Under what circumstances can my employer dismiss me?

If you are in a trial period, your employer can dismiss you within that trial period for any reason.

Your employer can dismiss you outside of the trial period for the following reasons:

  • Serious misconduct - if you do something wrong which causes serious risk to the business or to the health and safety of a person. Examples of serious misconduct include theft, bullying and possession of illegal substances.
  • Repeated  misconduct - this is misconduct which would not be considered “serious”, for example lateness and use of inappropriate language.  
  • Performance issues - if you are not doing your job fully and properly.
  • Redundancy -  your position is no longer required.
  • Medical incapacity - you are no longer able to do your job because of ill health or injury.
  • Incompatibility  there has been a serious breakdown in the relationship between you and one or more other individuals in the workplace.

If your employer does not give you a reason for your dismissal, you have up to 60 days from the date you find out about your dismissal to ask your employer for a reason. If asked, your employer must give you the reason in the form of a written statement within 14 days of the request (if they don’t, you can raise a personal grievance).

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How much notice must my employer give me if they intend to dismiss me?

If you are being dismissed for serious misconduct your employer can do so without giving you any notice, and without compensating you for requiring you to leave without working through a notice period (this is called “summary dismissal”).

For other types of dismissal your employer must give you reasonable notice. The notice period should be stated in your employment agreement. If it is not stated in your employment agreement, your employer must give you “fair and reasonable” notice, which depends on how long you have worked there, the type of work you do, and what’s common practice at your workplace. It should be 2 – 4 weeks,

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What is the process my employer has to follow to dismiss me?

If a procedure for dismissal is set out in your employment agreement your employer must follow it.
Unless you are being dismissed within a trial period, your employer must have a good reason for the dismissal and follow a fair and reasonable process. 

The business.govt.nz website has a step by step process that an employer should follow when dismissing an employee for serious or repeated misconduct or poor performance, including things to consider before making the decision to dismiss.

If your employer dismissed you and did not follow fair process, you may have a case for a personal grievance. You can call the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on 0800 20 90 20 for advice on how best to proceed. 

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Can my employer dismiss me while I’m off work due to an illness or injury?

Whether your employer is considering dismissing you on the grounds of medical incapacity or for another reason, they have to follow fair process (see above).

If the reason your employer is considering dismissal is because you are ill or injured, they should discuss with you: 

  • how long you are likely to be off work and whether you will be able to perform your duties once you are back at work – you may be asked to provide medical or specialist advice;
  • what steps the employer could take to help you rehabilitate (e.g. by giving you light duties)
  • whether other work options are available e.g. reducing your hours

Your employer should also take into account: 

  • the terms of your employment agreement, 
  • whether the organisation could find someone to take over your duties until you can return to work,
  • how much sick  leave you are entitled to and
  • whether the employer might be at fault for your injury.

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If I’m employed under a trial period, can my employer dismiss me even if I’m doing a great job?

Yes. If you were employed under a trial period your employer is entitled to dismiss you within the trial period without giving any written reason for your dismissal (though there is an expectation that, in good faith, they would tell you why you're being dismissed). They do have to comply with any provisions in your employment agreement regarding giving notice.

Read our information on trial periods.

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I was dismissed but didn't get any warnings. Is this right?

This depends on why your employer has dismissed you.

In cases of serious misconduct an employer can dismiss an employee without giving any warnings. Your employer must still follow a fair process (see answer above) and have reasonable grounds for believing serious misconduct has occurred. 

If your employer has other reasons for dismissing you then they are obliged to provide you with warnings and follow a fair process. If they didn’t follow this process you may wish to raise a personal grievance.

Also, if your employment agreement includes a trial period your employer can dismiss you without giving reasons or warnings, as long as they gave you notice before the end of your trial period. Read our information on trial periods.

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I don’t think my employer followed fair process when they fired me. What can I do?

If you believe that your employer did not have a good reason to dismiss you, or did not follow fair process you talk to your representative (if you are a union member) about it and/or contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on 0800 20 90 20 to discuss the situation and get advice on how you should proceed.
You may want to think about raising a personal grievance on the grounds of unjustified dismissal (you will need to do so within 90 days of being told of your dismissal). 

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What kind of support can I get if I have lost my job?

Some employers have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which can provide counselling.  If your employer is able to offer you access to this service, it will enable you to talk about what you are going through with a qualified counselor.

Your local CAB can help you to find support which is appropriate for your situation, for example:

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How long should I expect to wait to get my final pay after being dismissed?

You should receive your final pay on the pay day of the last pay period of your employment, at the latest. If your employer does not pay you this final amount, and you have tried unsuccessfully to talk to your employer or HR person about it, you can call the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on 0800 20 90 20 for information and advice. We have more information on our Issues with pay page.

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What is constructive dismissal?

This is when an employee feels they have no choice but to resign, for example:

  • The employer forces the employee to choose between resigning and being dismissed
  • The employer behaves in a way that puts pressure on the employee to resign (e.g. by treating the employee very unfairly, or by bullying the employee or allowing others to bully the employee)

If you think you have been constructively dismissed you can try to talk to your employer about it and give them the opportunity to resolve it. If this is not successful you can raise a personal grievance on the grounds of unjustified dismissal - but you should do this within 90 days of the action that has caused you to feel you had to resign.

More about constructive dismissal is on the Employment New Zealand website.

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I was dismissed but my employer told me they did not have to follow any process because I am an independent contractor. What can I do?

The process for terminating a working relationship with an independent contractor is different to that for dismissing an employee, because independent contractors are not protected by the Employment Relations Act.

It is not always clear what the working relationship is, and sometimes this has to be decided by the Employment Court.

Read our Independent contractors page for more information about the differences between contractors and employees and how this affects your rights and entitlements, including ending a contract.