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Your Rights at Work

Unions play a vital role in defending workers’ rights.

If you have any questions about a specific problem in your workplace, call your union

On this page:

Joining a union 

A group of unionised workers

Can I join a union? 

  • Every worker in New Zealand has a right to join a union.  
  • You do not need your employer’s consent to become a union member. 
  • It is unlawful for an employer to put pressure on you not to become a union member.   

For example, your employer cannot tell you that you should not join a union, offer you less favorable terms and conditions for joining a union or threaten you with dismissal for joining a union. 

What can a union do? 

Unions can collectively bargain on behalf of their members. This means that a union can help create a collective agreement that provides union members with basic terms and conditions.  

Unions can represent you in any employment relationship issue, including the negotiation of individual employment terms and representing you in any dispute that may arise with your employer. 

Unions also have a right to access workplaces to carry out their work. This work includes:  

  • Representing individual workers in bargaining or in any other employment related issue. 
  • Dealing with health and safety issues. 
  • Monitoring compliance with the collective agreement (if there is one) as well as the Employment Relations Act and other Acts that relate to workers’ rights. 

Which union should I join?

You can join a union even if there is no union at your worksite.

If you are having difficulty figuring out which union to join, contact the CTU to find which union may be appropriate for your industry. 

Starting Work


Before you begin work, your employer must offer you an employment agreement. A copy of this agreement must be provided to you and the employer must retain a signed copy of that agreement which can be provided to you at any time upon request.   

Employers cannot simply impose the individual terms and conditions of your employment; they must engage with you and give you a real opportunity to bargain and seek advice over what your employer is offering. 

Individual employment agreements must adhere to a prescribed form and contain certain provisions. It is up to your employer to ensure that your employment agreement is in writing and meets the legal requirements. 

 An employer who fails to provide an individual employment agreement in accordance with the law is liable to a penalty imposed by the Employment Relations Authority.   

Collective terms 

Some unionised worksites have collective agreements that sit alongside your individual terms and conditions. These are negotiated periodically by the union onsite, and you are only covered by these terms if you choose to become a union member.  

If there is a collective agreement on site, you will be covered by the terms of that collective agreement for the first 30 days of your employment.  

If you wish to remain covered by the collective agreement, you must become a union member. 

Within the first 10 days of commencing a new job, your employer must provide you with an ‘Active Choice Form’, that has been approved by MBIE (the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment). This form is designed to put workers in touch with the unions that organise their worksite and give you an opportunity to indicate your desire to join a union. 

Employment Relationship Problems  


Misconduct in general, or ‘serious’ misconduct describes an allegation that an employer may rely on to take disciplinary action against an employee. 

Disciplinary action can mean anything from a warning to dismissal (termination of employment). 

If the employer makes an allegation of misconduct against you, they must follow a lawful process that includes giving you a clear outline of the allegations and the evidence relied on to justify the claims made about you. 

The employer must provide all relevant information and evidence at hand. This means that an employer should not only provide evidence that depicts you in a negative light (to justify the allegation). Evidence that does not support the employer’s allegation should also be provided.  

The employer must also give you a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations, which means that you should be given enough time to seek legal advice and arrange for a union representative or advocate to assist you. 

The employer should investigate the allegations. Usually this entails holding an investigation meeting where you have a reasonable opportunity to answer the allegations that are put to you.  

You are entitled to bring a representative of your choosing to these meetings, a representative can be a union representative, a delegate, a lawyer or any other person of your choice. You are allowed to take time to consider any questions put to you by the employer and can take time out of the meeting for private conversations with your representative.  

The employer should make a decision that is consistent with what a ‘fair and reasonable’ employer could do in all the relevant circumstances. A fair and reasonable outcome is one that is justifiable, free of irrelevant considerations, informed by relevant matters and free from any sense of ‘predetermination’.  

Misconduct investigations may result in a warning, dismissal or, with no further action being taken.

Poor performance  

Allegations of poor performance are not the same as those relating to misconduct.  An employer may issue ‘performance warnings’ and even dismiss a worker for poor performance but must still follow a lawful process and be able to ‘justify’ any decision against what a ‘fair and reasonable’ employer could do. 

As with allegations of misconduct, employers must provide evidence to justify any claims that you are a poor performer and must give you reasonable opportunities to seek advice and representation. Employers must also give you sufficient opportunity to respond to allegations and must be able to back up their claims. 

Before dismissing an employee for poor performance, an employer must expend reasonable time, effort and resources into improving that employee’s performance. It is not reasonable or lawful for an employer to dismiss or disadvantage a worker for poor performance if that worker has not received sufficient training, support and guidance. 

Personal Grievances

Every employee is entitled to raise a personal grievance (subject to any limitations imposed by a 90-day trial period). 

Personal grievances can be in any form (in writing or issued verbally) and can be written on your behalf by a representative (such as a union representative or advocate). The only requirement is that the grievance is clear enough to put an employer on notice of an employee’s claims and, that the employee requires the employer to take remedial action.  

An employee may raise a personal grievance in any situation where they feel they have been treated unlawfully, unfairly and unjustifiably. A personal grievance is the only way for an employee to challenge a dismissal

These include situations where an employer acts or fails to act in a manner that results in a worker experiencing an unjustifiable disadvantage in their work. A personal grievance can also be raised where a worker claims an employer has unjustifiably dismissed them, or where there has been a breach of duty on the part of the employer that resulted in the employee being constructively dismissed. 

Employees have 90 calendar days to raise a personal grievance in most cases. Where a personal grievance involves sexual harassment, the timeframe is extended to 12 months.   

A personal grievance should state the problem alleged by the employee with sufficient detail for the employer to be able to reasonably understand that a grievance is being raised and respond to the details of the claim. 

Every employment agreement must have a plain language explanation of the services available for dispute resolution (such as MBIE’s mediation service and the Employment Relations Authority) along with a reference to the statutory timeframes for raising personal grievances (90 days or 12 months where the grievance relates to sexual harassment).  

End of employment, minimum entitlements and redundancy 

End of employment 

Employment can end in a variety of ways including resignation, incapacity, dismissal, frustration of contract or redundancy. Many of these situations do not require any finding fault or wrongdoing on the part of a worker. 

Whenever an employer decides to terminate employment, even where a worker’s employment is terminated due to no fault of their own, the employer must meet the ‘test of justification’ and show that the decision was consistent with what a fair and reasonable employer could do in all the circumstances.  

Just as in cases where a worker is dismissed for alleged fault, such as misconduct or poor performance, an employer seeking to terminate a worker’s employment due to such reasons as medical incapacity or redundancy must follow a lawful and reasonable process and come justifiable decision.  

If an employer fails to do this, then any termination may be an ‘unjustifiable dismissal’ for which a worker can raise a personal grievance.  

Minimum entitlements 

Upon termination of employment, any outstanding ‘minimum entitlements’ must be paid to the employee. This means that any unpaid wages for time worked accrued holiday pay and any outstanding payments due under the must be paid in full. 

Employers are obliged to pay these entitlements regardless of how the employment ended (regardless of whether the employee is claimed to have been at fault) and parties to employment agreements cannot contract out of these entitlements.  


Employment may be terminated because where a role carried out by a worker is ‘surplus’ to the needs of a business, these are referred to as ‘redundancy’ situations. 

Dismissal for redundancy must meet the ‘test for justification’ and be consistent with what a fair and reasonable employer could do in all circumstances. This means that an employer seeking to make a worker redundant must provide all the information relied on to justify the case for redundancy and give the employee a genuine and reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposal (as with any proposal to terminate employment). 

A proposal to make a worker redundant may follow a ‘restructure.’ This is where the employer makes changes to the way its business is run and as a result comes to the view that certain roles carried are no longer required under the new business structure. In such cases, the employer must provide the business case that justifies the restructuring and provide any data that backs up the employer’s claims. 

If an employer is comparing an employee with others to determine who is retained and who is made redundant, the employer must apply a clear, impartial and justifiable process for making the decision. Where an employer proposes redundancy based on a comparison between workers, the worker facing possible redundancy should receive any evaluations (positive and negative) that have been made about them, including any comparisons (favorable or unfavorable) made between the facing redundancy and those the employer has chosen to retain. 

Employers must consult with their employees before making anyone redundant. The redundancy must be for a genuine reason and should follow a process where affected employees are fully heard having had their views considered.  

Employers cannot use redundancy as a cover for dismissing an employee for another reason, such as ‘incompatibility’, performance, misconduct or any other issue. If, as with any dismissal, the employer does not act in a manner that is lawful and justifiable, the employee may raise a claim for unjustified dismissal. 


We’ve gathered some of the most common questions we’re asked about employment matters. If you have a question that isn’t covered here, talk to your employer in the first instance, or discuss it with your union.

How do ‘individual terms’ sit alongside ‘collective terms?’  

Every employee will have individual terms and conditions. These may be contained in a letter of offer, an individual employment agreement and any other documents, letters or materials that offer terms and conditions of employment. 

Collective terms only exist for union members and are outlined in collective agreements that are negotiated by unions on behalf of their members.  

A collective term and an individual term can sit alongside each other. However, if a collective term contradicts an individual term, then the individual term will always prevail. 

Collective terms are often defined as ‘minimums’, meaning that where an individual term provides something additional or above the collective term, it can still be retained as part of a worker’s complete employment agreement.  

For example, wage rates in a collective agreement may say that a worker will be paid ‘no less than’ a certain amount, meaning that you are still free to negotiate an individual wage rate that is higher than the minimum rate outlined in the collective.  

Do I have to accept a 90-day trial period? 

  • You have a right to bargain over any of your individual terms and conditions, including a 90-day trial period. 
  •  You are entitled to negotiate with your employer to have a trial period removed from your employment agreement. 
  • A union representative or any other representative of your choice may assist you in negotiating any part of an individual employment agreement.  

Do I have any rights under a 90-day trial period? 

  • If a 90-day trial period is valid, you cannot raise a personal grievance with respect to a dismissal that occurred during that period.  
  • In all other respects, you must be treated in the same manner as an employee who is not bound by a trial period. 
  • You may raise any personal grievance or dispute for any reason other than dismissal (for example unjustifiable disadvantage during the course of employment).   
  • You may raise any personal grievance or legal proceedings that relate to the grounds specified at section 103(1)(b) to (k) of the Employment Relations Act 2000.   
  • If you are dismissed due to discrimination (under the Human Rights Act 1993), or because you were a whistle blower or, if you refused to do dangerous work, you may still raise a personal grievance with respect to that dismissal.  
  • If your employer advises you that you will be dismissed under the trail period, you have the right to work your contractual notice period (or to be paid out in lieu of notice). This notice period may run over the 90-period and will not affect the dismissal.  
  • However, if your employer keeps you on beyond the notice period, then the 90-day trial will be ineffective.  

What can I do if a 90-day trial period is invalid? 

A trial period is invalid if it is not a written provision in an employment agreement and does not have the following provisions:  

  1. [the trial period must last] for a specified period (not exceeding 90 days), starting at the beginning of the employee’s employment, the employee is to serve a trial period; and 
  1.  during that period, an employer may dismiss the employee; and 
  1. if an employer does so, the employee is not entitled to bring a personal grievance or other legal proceedings in respect of the dismissal. 

In stating the ‘specific period’ for which a trial period may last, the 90-day trial clause must state, or contain words ‘to the effect that’ the trail period will start on the day that employment commenced. The length of the trial must also be clearly stated. 

If any of the 3 criteria listed above are not met, the trial period is invalid and if you are dismissed pursuant to a trial period, you may raise a personal grievance for unjustifiable dismissal.    

Can a union represent me even if I am not a union member? 

Non-unionised workers do not have a right to claim ongoing representation from unions. 

Unions will not generally represent you on matters that pre-date union membership.  

Do I have to do everything my employer says? 

No, you are only obliged to follow ‘lawful and reasonable instructions’ from your employer.  

Can I strike for any reason? 

Strikes are only lawful if they are pursuant to collective bargaining or, if there are reasonable grounds for believing that a strike is justified on the grounds of health and safety.  

Before a strike is carried out in relation to collective bargaining, a secret ballot of the workers who propose to strike must be held. 

For any strike notice must be given to the employer and the MBIE.  

Can my boss dock my pay without my consent? 

No, an employer must obtain written consent before making deductions from your pay and, cannot make deductions that put you below the minimum wage rate (unless the deduction is for illness or accident suffered by the worker, or due to a default by the worker.) 

Some employment agreements can have clauses that give employers permission to deduct from their workers’ pay. 

 However, any written consent for deduction can be withdrawn at any time and, any deduction should be lawful, justifiable and reasonable and should follow notice.  

Can my boss change my hours of work at will? 

Ordinarily, your boss must negotiate any change to your agreed hours and cannot change them without your agreement.  

Some employment agreements may expressly allow for your boss to make changes to your hours under certain circumstances. Under these circumstances, the employer cannot make changes beyond what is permitted in the terms of the employment agreement and is still required to act in a fair and reasonable manner. 

Any significant changes to your hours of work may amount to a restructure and may put you in a redundancy situation.   

Can my boss require me to work outside my ordinary hours? 

Some employment agreements may contain an ‘availability provision’ where you are required to work a certain number of hours outside of your base ‘agreed hours’.  

For an availability provision to be valid, you must have set guaranteed hours and receive reasonable compensation for your additional availability.  

When can I be suspended? 

Suspension refers to situations where an employee is stood down and asked not to attend work. A suspension may be with or without pay and usually precedes a disciplinary investigation. 

Suspension is considered an extreme measure. Employers must have a good reason for suspending an employee and ought to consult with them before deciding to suspend.  

If suspension is outlined in the employment agreement, that process must be followed closely. 

Suspensions are not to be used as a punitive measure, they must serve a purpose, such as enabling the employer to carry out an effective and impartial investigation. Unpaid suspensions are unlikely to be reasonable in most cases.  

Suspensions should be lifted as soon as possible and should not last longer than necessary. A wrongful suspension can be harmful to an employment relationship and, a worker may raise a personal grievance for disadvantage for a suspension (even if no formal disciplinary consequences were imposed on the employee).  

Can my boss give me less work than agreed? 

An employer must provide work for the times agreed. If an employer cannot provide the agreed amount of work, then the employer must pay you (at the agreed rate) for the time you ought to have been able to work. 

What is constructive dismissal? 

Constructive dismissals occur where an employee resigns after: 

  • being given the choice of resigning or being dismissed or, 
  • an employer follows a course of conduct with the ‘deliberate and dominant’ purpose of causing the resignation or, 
  • an employer breaches a duty that causes the resignation. 

A worker who is constructively dismissed can lodge a personal grievance.  

Unlike regular unjustifiable dismissals, where it is up to the employer to show that their decision to dismiss an employee was justifiable, the onus of proof for a constructive dismissal falls on the employee. 

What is the Mediation service? 

The mediation service is run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It is a free and voluntary service that attempts to resolve employment relationship problems in an informal manner. 

The Employment Relations Act promotes the mediation service as the ‘primary problem-solving mechanism’. 

All discussions are confidential (as far as the law permits) and problems can be resolved by entering into a settlement agreement.  

The terms of settlement agreements are confidential and are legally enforceable if breached.  

What is the Employment Relations Authority? 

If an employment relationship problem, or other employment-related dispute, cannot be resolved through mediation or, if the parties do not wish to go to mediation, the matter can be filed with the Employment Relations Authority. 

The Authority is an investigative body that has the role of resolving employment relationship problems by establishing the facts and making a determination according to the substantial merits of the case, without regard to technicalities. 

The Authority may at any time require parties to attend mediation where it feels that the parties may benefit from an attempt to resolve a dispute or problem between themselves.