Changes to the Employment Relations Act came into force on 6 March 2015. We have set out a summary below:
Rest and Meal Breaks
Employers and employees are now able to negotiate the timing and duration of rest and meal breaks. Where there is no agreement, the final decision will be the employer’s, subject to reasonableness and good faith. It is also possible, in certain circumstances, to not provide breaks provided there is reasonable compensation. However, always check what your employment agreement says as the number and timing of breaks can always be agreed in that contract.
An employer does not have to give an employee confidential information about another identifiable employee/job applicant. Employers are now also able to withhold evaluative or opinion material including the identity of the person who supplied it, if provided in confidence. This is particularly important in a downsizing situation.
Unions and Bargaining
The “30 day rule” no longer applies (unless it is still a term of your CA) and employers with a CA can offer new employees terms and conditions of their choice, including the employer’s own standard individual employment agreement. There is no longer a duty to agree and conclude a CA, but the parties must still bargain in good faith and try to reach agreement. Employers are able to opt out of multi-employer bargaining if they didn’t wish to be involved and for the first time, proportionate pay reductions are possible where there has been a partial strike. Advance notice is required for all strikes or lockouts – not just in essential services, as was previously the case.
Employment Relations Authority
The Authority is now required to provide an oral determination at the conclusion of the investigation, “wherever practicable” (and a written record of that determination within one month), or an oral indication of its preliminary findings (and a written determination within 3 months). There will be extensions allowed in exceptional circumstances.
“Vulnerable Employees” and Continuity of Employment
Companies employing less than 20 people who are involved in a sale or contracting out of work are now exempted from the requirement to offer to transfer particular types of employees on the same terms and conditions as they currently hold.
Flexible Working Arrangements
The right to request flexible working arrangements has been extended to all employees (not just those caring for other people). Employers will need to respond within one month and employees will be able to make multiple requests in a 12 month period.