Getting started in HR
This blog was written by Ainsley Benefield, who presented our ‘When good employees go bad’ Bootcamp. Ainsley is an employment relations expert.
Employment law is a broad, complex and ever-changing area. This often makes employment relations issues tricky, especially for those only just starting out in their HR careers. It also makes it impossible to cover off everything you need to know in one blog. Therefore, the purpose of this blog is to give you a place to start.
New Zealand employment law recognises the inherent imbalance of power in employment relationships and therefore builds in a number of protections for employees that HR employees need to be aware of. However, if you only remember one employment relations principle, it should be the following:
- To take any action that might disadvantage or result in a dismissal of an employee you need a good reason and a fair and reasonable process, and you must act in good faith.
What this might look like in practice will differ depending on the situation. For redundancy it will involve sharing information about the proposal including the reasons; for medical incapacity it will involve obtaining relevant medical information; or for a disciplinary issue it will involve sharing the allegation and all relevant related information. In all of these situations it will also involve giving the employee an opportunity to respond to the information and proposal and considering any response, in good faith, before a decision is made.
Another important piece of advice for people just starting out in their HR career is to make yourself master of the details.
This means educating yourself on all aspects of the employment lifecycle and the required processes (from starting the employment relationship, managing performance and disciplinary issues, taking leave, union matters, ending the relationship and managing any employment relationship problems). Even if your studies have addressed some or all of these topics, I recommend you familiarise yourself with the practical information and tools available on the MBIE and Business.govt.nz websites (including the Holidays Act and payroll guidance). You should also ensure you are up to speed with the new areas of employment law (e.g. the new domestic violence protections and the proposed amendments to the Employment Relations Act) as these are areas your future employers may be needing to address over the summer.
Once you secure a role, becoming master of the details means upskilling on your new employer. Their employment agreements, policies, standard documents and approach may go above the statutory requirements and/or require a certain style or tone. You should know them inside out. If you’re assisting on an employment relations issue, you should know the background facts, dates and documents in detail. Always offer to proofread and/or take notes at meetings – it helps you see how matters are managed in practice whilst also being helpful in ensuring accuracy.
A final tip for any HR employee is to get yourself up to speed on 90 day trial periods. 90 day trial periods differ from other areas of employment law and there are strict requirements surrounding them. The law around 90 day trial periods may also change in the future. Also, remember that not all employers use 90 day trial periods, so be sure to find out your employer’s policy on this as soon as you can!