Legislation removing employment protections raises concerns

A bill allowing employees earning over $150,000 /year to contract out of the right to pursue personal grievance claims removes important protections against discrimination and harassment, according to the NZ Law Society.

The society says in a media release that the Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill could result in an increase in alternative claims under privacy and human rights legislation.

The Law Society presented its submission on the bill to Parliament’s Transport and Industrial Relations select committee today.

“Under the bill, a ‘higher earner’ who contracts out of the right to pursue a personal grievance and who is subsequently dismissed, cannot challenge the dismissal – including not being able to challenge for alleged discrimination, harassment or other breaches of human rights,” Law Society president Kathryn Beck told the committee.

“The drafter of the bill has acknowledged that the bill lacks protections from the actions of bad employers, such as discrimination, sexual or racial harassment, or where the employer fails to comply with their legal obligations, and that these should be inserted by the select committee,” Beck says.

The Law Society also pointed to the fact that the bill currently does not restrict an employee’s ability to challenge a dismissal by other means.

 “An employee may choose to pursue claims under the Privacy Act or the Human Rights Act that otherwise might have been pursued as personal grievances,” Law Society spokesperson Michael Quigg told the committee.

“The experience in Australia is that extinguishing personal grievance claims for dismissal for higher earners results in an increase in other types of claim, such as adverse action claims,” Quigg says.

The Law Society also pointed to several technical issues that need to be considered and resolved, regarding the threshold, timing and execution of these employment agreements, if the bill is to proceed through the remaining legislation stages in the House.

The Law Society’s submission is available here

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