Mediation for employment issues, you may have heard of it, but what is mediation in the context of employment? What can it be used for and what does the process look like?  Many people believe that mediation is only for when an employee brings a grievance against their employer, and while this is a common use for mediation, there are many other ways that mediation can be a useful tool for both employer and employee for a range of issues in the employment relationship.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a service for employers and employees which is run through Employment New Zealand who operate under MBIE; the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It is free and confidential, and generally a quick process to engage in, with some mediations lasting only a couple of hours before being resolved, which means less stress and lost productivity for all parties involved.  Mediation is a fantastic first step in resolving employment issues without having to go to the ERA (Employment Relations Authority) which is more costly, largely due to legal fees, more time consuming and usually more stressful.

Mediation is a collaborative approach; finding an outcome that both parties are happy with and avoids the win-lose approach that court can have.  Mediation is voluntary however mediation is your friend and if matters can be resolved in mediation then this is the best outcome for all involved as whatever settlement is reached remains confidential, keeping both employer and employee reputation intact.

When can I use Mediation?

Mediation can be used after employment ends and for employment problems while the employee is still working for the employer.  Issues such as bullying and harassment claims, issues between teams, collective bargaining with unions, strikes, lockouts and of course personal grievances like unjustified disadvantage or unjustified dismissal.

I Want to go to Mediation but What is the Process?

You have an employment problem that is not being resolved by speaking to the other party involved.  You’re starting to get a bit frustrated and have decided that mediation could help resolve the issue. So what do you do?

Mediation applications are found online. There is a Mediation Pre-application form above the Request Mediation button and this is a useful tool to use before you Request Mediation.  It gets you thinking of the issues and what supporting documentation you should attach.  Giving the mediator lots of information while sticking to the facts will give them a good sense of what the issue is about.

How do I apply for mediation online?

  1. Go to Employment.govt.nz and click on Resolving Problems, then Steps to Resolve, Mediation and Request Mediation
  2. Both parties are then contacted by Employment Mediation Services Staff and a suitable time and place for mediation to take place is arranged. (During Alert Levels 2, 3 and 4 COVID-19 Restrictions, all mediation will be done via phone or zoom video calls).
  3. Once it is convened (whether at a physical venue or via phone or zoom), the Mediator will speak to each party separately before group discussions take place.
  4. Discussion and negotiations take place.
  5. Settlement is reached, and a section 149 Record of Settlement will record the settlement details with both parties signing it and the mediator will sign this off, ensuring the settlement is full, final and confidential. The matter is now settled, usually within hours of entering Mediation.
  6. If settlement cannot be reached at mediation, you can either choose to adjourn the process and come back to mediation after a period of time, you can keep negotiating after Mediation and perhaps leave an offer on the table for a set time (seven days perhaps for thinking time) or the matter can be taken further to the Employment Relations Authority.

The Dos and Don’ts of Mediation

DO:

  • Stick to the facts. Try to keep emotions out of it even though emotions can be running high.
  • Remain calm, focused, and open minded.
  • Be collaborative and conciliatory. You should have the problem-solving mindset of working together to find a satisfactory outcome of both parties.
  • Put yourself in the other parties’ position to help give you perspective.
  • Focus on the issues, not the person. Try to keep personality out of it, stick to the issues involved not the person involved.
  • Listen for understanding. This will help you identify the other parties ’underlying need and concern.  If you can understand for example that what they really want is an apology as opposed to money, then negotiations may reach settlement quicker with this in mind.  Alternatively, perhaps they just need enough money from the mediation process to pay their rent while they look for another job and will accept the termination of their employment if the figure will satisfy their rent requirements to reach settlement.

DON’T:

  • Be aggressive and have an opponent mentality.
  • Make personal attacks or use accusatory language, such as “you always singled me out in front of others” or “you are the worst manager I have ever had.”
  • Act like you are in a courtroom. The other party is not on trial.
  • Refuse to compromise. If the matter escalates to the Employment Relations Authority you may end up worse off than if you had of compromised and reached a mutually agreeable settlement at Mediation.
  • Get caught up on small details, look at the big picture instead. There are worse alternatives to a negotiated agreement such as lost time and productivity, huge legal fees, and loss of confidentiality if it escalates to the ERA and this can be damaging to the reputation of both employer and employee.

Other Points to Note About Mediation

Yes, you can have a legal representative with you, or an employee advocate, an HR consultant or a Union Rep.  You could bring a friend or family member as support or a community leader. Other people in the room could be an interpreter if required.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Keen to settle but want to informally discuss what the other party will settle for so an offer can be made? “Fireside chats” (without prejudice discussions) can take place in negotiations prior or after mediation.  These are discussions around what you might settle but can’t be used against you in court. Be careful to ensure all communications are clearly noted “without prejudice” otherwise they are admissible. It is wise to use a legal representative for without prejudice discussions as these are normally only used for serious employment problems.

It’s Not All About Money

Maybe their bottom line is a “Sorry.” Apologies can speed up resolution processes. Sometimes an aggrieved party just wants to hear the words and be assured that they won’t repeat the behavior again. Hearing the other party say sorry and be genuinely apologetic can ensure parties can heal and move on.  Mediation can be a cathartic experience for those seeking a humble apology.

Make Sure You Know What a Settlement is For

If there is a settlement that includes a payment for hurt and humiliation, remember that Hurt and Humiliation payments are non-taxable but payment for lost wages are. The employee may settle for a figure that comprises both hurt and humiliation and a payment for any lost wages so be careful about knowing the difference and taxing these payments accordingly.

Be Mindful of Timelines

Mediators can set time limits for mediation with the agreement of parties involved.  Parties may agree that if the matter is not resolved for example within 5 hours, the Mediator can then make a recommendation in writing about the solution and the date it will become binding.  You can accept or decline the recommendation before the date it becomes binding and if it is not rejected it becomes fill, final and enforceable.

If you are an employer and have employer insurance, you will need to follow the advice of the Insurer who will likely take the matter over and recommend you attend mediation and advise what you should settle for.

Final Thoughts

Mediation is a fantastic way to collaboratively and openly nip employment problems in the bud. Settling by way of mutual agreement which means buy-in of both parties and a salvageable employment relationship in some cases.  Mediation is a quick and easy dispute resolution service that is cost effective for everyone involved. So if you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to resolve an employment issue yourself by talking to the other party involved, apply online for mediation to get it resolved and get back to doing the things you’d rather be doing.

As small business owners plan for how they will operate after COVID-19, there are some important business questions to be asked about the coming business recovery. These questions will help you determine what adaptations you want to keep, whether your business model is working, and if there are additional changes you want to make to keep your company operational through future economic downturns.

It’s not always fun to do this sort of examination, but the answers to these questions will help you to make the best possible decisions for the future.

What Worked and What Didn’t Work in my Business Model?

Almost all small business owners had to make changes to their business model. Whether it was hosting meetings with clients on Zoom, learning about encryption technology to allow employees access to sensitive information from home, offering restaurant food for take-out or managing dance classes online, most small businesses adapted in some way.

Ask yourself:
Have I have to adapt my business model? Did I alter my goods or services in any way? Have I changed how my premises are used? Do these adaptations enhance my business in any way? Do these changes highlight gaps in my business model that should be addressed? Should I make some of these adaptations permanent?

Maybe you have a lot of clients who would prefer to have meetings online rather than face-to-face. Perhaps offering classes online is a way to reach out to students or clients who can’t attend weekly sessions in person. There may be perfectly good reasons to continue with a revised business model.

Do I Need to Make Changes to my Supply Chain?

You have some control over your supply chain, but not a lot. Disruptions happen and they can drastically affect your business.

Review how the various components in your supply chain reacted to the pandemic and whether they helped your business or hurt it.

Ask yourself:
Did the suppliers in my supply chain remain open and transparent with me? Did they reach out to me to discuss revising our agreement? Were they reasonable in their expectations and willing to work with me? Do I need to have alternate arrangements or back-up plans in case there are future supply chain disruptions?

Your supply chain has a huge impact on your business. Trusting your suppliers and knowing you can work with them will allow you to feel more secure in the future.

How has my Team Adapted?

Your team has faced a great deal of stress and uncertainty during COVID-19, due to professional and personal concerns. Team members may have had to transition to new ways of working—at home, on a new schedule, or with new policies and procedures in place.

Ask yourself:
Are there changes to how my staff works that I could continue to implement? Should I provide additional training for staff? Have I communicated openly with them? How adaptable was my team?

One benefit from having employees work from home more days a week is that such opportunities for remote working can boost employee morale while saving you money. Now that you’ve invested in the technology to allow staff to work from home, is it worth it to allow this scenario to contine, even a few days a week?

Final Thoughts

In addition to looking at your business, take a look at your customers and clients. Were they supportive of your business during this time? Did they turn elsewhere? Did they respect the changes you made to your business or the policies you put in place?

Each of the above questions about your business model, your supply chain, your team and your customers, will help you make informed decisions about your business recovery as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Get in touch with us to chat about your business recovery.

Having a desk job suits many of us down to a tee, but can come at the expense of our health and well-being. A sedentary desk job and lifestyle can lead to increases in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and a decline in mental well-being.

Before you pull out the old ‘but people have had desk jobs for hundreds of years’ excuse, remember that our lives have changed greatly since then. We are on the whole less active at home, drive almost everywhere and eat a lot of high calorie and processed foods. These things are only making it more important for those of us with a desk job to keep active during the working day. At MBP, we’re all about looking after the financial health and well-being of our clients, but also their physical too. So, here are a few suggestions on how you can increase your activity levels in the office like we do.

5 Ideas for Keeping Active at Your Desk Job

It’s time to stand up and get active while in the office. Five activities you could choose to try and implement into your daily desk job routine include:

  1. Using a standing desk or desk raiser – alternate between sitting and standing at your desk throughout the day. If you don’t have a standing desk available, add a desk raiser for your laptop to sit upon, or make one using materials you have around the office or home.
  2. Sit on an exercise ball – a chair may be super comfy, but it lets your body relax into a position without effort. When you sit on an exercise ball, your core muscles are forced to work. You sit up straighter with improved posture, and you can also move your backside around too.
  3. Walk around the office – instead of sending emails to others in the office, get up and walk to them if you can instead. Walk the long way to the coffee machine and even take your coffee outside to stretch your legs.
  4. Stretch breaks – set your time to stand up and do some stretches every hour. Arm swinging, leg lunges, squats, walking on the spot and shoulder shrugs are great active activities.
  5. Take the stairs – where you can, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead. You could even get off the bus a stop earlier or park the car further away and walk to the office.

If you have any additional staying active at work ideas, drop your suggestions in the comments below. As always, the team here at MBP are here to help, so if you have any questions about the running of your business (not your running program), please get in touch as we’re happy to help.

Originally Published 7th May 2020
Last Updated 30th August 2020

The government has announced what COVID-19 Alert Level 2 will look like for New Zealand.  The decision to shift to Level 2 is yet to be made.  Cabinet meets on Monday to decide if, and when, the shift to Level 2 will occur.  However, all indications are that Level 2 will begin from next Wednesday, but the Prime Minister has signaled that Level 2 may be phased in over a period of time to reduce the associated risks.

The framework for Level 2 significantly removes many of the strictest restrictions of COVID-19 Alert Levels 3 & 4 which will be a much-welcomed relief for our collective sanity and a major boost for the economy.  The changes resemble a first step towards something like a return to ‘normal’. However, it isunlikely we will return to a true ‘normal’ until COVID-19 is a distant memory and a vaccine is available. The road ahead is long and we are truly only just starting the journey.

Like the shift to level 3, it is fair to expect an initial rush of people wanting to get out and spend. Be prepared to manage an influx of orders or customers, you don;t want your restaurant, cafe or store to be the reason we get kicked back into Level 3 or be shamed in the national media for any failings.

Basic Principles for Alert Level 2

Level 2 was described by the Prime Minister as a safe reopening of the economy.  The fundamental principles include:

  • People should stay at home if they are sick (as you always should!); and
  • Anyone with any cold or flu symptoms should be tested; and
  • Enhanced hygiene measures need to be in place (regular cleaning of high touch surfaces, etc); and
  • Contacts need to be traceable (i.e. a guest register will be required for somewhere that strangers can be in contact with each other); and
  • Social distancing (2m) remains for contact with strangers, but can be somewhat relaxed for non-stranger interactions; and
  • Bubbles will be a thing of the past; and
  • No gatherings of more than 100 people (inside and outside); and
  • Contactless payment will no longer be required; and
  • Borders remain closed, but domestic travel can resume.

The Government is working on a nationwide contact tracing technology that will be based on QR codes, but it does not sound like that will be ready in time for the shift to Level 2. As with most things, you’re better to have a plan for your own business rather than waiting on the government.

Update: The NZ COVID Tracer App is now live. Displaying the app’s QR codes to enable people to sign-in is also now mandatory for all businesses. To create your unique QR code, Click Here.

Alert Level 2.5 – Adjustments Following Auckland Cluster

The government has mandated the use of protective masks on all public transport from Monday the 31st of August.

Gatherings in Auckland will be limited to 10. However, there are no travel restrictions so people from Auckland can travel freely nationwide. It is important to maintain social distancing and the other basic principles of Alert Level 2.

It is advisable to wear a face covering or mask whenever you leave your private home. Masks will be a part of our daily life until Alert Level 1. Read more on how to wear a face covering safely and make it part of your routine.

What Alert Level 2 Means for Businesses

If businesses can safely trade within the Level 2 framework, they will be able to do so.   The shift to Level 2 will provide the first opportunity to trade for about 7 weeks for many businesses, including some of the hardest hit industries.

Like the shift to level 3, it is fair to expect that there will be an initial rush of people wanting to get out and spend.  Consumer confidence is extremely low, so consumer spending will almost certainly fall to far lower than normal levels at some point after this initial rush.  Therefore, businesses will want to make sure they are prepared and can reopen safely in those first few days.

The Prime Minister today described how certain industries will be able to operate.  Here is a brief summary:

Retail – can trade with enhanced hygiene measures, especially for high touch surfaces.  Numbers of customers in the store may need to be managed for larger retailers to ensure social distancing.

Hospitality – Unsurprisingly hospitality has the toughest requirements.  A hospitality venue will be subject to the “3 S’s”:

  • Seated – patrons must be seated.
  • Separated – there must be physical distancing between the tables.
  • Single server – each table must be served at the table by a single server.

These requirements may mean that it is impractical or uneconomical for certain hospitality venues to reopen at Level 2. This specifically applies to some bars and nightclubs. However, some restaurants will also not be able to seat a viable number of patrons or will simply not have the required number of staff to enable single server service per table.

Hairdressers and beauty salons – can resume seeing customers but will need to wear personal protection equipment due to the prolonged close proximity to customers. Masks or facial shields are the key items to be worn. Regular hand washing with soap and water is more practical and effective than gloves in many instances.

Sport and recreation – Gyms, pools, parks and museums, etc. can all reopen, subject to necessary precautions.

Sports can resume on a case by case basis.  A domestic rugby and netball competition will start as soon as possible.

Education – Can resume subject to necessary precautions.  Schools will resume the first Monday after the announcement.

Take a Precautionary Approach to Health and Safety in Your Workplace

While COVID-19 is in or community, caution is the best cause of action. You don’t want your business to be ground zero of the next cluster.

Cleaning is key for all businesses. We recommend bathrooms and high touch surfaces are cleaned as frequently as possible. Tills/EFTPOS machines should be sanitised after contact payments, hands should be washed at least every 15 minutes and bathrooms should be cleaned as often as practicable given their levels of use.

If your team can work from home, encourage it. The non-taxable $20/week allowance to help cover costs of staff working from home has been extended by the IRD until March 2021. They have also extended the time frame for making non-taxable payments of $400 to staff to reimburse them for the costs of setting up a home office. You can make these payments with no reimbursement evidence (receipts, etc.) and with no payroll or FBT implications.

Encourage the wearing of masks in your business when social distancing is not possible. This is not a requirement but is a cautionary approach that should see the risk of COVID and flu spreading in your workplace drastically reduced.

With everything we have learned over the past few months, take the time this week to review your internal Infection Control and Prevention Policy. Make the required updates and discuss these with your team.

Book in a Free Chat with one of our Experts

Need to discuss your plans for moving forward? Click HERE to book a free 30 minute chat with an MBP Business Partner. We can advise on everything from tax to payroll, human resources, cashflow and more.

New Zealand will move down to Alert Level 3 from start of business on Tuesday 28th April 2020. The change in the alert level will mark a shift from ‘essential’ business operations to ‘safe’ business operations, with many strict restrictions still in place. For the construction industry, this means a return to work, provided specific heightened health and safety standards can be strictly adhered to.

We have had a number of discussions with our building and construction sector clients in recent days and know this will be very welcome news. To ensure that the last month (soon to be five weeks) of lock-down have not been a very expensive waste, it is essential to follow the new industry guidelines.

Health & Safety Guidelines for Construction at Level 3

Last week, Construction Health and Safety NZ (CHASNZ) in conjunction with the joint government/industry Construction Sector Accord developed and released detailed construction health and safety standards and protocols for the residential, civil and vertical construction sectors.

Each construction site operating at Alert Level 3 (or level 2 when we get there) needs to have a Covid-19 Control Plan in place. The plan will guide how the principal or main contractor and contractors will manage work on site and the controls they will use to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Responsibility for Administering COVID-19 Control Plans

The Covid-19 controls are over and above the existing health and safety plan requirements for residential construction sites. It is the responsibility of the site owner (the party responsible for overall site coordination) to ensure this plan is in place.

The site owner may be a client (e.g. in the case of a self-managed renovation); a group home builder; a project manager; or a small builder / contractor. There must always be a nominated person on site when work is occurring who is responsible for administering the Covid-19 management plan. This can be shared among multiple people from different contractors for an individual site if required.

Read the CHASNZ Protocols

The Covid-19 Health and Safety Protocols for Residential Construction Sites outlines the minimum standards to be implemented at residential construction sites. These protocols apply at Alert Level 3 and 2 and supplement the Covid-19 Standard for Operating New Zealand Construction Sites developed by CHASNZ.

Download and read the residential requirements for construction in Alert Level 3 here, and find out more about the requirements for other types of construction here.

Need some help getting your head around the new protocols? Book in a chat here.