If you’re an employer, it’s crucial that you update your employment agreements to comply with a recent change in employment law affecting the time limit for raising personal grievances for sexual harassment.
Last month, a new law came into effect that extends the period for employees raising grievances about sexual harassment. Here’s what you need to know to remain compliant as an employer.
WHY WAS THE LAW CHANGE NECESSARY?
Previously, employees had 90 days to raise any type of personal grievance. Now, they have up to 12 months to raise a grievance relating to alleged sexual harassment, while the time limit remains at 90 days for any other type of personal grievance.
Extending the window provides more time for employees who’ve experienced sexual harassment to consider what has happened to them and to decide whether to raise a grievance.
WHAT EMPLOYERS MUST DO
It might not be immediately obvious that employers need to do anything in response to this change, other than be aware of the newly extended timeframe for such grievances.
However, employers are obliged to advise employees of the time limits for raising personal grievances. Every employment agreement must include a clause to this effect.
And every employment agreement created after this law was introduced last month must explain, in plain language, the time limits for raising any grievances, including those in relation to sexual harassment. This should form part of a wider explanation of the services available for the resolution of employment relationship problems.
If you don’t include a clause like this in your employment agreement then your employees may be able to raise personal grievances outside the time limits and you may be liable to a penalty of up to $20,000.
UPDATING YOUR EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS
Below is some suggested wording you could use as part of a plain-language explanation of the steps that can be taken to resolve employment relationship problems.
The excerpt below only deals with the information you need to give about time limits. The rest of the clause also needs to describe the services available for the resolution of employment relationship problems.
Assuming you already have that first part of the clause in your agreement, you could include the following to explain the time limits:
If the problem is a personal grievance, the Employee must raise that problem with the Employer within a certain time limit. For a sexual harassment grievance, the Employee has 12 months after the incident happened or after the Employee first found out about it. For any other type of grievance, the Employee has 90 days after the incident happened or after the Employee first found out about it. A personal grievance may only be raised outside the applicable time limit if there are exceptional circumstances (as defined in the Employment Relations Act 2000) or if the Employer agrees.
Extending time for victims of sexual harassment to raise personal grievances is fair. Allowing them 12 months to raise their claims, instead of 90 days, makes sense.
To ensure you remain compliant, any employment agreements you issue from now on must refer to this extended time for raising such grievances. The suggested wording above may help.
And if you want ongoing help keeping your employment agreements up to date, you might consider a tool I’ve been involved in developing, called Employr, which can create compliant employment agreements fast. It includes the above suggested wording as part of meeting this new statutory obligation.