New Zealand has a comprehensive set of employment laws that help keep workplaces fair. You need to be aware of the rules, and what your rights and responsibilities are.
If you’ve had a disagreement with your employer and don’t think you’ve been treated fairly, you can find out where to get help at our Support in the Workplace page.
Employee rights and obligations
Under New Zealand employment law, you and your employer both have certain rights and obligations. For example, your employer is obliged to pay you an agreed wage, and to make sure wherever you have to work is safe.
Your side of the bargain requires you to perform your job with care and competence, among other things.
The legal manual produced by Community Law lists your basic rights and obligations.
One of your obligations as an employee is to stay within the conditions of your visa. If you have a work visa, it might be tied your employer, industry, or to a particular city or region. If that’s the case and you want to switch jobs, you’ll need to apply for a variation of conditions first.
Even if you’ve already accepted a verbal offer for a job, you must sign a written agreement before you start work.
Most larger companies offer collective employment agreements that have been negotiated by a union. Even if you’re not a union member you can still take advantage of the collective agreement, and use it as a basis for your employment conditions.
If there’s something in your contract you’re not sure about, it’s quite acceptable to take the agreement away to think it over, or to ask someone for advice. If you want to negotiate the terms and conditions of your contract, make sure you do it before you sign.
Joining a union is one of your rights as a New Zealand worker, and your employer cannot influence your decision. Our Support in the Workplace page has more information about unions.
It is not uncommon to be asked to do a 90-day trial in a new job. In fact, about half of all employers in New Zealand use trial periods. It is not necessary to accept a trial period, but if you do, it must be agreed to in writing before you start work. If you want to negotiate, talk to your employer before you sign the contract.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website has information about trial periods.
Leave and holidays
Most New Zealand workers would tell you they get a good amount of leave, at least by international standards. Which is great given you have a new country to explore, or if you need to go back home to visit family.
You’ll get a minimum of four weeks annual leave. If you want, you can ask to exchange one week’s leave for cash. In addition, there are 11 public holiday days.
If you work on a public holiday, your employer has to pay you extra. You may also be able to take the holiday on another day - it’s called “taking a day in lieu”.
You’re also entitled to a certain amount of paid leave if you get sick.
For working parents
New Zealand employers, and society in general, are supportive of working parents. That’s demonstrated in a range of ways.
Many new parents are entitled to paid parental leave of up to 18 weeks.
If you’re a nursing mother, your employer is required by law to let you breastfeed at work.
And if your child gets sick, you can use your sick leave entitlement to look after them. This type of leave is called domestic leave and can be used to care for any dependent family member.
Health and safety in the workplace
You and your employer are both responsible for making sure your workplace is a safe environment.
For more information about your rights and responsibilities with safety at work, visit the Work Safe and Community Law websites.
Wages and deductions
The minimum wage for adults in 2016 is $15.25 an hour, or $610 for a standard 40-hour work week. There is no minimum wage for children under 16.
Income tax gets taken out of your wage before you get paid - these deductions are known as PAYE (Pay As You Earn) tax.
Another, much smaller, deduction is for your ACC levy. ACC stands for Accident Compensation Corporation which runs the insurance system New Zealand has for covering the costs involved if you’re injured. Along with other benefits, if you’re off work for an extended period because of an injury, ACC will reimburse you for a large portion of lost wages.
Wages are usually advertised ‘before tax’. That’s something to keep in mind when job-hunting, since the pay you actually take home will be lower.
You’ll need a tax number - if you don’t have one, you might be taxed a higher amount than is necessary. It’s easy to get one right away. We tell you how on our Tax page.
Aside from PAYE tax and the ACC levy, your employer isn’t allowed to make any deductions from your pay without your permission.
If you become a New Zealand resident, you’ll have the option of joining KiwiSaver, a work-based retirement savings initiative.
Discrimination and harassment
Discriminating against someone because of their gender, sexual orientation, family status, marital status, colour, nationality or country of origin, race, ethical belief/religion, political opinion, employment status, age or disability is illegal in New Zealand.
Sexual harassment, including requests for sexual contact and any kind of offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour, is also illegal here.
If you think you have been discriminated against or sexually harassed in the workplace, the Community Law website is a helpful resource.
Ending your employment
If you decide to leave your job, you need to give your employer notice and continue to work for the notice period agreed to in your signed employment contract.
If employers choose to make you leave your position through dismissal, restructure, or redundancy, they need to follow a formal process. If they don’t follow it properly, you could be entitled to compensation.
Need to know more?
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's website has comprehensive information about your basic rights and obligations at work.
Simple, easy-to-read information about employment law is available elsewhere on their website.