Employment Relationship Problems

What is an Employment Relationship Problem?
It can be anything that harms or may harm the employment relationship, other than problems relating to setting the terms and conditions of employment. If either the Employer or Employee feels that there may be a problem in the employment relationship, the first step is to check the facts and make sure there really is a problem, and not simply a misunderstanding.

Either party might want to discuss a situation with someone else to clarify whether a problem exists, but in doing so they should take care to respect the privacy of other employees and managers, and to protect confidential information belonging to the Employer.

For example, the Employee could seek information from:

  • Friends and family.
  • The Employment Relations Info-line on 0800 800 863 or on its website at www.ers.dol.govt.nz.
  • Pamphlets/fact sheets from the Employment Relations Service.
  • Their union (if they are a union member), a lawyer, a community law centre or an employment relations consultant.

Discuss the Problem
If either party considers that there is a problem, it should be raised as soon as possible. This can be done in writing or verbally. Provided the Employee feels comfortable doing so, they should ordinarily raise the problem with their direct manager. Otherwise the problem can be raised with another appropriate manager.

A meeting will usually then be arranged where the problem can be discussed. The Employee should feel free to bring a support person with them to the meeting if they wish. The parties will then try to establish the facts of the problem and discuss possible solutions.

The Next Steps for Resolution
If the parties are not able to resolve the problem by talking to each other, a number of options exist:

  1. Either party can contact the Employment Relations Infoline, who can provide information and/or refer the parties to mediation.

  2. Depending on the nature of the problem, the issues involved may also be ones that the Labour Inspectors employed by the Department of Labour can assist with, i.e. minimum statutory entitlements such as holiday, leave or wages provision.

  3. Either party can take part in mediation provided by the Employment Relations Service (or the parties can agree to get an independent mediator).

  4. If the parties reach agreement, a mediator provided by the Employment Relations Service can sign the agreed settlement, which will then be binding on the parties.

  5. The parties can both agree to have the mediator provided by the ERS decide the problem, in which case that decision will be binding;

  6. If mediation does not resolve the problem, either party can refer the problem to the Employment Relations Authority for investigation.

  7. The Authority can direct the parties to mediation, or can investigate the problem and issue a determination.

  8. If one or other of the parties is not happy with the Authority's determination, they can refer the problem to the Employment Court.

In limited cases, there is a right to appeal a decision of the Employment Court to the Court of Appeal.

Resolving Employment Relationship Problems
All employment agreements are required to contain an explanation of the steps that should be taken to deal with employment relations problems that arise. It is important that both the employer and the employee recognise that once a clause is included they should follow the processes laid down.

a) Short Form
If any employment issues arise, those should be raised with the Employer as soon as possible so that they can be resolved. If the matter is not resolved either party can seek assistance from the Department of Labour's mediation service. If the issues are not resolved at mediation, they may be referred to the Employment Relations Authority.

If the issue is a personal grievance, the Employee must present that grievance within 90 days of the event giving rise to the grievance, or after further time if allowed by the Employer or where the Employment Relations Authority grants an extension of time

b) Long Form
If the employment relationship is to be as successful as possible, it is important that the Employer and Employee deal effectively with any problems that may arise. This procedure sets out information on how problems can be raised and worked through.