Employment agreements 

What is an employment agreement?

An employment agreement is a contract between an employer and a worker. It covers things like hours of work, rates of pay and holidays. Every worker must have an employment agreement. It is legally binding, which means if one side doesn’t do what they’ve agreed to, the other side can enforce the agreement through the Employment Relations Authority.

All employment agreements must include certain mandatory clauses and must provide the minimum employment rights for employees. Even if these are not specifically mentioned in your employment agreement they are still legally binding.

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Do I have to have an employment agreement for my job and what should I do if I don’t have a written employment agreement?

Every employee should have a written signed agreement with their employer, because an employment agreement can protect you if anything goes wrong and is useful in reminding you of your rights and obligations in relation to your employment. 

If you ask for a copy of your employment agreement your employer has to provide it. It’s always a good idea to have a copy for yourself in case you have a disagreement with your boss at some stage. 

If a labour inspector finds an employer who doesn't have copies of their employees' signed agreements, they will give the employer 7 days' notice to rectify the issue. If it hasn't been rectified after this period the employer can be fined:

  • up to $10,000 if the employer is an individual
  • up to $20,000 if the employer is a corporation

So if you don’t have an employment agreement, ask your employer for one. You could offer to create one yourself using the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Employment Agreement Builder and give it to your employer to read and consider. If you can’t agree on the conditions of the employment agreement, your employer must still keep a copy of the draft agreement until the final version has been agreed to and signed by both parties. 

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What is supposed to be covered in an employment agreement?

Some things have to be included in an employment agreement by law but most agreements will have extra parts to them to suit your particular situation. There are also a number of minimum conditions that have to be met whether they are included in the agreement or not. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Employment Agreement Builder can help you create an employment agreement which contains the necessary clauses, including:

  • the names of the parties (the employer and the employee)
  • the employee's job title
  • the nature of the agreement, for example that it is an agreement for full time employment
  • the employer’s obligations
  • description of the employee’s duties
  • the location of work
  • the hours of work
  • the term of the employment agreement
  • pay details, such as how, how much and when the employee will be paid  
  • public holiday entitlements
  • how restructuring situations will be handled 
  • how any disputes between the parties are resolved, including information about raising a personal grievance

From 1 April 2016 an employment agreement must include the hours, days and times of work if these have been agreed to between employer and employee. If the employer requires the employee to be available to work above the agreed hours (but can’t guarantee that work will be available at those times), then this requirement must be included in the employment agreement, along with compensation rates that apply to those hours. An employment agreement can’t include a requirement of employee availability unless it also includes a guaranteed number of hours of work. More about this type of work arrangement is on our Hours of work and wages page.

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Can my employer put me on a fixed term employment agreement without good reason?

Sometimes employers and employees agree that the employment will be for a set period of time or until the work is completed. Fixed term employment agreements should only be used where there are genuine reasons for having a fixed term arrangement, and the reasons must be set out in writing in the employment agreement.

For example, it might be to cover a period of parental leave, or in order to work on a specific short term project or event. Fixed-term agreements can’t be used as a way of reducing an employee’s legal rights or checking whether someone is suitable for permanent employment.

An employer can’t hire someone on a fixed term agreement where the job is really a permanent one and the employer just wants to avoid having to go through a fair disciplinary or dismissal procedure if there are problems.

With fixed-term agreements, special provisions can apply for annual holidays, sick leave and bereavement leave. You can phone the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Workplace Contact Centre on 0800 20 90 20 for more information about this.

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As an employer, can I make changes to my workers’ employment agreements without consulting them?

No. An employer can’t change the terms of the employment agreement without agreement from the employee. If there is a collective agreement, you would need to negotiate with the union.  

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Can I get free legal advice about my employment agreement?

Your local CAB can link you up with free legal advice in your local community. Some bureaux hold legal clinics where you can get free legal advice from a qualified lawyer. You can also telephone the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Workplace Contact Centre on 0800 209 020.

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What are my rights as a casual employee?

A casual employee’s rights are the same as any other employee’s in respect of dismissal, freedom from discrimination or harassment and ensuring they receive the benefits written into their employment agreement.

The main difference for a casual employee is that there is no expectation of work by either party. What this means is that if you are a casual employee, your boss will only expect you to come into work when they ask you to and only if you then agree to come in. You may be employed on an on-call basis, for example providing cover when illness or unexpected absenteeism requires extra personnel.

If you work a regular pattern of hours each week then you might actually be a part time worker rather than a casual employee. A part time worker has regular hours that they work each week.

Casual employees must have a written employment agreement. It is standard for a casual employee to have a separate employment agreement for each engagement. Whether you are entitled to things like overtime will depend on what's in your employment agreement.

Because a casual employee only works from time to time, you may not qualify for parental leave, sick leave or bereavement leave because of your irregular work patterns.

For example you only qualify for parental leave if you have worked for the same employer for an average of at least 10 hours a week, and at least one hour in every week or 40 hours in every month in the six or 12 months before the baby arrives. If you have been working casually you may not meet these requirements.

For more information see the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Employment New Zealand website or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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I crashed the work car. Am I liable for the excess?

This will depend on the situation and on your employment agreement. For more information contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or Community Law Centre.