The latest set of changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 came into effect in March 2015.
These changes have been well publicised and there is a wealth of information available in respect of the changes on the Department of Labour website. However, when there is a long delay between changes being passed into law and those changes taking effect, it is easy for the timeframes to be overlooked. Set out below is a reminder of the changes which have now taken place.
Flexible working arrangements.
This change extended the flexible working arrangements available for caregivers to all employees. Flexible working arrangements are available from day 1 and there is no limit on the number of requests an employee can make in any year.
An employer must respond to a request for flexible working arrangements within one month (instead of three) and the response must be in writing and contain an explanation if the request is turned down.
Rest and meal breaks.
These were the most publicised changes and the law now provides for reasonable opportunities for breaks which are less prescriptive than before. It is possible to exclude breaks provided compensation is paid but generally speaking, there is no right to contract out of the right to rest and meal breaks. Employees either get a break or a compensatory measure; the employer cannot fail to give either.
Continuity of employment – Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act.
This area of the Employment Relations Act has always been problematic and involves the transfer of employees’ entitlements and information to a new employer in the case of protected employees. The Legislation now contains greater certainty and clarity around the process for this to occur.
There is also an exemption for SME’swith less than 19 employees from having to take on employees affected by the work changing hands.
This change is intended to clarify what information employees are entitled to during restructuring or other situations where continued employment is at risk.
Employers do not have to give confidential information that legally must stay confidential or where there is a good reason to keep the information confidential.
Employers do not have to give an affected employee confidential information about another employee if doing that would involve an unwarranted disclosure of the affairs of that third person.
There have been changes to collective bargaining notably providing that the duty of good faith does not require parties to reach a collective agreement and allowing employees to opt out of multi-employer bargaining from the start.
The 30 day rule giving non Union members who are new employees the terms and conditions of the collective agreement have also been removed