Same story different year: April 2016 will see a number of changes made to the law affecting the workplace.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 comes into force on 4 April 2016, and the Employment Standards Bill also proposes a number of changes, which are scheduled to come into force on 1 April 2016.

At a high level, here are the headline points:

  • The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 is being replaced with a new Act (the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015) which brings new obligations, new accountabilities and higher penalties;
  • Parental leave is changing, bringing new entitlements and concepts, wider application and increased flexibility;
  • Zero hours contracts will be unlawful, unless contractual and compensatory obligations have been met;
  • New (and significantly higher) penalties and enforcement tools are being introduced for serious breaches of employment standards.

Bottom line:

  • Take a good hard look at health and safety practices and assess, review and improve. It's not just about having the right documentation in place; it's about systems and engagement across the entire workforce. The new law expects 'zero harm' to be a priority in all workplaces and everyone will be responsible and accountable (especially those at the top).
  • Parental leave policies will need to be amended. You will also need to know about the new entitlements and concepts, such as "negotiated carer leave" and "keeping in touch days".
  • Zero hours practices will need to be reviewed and agreements amended. If you use these arrangements, you will need to ensure agreements and practices comply with the requirements set out in the legislation.
  • Wage and time record keeping practices may need to be reviewed and in many cases changed. The Bill requires employers to keep wage and time records for all employees (including salaried employees) identifying the number of hours worked on each day in the pay period and the pay received for those hours. That said, following the select committee review of the Bill, this obligation has been 'softened' to enable employers to demonstrate compliance if the employee works his/her "usual hours" and those hours and pay are recorded in the:
    • wages and time records; or
    • the employment agreement, or
    • a roster or any other record used.

In defining "usual hours" the select committee also made clear that this will include "reasonable additional hours worked" in accordance with the employment agreement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.