Employment Relations Amendment Act

More flexibility and choice at work underpin upcoming changes in the Employment Relations Amendment Act, which comes into effect on 6 March.

The Act includes a handful of changes that will affect small to medium businesses, including more flexibility around rest and meal breaks, and opening flexi-time up to everyone not only parents and caregivers.

Key focus areas

The Act focuses on six main areas:

  • the collective bargaining framework, including strikes and lockouts
  • flexible working arrangements
  • Part 6A - continuity of employment for specified employees
  • the duty of good faith
  • rest and meal break rules
  • provisions for the Employment Relations Authority.

What the changes mean for your business

The main changes for small and medium businesses are:

  • Extending the legal right to request flexible working arrangements from caregivers only to all employees.
  • Greater clarity on the confidential information employers must give workers in situations such as dismissal or redundancy.
  • Giving employers more certainty over the transfer of employees in specified industries in the case of restructuring or a change in contracted service provider. Organisations with fewer than 20 employees may have some exemptions from this.
  • More flexibility around rest and meal breaks.

Flexible work arrangements

The changes here aim to improve people’s participation in the labour market and to better reflect modern lifestyles.
The key changes are:

  • extending the statutory right that caregivers currently have to request flexible working arrangements, to all employees
  • removing the requirement of six months’ prior employment with the employer, so employees can ask for flexibility from their first day on the job
  • removing the limit on the number of requests an employee can make in a year
  • reducing the timeframe within which an employer must respond to a request from 3 months to 1 (and requiring that the response be made in writing and include an explanation of any refusal).

Rest and meal breaks

The Act aims to make the rest and meal break rules in the Employment Relations Act more flexible, such as to balance breaks with business continuity.
The Act:

  • allows reasonable limits to be agreed or imposed on when rest breaks and meal breaks can be taken
  • gives employers the ability to say when breaks will be taken, if they can’t agree with employees
  • gives employees the right to be reasonably compensated where the employer can’t reasonably give the employee rest and meal breaks
  • requires employers to pay employees for rest breaks
  • stops people contracting out of legal rest and meal breaks or the requirement to give compensation instead of breaks
  • doesn’t overrule any other law that makes an employee take rest and meal breaks in a certain way.

More information about the changes is available on the Employment.govt website(external link).

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