Hours of work 

What hours do I have to work?

Before starting a new job, you and your employer should be clear about the hours you will be expected to work. While you and your employer don’t have to agree on hours, times or days - if you do, then these should be set out in your employment agreement.

From 1 April 2016, any agreed hours, times or days of work must be stated in the employment agreement.In cases where no hours were agreed to, the employer must provide an indication of the arrangements relating to your working times.

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Can my boss change my hours without checking with me?

Your employer can’t change the work hours that you both agreed to without your consent - unless your employment agreement contains an express right for your employer to do so.

If this is the case your boss still has to act fairly and reasonably before making a change, by explaining to you why it is necessary and giving you time to respond and get independent advice if you want.

If this issue can’t be resolved between you and your employer then you can take the matter to mediation. You can call the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on 0800 20 90 20 or visit their Employment New Zealand website for more information about mediation. MBIE can refer your case to a labour inspector to investigate a potential breach of employment law.

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My employer changed my hours from what we'd agreed and they don't suit me at all. What should I do?

Your employer can’t change the work hours that you both agreed to without your consent, unless your employment agreement contains an express right for your employer to do so. If this is the case your boss still has to act fairly and reasonably before making a change. 

Try talking to your employer about why you can’t work these hours and ask them to give you hours you can work. If they are unwilling to do this, you can seek mediation through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to help sort out the problem. Or, if you are a member of a union, your local union rep should be able to help. 

If mediation doesn't work and you believe your employer has not made a fair and reasonable decision regarding the change in your work hours, you might want to consider raising a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage.  

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Can my employer demand that I be available for a certain number of hours of work per week even though they can’t guarantee me any work?

This sounds like what’s commonly known as a “zero-hour contract”, in which an employer provides no guarantee of work but asks the employee to be available to work when the employer requires it. 

As of 1 April 2016 an employer can’t ask you to sign an agreement which requires you to be available for work but does not guarantee you any hours of work. From that date, the employer can only ask you to be available if the reason for doing so is genuine and reasonable and your employment agreement states:

  • that you are guaranteed a specified number of hours of work 
  • how many hours the employer wants you to be available for over and above the guaranteed hours; and
  • that you will be reasonably compensated for being available for work over and above the guaranteed hours;  

Note that this kind of arrangement is different from a casual employment arrangement - in a casual employment arrangement the employer does not have to offer work and the casual employee does not have to accept the work when offered.

If you signed an individual employment agreement that is a zero-hour contact before 1 April 2016, the change above will automatically apply to you and your employer on 1 April 2017.

From 1 April 2016 an employment agreement also can’t restrict an employee from having a secondary job without good reason, and must not restrict employees more than necessary.

If you think what your employer is asking you to sign up to is unfair or unreasonable, contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Workplace Contact Centre (0800 20 90 20) for advice.

More about "zero hour" contracts is on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

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My employer cancelled my shift – can they do that?

An employer cannot cancel an employee’s shift unless shift cancellation is provided for in the employment agreement. The agreement must specify reasonable notice periods for cancelling a shift and reasonable compensation rates for late notice.

If your employer cancels your shift without reasonable notice then they must pay you as though you had completed the shift. This also applies if the employer cancels an employee’s shift but doesn’t tell the employee until the start of the cancelled shift, or if they cancel the rest of the shift after the employee has already started working it.

More about this is on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

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Am I legally required to personally sign and fill out all of my own time sheets?

Your employer is legally obliged to keep and maintain an attendance and leave record for every employee, but there is no legal requirement for employees to do this.
However, completing a time sheet every week might be part of your workplace policy or included in your employment agreement. You can try negotiating with your employer to sort out a system that works for both of you, or both of you may agree to change the employment agreement so that you don’t have to do your own time sheets.

If, as an employee, you forget to fill out your time sheet, your employer can’t withhold payment unless this is specified in your employment agreement. Of course, if your timesheet tells your employer what hours you have worked, they may need that information to work out your wages. Make sure you talk to your employer so you are both clear about the process.

Read our Resolving employment disputes page for what you can do if you and your employer can’t agree on the matter.

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How many breaks can I take in my shift?

All employers are required to provide employees with appropriate rest and meal breaks or provide compensatory measures if these are not provided.

Unless you are employed in a role where breaks are required by law (e.g. truck, taxi and tour bus drivers, and some airline flight crew members), the number of breaks you get will depend on what you agree with your employer. Common practice is that rest breaks are 10 - 15 minutes long and meal breaks are at least 30 minutes long, but these times vary depending on the type of work.

If you are starting out in a particular industry it is well worth finding out what the general practice is within the industry. You can get this kind of information by contacting the industry association or union, or by asking people you know who already work in the industry. It’s a good idea to make sure that whatever is agreed with your employer is included in your employment contract, or at least that there is a written record of the agreement.

In some cases your employer may require you to not take some breaks or to have them at different times, to ensure that the business can smoothly. For example if you have sole charge at a retail outlet you may have to take your breaks only when it’s not busy.

If your employer will not give you rest breaks (for business reasons), then they must give you reasonable compensation for this e.g. by paying you or giving you the same amount of time off at the end of the day. You are entitled to this by law even if your employment agreement states otherwise.

If your employer will not allow you to take breaks and will not compensate you for it, you can call Employment New Zealand on 0800 20 90 20 for advice.

More about meal and rest break entitlements is on the Employment New Zealand website.
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Am I supposed to get extra money for working over-time?

If you are on an hourly wage, then you are paid for each hour worked – this means that you can expect to be paid for any extra hours you work over and above your “normal” work hours.

If you are on a salary, however, the amount you are paid is generally fixed (though it may change from year to year) even if you end up working more hours than are specified in your employment agreement. You may be able to negotiate an arrangement (if there isn’t one already), in which you are compensated with time off (also known as “time in lieu”) which is equivalent to the extra hours you work.

There are no legal requirements for paying overtime above the normal rate of pay unless this is stated in your employment agreement. That is for you and your boss to negotiate. If you feel you haven’t been compensated for your overtime hours then you should speak to your employer and make it clear you aren’t happy.

You can read more about over-time entitlements on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE’s) Employment New Zealand website (see the overtime section on the page), or for further help contact them on 0800 20 90 20.

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What are the rules about feeding my baby at work?

So far as it is reasonable and practicable, your employer is required to provide you with adequate breaks and facilities to breast feed, bottle feed and express milk. You will have to negotiate with your employer when you can take these breaks, which are generally unpaid (unless you and your employer agree otherwise). Your employer must provide an appropriate place to feed an infant, which has enough privacy for a mother to breast feed and a fridge or chilly bin to store expressed milk.

The breaks for infant feeding are in addition to your minimum paid breaks as required by law unless you agree to feed your baby or express milk during a paid break. For more information, see the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment ‘s (MBIE’s) Employment New Zealand website.