workplace management; major hazard facilities; asbestos; and worker participation and representation. WorkSafe NZ will issue guidance to support the new Act and regulations. This formal guidance will start to become available in 2016.
The legislation introduces the concept of a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking, known as a PCBU. A PCBU is in the best position to control health and safety risks as it carries out the business. It will usually be a business entity rather than an individual. The PCBU has the duty to control risks to work health and safety as far as is reasonably practicable, and it must consult employees on health and safety practises. Officers of PBCUs (people at the governance level or with “significant influence” in the management of the business) must exercise due diligence ensuring that PCBUs comply with their duties.
Action required:
(1) Businesses should ensure they understand who the PCBUs are and whether or not there are any overlapping duties.
(2) Ensure any published guidance is reviewed and put into practice.
(3) Implement a due diligence plan ready to be used by Officers of PCBUs.
(4) Check the requirements for health and safety representation based on the size of the business and the business risk level.

Zero hours contracts

Employment Standards Legislation: The law is yet to go through Select Committee stage, but once implemented, it will introduce changes to the use of zero-hour contracts. The law will prevent unreasonable deductions from employee’s wages (even if with consent); cancelling shifts without providing reasonable notice or compensation; and putting unreasonable restrictions on secondary employment. Employers will need to maintain compliance records (monitoring working hours and holiday). A failure to do so will result in fines.
Action required:
(1) Ensure reasonable notice provisions in zero-hour contracts are being complied with.
(2) Make sure that policies are in place to record compliance with entitlement provisions.
(3) Ensure employee records are kept for 7 years (or for as long as necessary).

Prepared with assistance from Kensington Swan, Lawyers of Auckland, New Zealand