In the news this month there have been three significant cases arising out of the employment relationship, which have caught my eye. The first case in particular is a shining example of why we have employment law. The second case speaks to why we need safeguards in place to protect the rights of employees, to ensure they are being fairly remunerated, and the third case is a sad one in which an employee did not get to return home safely to his family.
Most employers are good employers. They pay their staff on time for the hours they work, they provide a safe working environment and they generally look after their team. I am pretty sure I am preaching to the converted; however, these cases serve as a timely reminder to always act in good faith and honour your obligations as an employer.
In case #1 – an employee has been awarded $48,000 which includes both wage arrears and a payment for hurt and humiliation.
• The employer threatened the employee when she asked to be paid wages that were rightfully owing to her (unpaid wages and holiday pay to the tune of around $17,000) and to be reimbursed for work-related travel expenses.
• The nature of the threats made the employee feel so unsafe that she reported the matter to the Police.
• It is at this point that the employee left her job with a valid personal grievance on the grounds of constructive dismissal.
The take-home – when you employ someone, you must provide them with an employment agreement, pay them for their work, and pay on time. Additionally you must act with integrity towards your employee.
In case #2 – Smiths City has been ordered to pay workers for daily sales meetings of 15 minutes.
• The argument, that the meetings were not compulsory, didn’t wash with the Employment Court and for good reason – staff felt compelled to attend to avoid being seen as underperformers.
• The court order was limited to those employees who were paid at or near the minimum wage.
• For many staff such meetings would not ordinarily be an issue (depending on the wording in their employment agreements) but for staff who are on or close to the minimum wage, the non-payment of what is essentially a work requirement could well mean the employer is breaching the minimum wage requirements.
We will be watching to see how this decision impacts on employment practices in the future.
The take-home – your job, as an employer, is to keep accurate records of the hours your employee works, ensure you are paying them as provided for in their agreement and ensure you are not breaching the minimum wage criteria.
In case #3 – a Waikato man sadly lost his life after a tractor incident in the wee hours of the morning. This is the first sentencing for fatigue-related failings since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
• There were failings on the part of the employer to adequately ensure the employee was not fatigued.
• Having worked a 16.75 hour day he lost his life while returning home from work and having worked nearly 200 hours in the two weeks leading up to the crash. It is easy to see why the employee was fatigued.
The take-home – as the employer, you must make sure your workplace practices will allow an employee to return home unharmed. You must be engaged in monitoring factors such as fatigue and wellness and do everything you can to help your employees keep safe. It’s non-negotiable.
If you need a sounding board for any employment relations questions or challenges, talk to us at any time, phone 07 823 3250. We are experienced in advising on tough employment issues and can guide you through with professional, confidential advice in all aspects of managing your team.