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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.

The Government’s Business Finance Guarantee Scheme has been an epic failure. Today, some welcome changes to the scheme have been announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

The scheme has been too restrictive and there was far too much red tape for struggling businesses to jump through. The Government budgeted more than $6 Billion for the scheme when it was originally announced. However, to date, only $150 Million has been lent to just 780 businesses.

Today, the Finance Minister has announced some very welcome changes to the scheme.

What Has Changed:

  • The scope of the loans has expanded from supporting COVID-19 impacted cashflow to supporting businesses to respond to, reposition and recover from the impacts of COVID-19
  • The maximum loan amounts have increased from $500k to $5m; and
  • The loans can now be used for capital expenditure.
  • The maximum loan term has been extended from 3 years to 5.
  • There is now an ability to refinance other debt under the scheme.
  • The turnover cap for businesses has been expanded from $80m to $200m.
  • There are no establishment or early repayment fees.

The total funding available under the scheme is limited. Applications need to be made by 31 December 2020. More detail can be found here: https://treasury.govt.nz/information-and-services/new-zealand-economy/covid-19-economic-response/measures/bfg

The loans still do not apply to residential or commercial property investment. We think the Government has missed an opportunity here as a housing shortage looms with the significant number of New Zealanders returning from overseas.

Let’s hope these changes to the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme allow many more businesses struggling through their response to the pandemic to access the funds they need to secure their operations and thrive in the new normal.

How to Apply

Like the original scheme, applications are made through the participating banks (ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Heartland Bank, Kiwibank, SBS Bank, TSB, Bank of China and Westpac).

Normal credit processes apply, so if you intend on applying you will need to pull together information to support your application.

What the bank will require will vary case by case, but we suggest at a minimum they will want your most recent financial statements and up to date forecasts/budgets (ideally three-way).

If you need help with any of this, reach out to the team for help by emailing your regular MBP Business Partner or support@mbponline.co.nz.

Have you given any thought to which business structure is right for your business? We’ll be honest and admits it’s not usually the first thing that comes to people’s minds when starting or buying a business. However, the way that you structure your business plays a significant role in how it functions down the track.

In NZ, there are three common business structures, along with some which are not so common. We’re sticking with the most common of these structures today, though if you think another type would be better for your business, get in touch and we’ll help you sort it out.

The three most common NZ business structures are:

  • Sole trader
  • Partnership
  • Limited liability company

To help you decide which one you should choose, we’ll work through them individually.

Understanding the Sole Trader Business Structure

A sole trader structure involves only one person: you. It is the simplest structure in which you are the only individual who is liable for every part of your business. This doesn’t mean that you have to do it all alone as you can hire employees to help you run it. You’ll just need to register yourself as an employer with the IRD and meet the required obligations.

As a sole trader, you use your IRD number for tax purposes, filling in a personal tax return. You can claim expenses to lower the amount of tax you pay and generally, any business losses can be offset against any other personal income. Trading under your own name is fine, as the operational life of this business structure simply depends on you.

The advantages of choosing to become a sole trader include:

  • it is quick to set up with no red tape
  • there are no legal fees to pay during the establishment phase
  • you receive all the profits
  • you’ll have total control of the entire business
  • no business name registration is required
  • you can change your business structure easily in the future

Downsides to being a sole trader are:

  • you are completely responsible for all debts and claims
  • your assets can be at put at risk
  • harder to get finance should you need it
  • more difficult to sell as a working business
  • can be harder to grow a business using this structure
  • there are no shares to sell to raise capital
  • you are responsible for your KiwiSaver contributions

For further advice and information about this business type, get in touch.

Understanding the Partnership Business Structure

The partnership structure is often used by two or more professional individuals who already have experience in running a business. There are no rules regarding how much each partner can own, meaning an uneven split of 95% to 5% is acceptable. What does happen though, is the profits you receive and amount of work you are required to do often depends on the ownership percentage.

Instead of the partnership paying tax, each of the partners themselves is responsible for paying tax based upon the profit share they receive. To avoid problems, it is seriously recommended that there is a legally drawn partnership agreement which sets out all the details on how the partnership will be run.

The pros of choosing a partnership business structure include:

  • everyone shares costs and responsibility
  • relatively simple and low cost to run
  • each partner can focus on their specialities
  • you can offset losses against your other income
  • partners can bring in capital investment to the business
  • the running tasks of operating a business are shared

The cons of choosing a partnership can include:

  • each partner has an equal share in the business’ liabilities and debts
  • you need to make decisions with your partners
  • disagreements amongst partners are common
  • you can’t sell shares
  • you are responsible for your KiwiSaver contributions

To discuss if this structure is right for your business, get in touch with us.

Understanding the Limited Liability Company Structure

Commonly referred to as a company, a business with this structure is separate from the business owners. In other words, a company is a separate legal entity.  Any money earned will belong to the company and will pay its tax at the corporate tax rate. The shareholders then receive the profit from the company, who then individually pay income tax on this.

The shareholders, AKA the business owners, have less exposure to any financial or legal issues relating to the business.  So, while the company has full responsibility for all its own financial and legal obligations, the liability of the shareholders is less. This means a shareholder is only responsible for any personal guarantees they have given and losses to the dollar amount of their shares.

The advantages of choosing a company business structure include:

  • less personal responsibility for business debts and liabilities
  • easy to sell or pass on ownership
  • shareholder profit distributes are flexible
  • lower tax rate than top personal rats
  • easier to get funding approved
  • seen as a highly credible business structure by the market
  • easy to keep growing

The downsides include:

  • more red tape and paperwork to do
  • need to register business through the Companies Office
  • more time consuming to get up and running
  • higher establishment and compliance costs
  • often require more investment to grow
  • you are responsible for your KiwiSaver contributions

It is important to note, that the limited liability company is only one of three company structures. It is the most common one though. Others include co-operative companies and unlimited companies. To discuss which company structure is best for you, get in touch with us today.

Where to Next When Choosing a Business Structure?

While there is a simple tool available on the MBIE website to help select a business structure, there is no substitute for personal advice. As accountants and business advisors, we deal with these structures daily, putting us in the best position to help you make an informed decision. To make a time to discuss your business with one of our business advisors, book your free 30 minutes chat with us via our website now.

An eco-friendly business offers plenty of advantages: lower costs, increased profitability, marketing opportunities and the biggest one of all, a better environment for everyone.

Long gone are the days when businesses who actively chose recycled photocopy paper were ‘different.’ Today’s businesses are striving to become greener, and they are proud to show it. We take a look at some of the ways you can do to also become an eco-friendly business.

What is an Eco-Friendly Business?

An environmentally sustainable or eco-friendly business is one which focuses on using resources more efficiently and reduces waste. Often a business is seen as being green if it sells products made from recycled materials. But there’s more too it that simply the products they sell. Every business can improve their level of eco-friendliness regardless of what they sell or where they are located.

Like with everything, going green is something best done from a place where you know where everything stands. This requires you to identify what your business’ current environmental practices are, such as:

  • waste – what is recycled, reused, composted or sent to the landfill?
  • consumables – how many do you use, can you reduce their usage, is there a better viable option?
  • workplace – what strategies are in place to reduce waste, electricity and water usage?
  • promotion – how are eco-friendly practices encouraged by your team members? Does this work? Where are the areas for improvement?
  • policies – are there any workplace or business policies in place regarding being a green business? Do they need revision?

Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, you can begin making real changes.

Easy Ways to Operate an Eco-Friendly Business

Keeping in mind the areas you’ve identified where you can improve your business’ eco-friendly practices, consider which ones of these suggestions would fit:

  • use natural light where possible – not only does is save electricity usage, and therefore save you money, but natural light is also kinder on our eyes. Position desks and workstations near windows.
  • go paperless – invest in some cloud storage to keep your documents in rather than printing out and putting in a filing cabinet. This also refers to invoices, where Xero for instance, can invoice digitally.
  • work from home – thanks to COVID-19, many businesses had their employees working from home where possible. Why not continue this trend at least part time, cutting down on commutes and resources used to get to work.
  • meet digitally – virtual meetings have been around for a while but are on the increase. Instead of driving to meet at someone’s office, meet digitally instead.
  • choose reusable products – single use products are costly in resources and price. Invest in reusable products such as mugs, refillable hand sanitiser containers and printer inks.
  • buy sustainable – this means identifying suppliers which are committed to practicing sustainability and using their products or services.

Here at MBP Advisors + Accountants, we strongly believe we are an eco-friendly business, we even won the ICNZB Award for Most Sustainable Bookkeeping Business in New Zealand. . That’s because we are dedicated to being paperless, efficient and environmentally conscious. We plant a tree for every single ream of paper we use and we actively fund environmental initiatives in our local communities. However, we’re always looking for ways we can do better. We’d be keen on learning what your business does too, so let us know in the comments below.

Selling a business is a bit like selling your home. You want to get the best price possible, with the least amount of effort and at the lowest cost to you. What you do need to be clear on are the reasons you want to sell, plus be 100% certain that a sale is the best option for you.

As accountants and business advisors, we regularly play a role in helping clients sell a business. We believe it is important to consult with professionals such as ourselves because selling a business is a specialist area. To demonstrate this, we are sharing some of the processes and knowledge required to achieve a successful, legal and profitable business sale.

What Are Your Reasons for Selling a Business?

There is most likely a lot of your blood, sweat and tears which have gone into your business. There is probably also a large amount of pride and emotional connections associated with it too. So, chances are that you have thought long and hard about whether or not selling your business is the right move for you.

The decision you have come to would have been based on one or more reasons, such as:

  • you are ready to retire
  • you don’t enjoy owning a business any more
  • there are health problems which are affecting your ability to manage your business
  • it is time for a change and you want to do something else
  • you want to release your equity locked within the business
  • there’s a financial downturn and you want to get out now
  • a partnership dispute is causing problems

It is always best though, to ensure that the one or more reasons for selling absolutely require the business to be sold by having a chat with us. For instance, a financial downturn can be beneficial for a business which can pivot and reach a new market. Or employees can be hired to assist when health problems force the owner to step back. If you are 100% clear about your decision, it’s time to move onto the next stage: collating all your paperwork!

Organising Your Paperwork When Selling a Business

It would be a fair assumption that one of the first things an owner considers when deciding to sell their business is what the purchase price should be. However, like with selling of anything, the purchase price cannot simply be plucked out of thin air. Instead it relies on having a solid understanding of and updated knowledge about the business first. This requires you to get all your paperwork in order, including:

  • up to date financial records for current and previous tax years, including profit and lost statements, personal drawings, balance sheets, and employee costs
  • list of assets
  • current business plan
  • supplier contracts are current
  • details about all leases
  • any debts the business has are paid in full or have a plan to be paid prior to the sale
  • any legal issues are resolved
  • all regulations and requirements are complete, including health and safety planning
  • full documentation of all business processes

Finally, you will need to prepare an information memorandum for potential buyers which include all the above items. It should also contain specific details about business growth opportunities and other pertinent information not included elsewhere.

If all of this sounds too challenging or you don’t have time or want to do it, we can help. Get in touch with us today and we can start planning the sale of your business. Next though, we’ll cover how to get a valuation for your business.

How Much is Your Business Worth?

Even if you chose to take the DIY option when selling your business, it is highly recommended that you have it valued professionally. After all, a business valuation completed incorrectly can cost you plenty of money!

When it comes to valuing a New Zealand business, there are three main methods:

  • asset valuation – when you calculate the total sum of assets on your balance sheet
  • market approach – the amount of earning potential your business has which is based upon the theoretical market demand
  • income valuation – projecting the future cashflows of your business

You’ll often find that there is a valuation calculation used too, known as EBITDA. EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation. Generally, it is used to identify a business’ operating profit, but can be unreliable when a business is close to break-even.

Now we need to have a chat about price and value. We can help you identify the value of your business, which is taking into consideration the EBITDA, to know how much to ask for your business. However, the price of your business is the amount someone is willing to pay to buy it. Like with calculating its value, there are factors which can affect the price of your business, including:

  • physical presentation of your business
  • current economic climate
  • lifestyle the business provides
  • a comprehensive operating manual ready for an easy takeover
  • condition of fixed assets
  • existing restraints of trade
  • business name and trademarking
  • additional clauses in the sale and purchase agreements

Once you have finished the valuation of your business, it’s time to start looking for a buyer and we’re going to share some tips on doing this with you next.

Where to Find a Buyer When Selling a Business

When selling a property, most people use a real estate agent to help them find a buyer. When selling a business though, you’ve got a few other options up your sleeve. These include:

  • hiring a business broker – a business broker helps connect buyers and sellers, and they usually have an area of expertise. A broker is likely to have a database of buyers, as well as have a solid understanding of how to attract other potential buyers to consider purchasing your business. A broker can help you with the valuing and marketing of your business and expects a commission upon completion of the sale.
  • talking with employees – you may have a current employee who is interested in purchasing the business from you. Already knowing how the business is run is a huge bonus for them, and with some help from you, they may be willing to take the next step.
  • approaching your competitors – instead of having to compete with you, your competitors could buy your business out instead!
  • customers – do you have some raving fans of your business? They may be ready to purchase and run the business themselves.
  • advertising – put ads on social media, radio and even print media asking for interested parties to get in touch.

With interest from buyers comes negotiations and contracts. This is another area where professional expertise is recommended. From business advisors to lawyers, it is best to have everything completed by those who know what they are doing. Yes, they will charge you for their services, but the financial price you can end up paying for mistakes at this time can be far greater.

We’d like to offer you our experience and knowledge as professional accountants and business advisors when selling your business. We can walk you through the process, ensuring you receive the best possible price with the lowest possible amount of stress and costs. Get in touch with the team here at MBP Advisors and Accountants today and let’s meet up for a chat.