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Filling Employment Gaps Over Summer (Summer 2016)

With the holidays coming up, you may have started to think about whether to employ some extra people over the holidays.

If you do, think carefully about the kind of help you need and broadly what kind of employment contract is best suited to the situation. It’s important to make sure you comply with current employment law and have it right from the start.

Casual employees might be right for your business, for instance if you are covering unexpected absences. But remember that, no matter what you call the employment, if you treat casual staff as if they are permanent – for instance, give them regular hours or work over a sustained period – their employment may be regarded as permanent, with all that that entails.

Points to note:

  • Casual work is intermittent or irregular, and casual employees don’t have to accept every offer of work you make so it may not fit the situation you have in mind
  • Just like other employees, people who work casually for you need an employment agreement
  • You can offer casual employees annual holiday pay on a ‘paid as you earn’ basis. You need to discuss this with the people you propose to employ as casuals. If they agree, this must be stated in their employment agreements, and payment must be recorded separately in wage records at a rate of at least 8%.

Fixed-term employees
It might suit your needs better to employ someone on a fixed-term agreement, particularly if working hours are going to be regular and predictable.

But the law is very strict about the form of such agreements, and if that is not complied with, you may find yourself with a permanent employee, i.e. someone whose agreement is of indefinite duration.

Because a fixed-term agreement is intended to be for a limited time, the agreement must state the means of ending the employment relationship. For instance, this might be a specific date or event (like the last day of the Boxing Day Sales or the final performance of the Christmas pantomime). Or it might be when a specific project is completed, for instance roofing the new hay barn or installing a new cooling system.

As an employer you must have genuine reasons for the employment period to be fixed-term and you must advise your prospective employee of when and how the employment term will end and the reasons for it ending in that way. Make sure the employment agreement backs this up clearly.

Be aware of the rules around entitlement to holiday pay. Like casual employees, employees on a fixed-term agreement of less than one year can agree that they will receive 8% added to their gross weekly earnings (paid-as-you-earn) instead of taking annual holidays or getting paid out all of the 8% at the end of their term. Again, you must state this clearly in the employment agreement, it can’t be less than 8% of the hourly rate, and it must be shown as a separate item in the employee’s pay slip and in wage and time records.

If you would like more information about how to cover these situations in your employment agreements or your wage and time records, please let us know.

Seasonal workers
Many businesses are looking for seasonal workers. The hospitality industry want people for their high season. The summer fruit and wine sectors are moving into high gear.

If you are keen to employ seasonal workers over the summer and can’t find New Zealand citizens or residents to do the job, it could be an option to employ overseas workers.

If you are considering this, make sure you take these simple steps:

  • When advertising, state that applicants must be entitled to work here
  • When applicants contact you, ask for evidence they are entitled to work here
  • Keep this evidence on file

Check their visa and passport details on Immigration NZ’s online tool VisaView
And remember – like other workers, seasonal workers have rights as employees and are able to seek protection from workplace bullying or exploitation. Make sure you observe their entitlements to holiday pay and breaks, that you pay them at least minimum wage and have written employment agreements with them.

RSE scheme
If you are an employer in the horticulture or viticulture industry, and your need for seasonal workers comes up annually, you might consider becoming a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE).

This scheme can help you recruit overseas workers when there aren’t enough New Zealanders to plant, maintain, harvest and pack your crops.

You need to apply for RSE status and it needs to be renewed regularly. Talk to us if you would like to pursue this.