The world of employment law is ever evolving and it can be difficult for employers to keep up with proposed changes and deal with the multitude of other tasks required to operate their businesses.

At Turner Hopkins we give you information that you need to know – and in that spirit, we list below some of the areas of employment law currently being scrutinised by the Government, and some of the proposed amendments considered.

Definition of Serious Harm

The Government have proposed amending the definition of “serious harm” under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The definition of serious harm is important as an employer or person in control of a workplace must, where serious harm has occurred, report this immediately to the appropriate authority - the Department of Labour, The Civil Aviation Authority or Maritime New Zealand.

The proposed definition of serious harm will contain three main categories of harm:

  • Trauma injury – physical harm arising out of a single accident or event and defined by the degree of physical incapacity,
  • Acute illness or injury – requiring treatment by a medical practitioner and caused by exposure to workplace hazards, and
  • Chronic or serious occupational illness or injury - physical or mental harm requiring hospital admission, in-patient surgery, or able to be confirmed by a specialist medical diagnosis.

It is expected that the proposed definition will be clearer and easier to use and will remove the gaps in coverage of certain types of harm or hazard which currently exist.

Report on Workplace Deaths

There were 31 workplace deaths in 2009 - all of which were men.

Most of the deaths remain under investigation. The Department of Labour has been asked to identify whether there are any common underlying causes and whether employers had failed to meet their obligations to keep employees safe. Some decisions have already been released and they underline the real need for employers to turn their minds to safety features in the workplace, particularly in workplaces involving machinery.

Holidays Act/Personal Grievance Review

The much-talked about review of the Holidays Act 2003 was received by the Minister of Labour in December 2009 and the Government intends that proposals for change will be introduced to a select committee for comment this year.

Some of the proposals may include:

  • the opportunity to trade 1 week of annual leave for cash,
  • a change in the method of calculating holiday and sick leave entitlements, and
  • the transfer of public holidays to another day.

A review of the way that the personal grievance system works is also being conducted. Submissions from those with experience in this field were invited, and closed in March 2010. It will be most interesting to see the conclusions drawn from those submissions. Watch this space for further updates!

Rest and Meal Breaks

We are still receiving enquiries (mainly from employees) with regard to rest and meal breaks. This highlights that many employers are unaware that since 1 April 2009 employees have been entitled to compulsory rest and meal breaks after a certain number of hours of work. Whilst many workplaces meet or exceed the compulsory minimums, some workplaces have had real difficulties and have found that the law, while well-intentioned, is overly prescriptive.

The Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks Amendment Bill (which had its first reading in Parliament on 27 April 2010), while maintaining an entitlement to rest and meal breaks, proposes that:

  • employers may not have to provide a complete break from work duties in situations where the employee is a sole attendant, and
  • where a break cannot reasonably be provided the parties may agree that time off is given at an alternative time, for example an employee may start later or finish earlier in the day.

If you have any questions relating to employment law (either as an employee or employer) we are very pleased to assist. Often queries can be answered with just a short phone call. Put us to the test – contact Michael Robinson or Helen Wendelborn of this office.

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Published: Tue, Jun 1st, 2010 by Michael Robinson

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