Employment law updates…what’s ahead in 2021?


2020 has certainly been a year like no other. Covid-19 has impacted organisations and our lives in numerous ways – from how we work and engage in business to mental health implications. After the year we’ve endured, what changes can we expect in regards to employment and employment law over the next 12 months?

Recent employment law updates you need to be aware of

Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020

NZ has a significant pay equity issue. Many female workers in NZ work in occupations that are more than 80% female, and these female-dominated occupations tend to be lower paid. Additionally, women are also under-represented in higher-level jobs.

The Equal Pay Amendment Act came into effect on 6 November 2020 and allows workers to make a pay equity claim. Female-dominated industries will be able to bargain for higher pay. Pay equity reporting for the private sector might be looked at in the future.

New Privacy Act 2020

The updated Privacy Act came into effect on 1 December 2020 and is a response to the advent of the internet and increased online communications. It introduces greater protections for individuals and some new obligations for businesses and organisations.

Businesses are required to protect customer information and the changes include mandatory reporting of serious privacy breaches to the Privacy Commissioner and to the people affected. For serious or repeated breaches, the Privacy Commissioner can direct a business to comply with the Act.

For businesses this means:

  • Checking you have the right privacy systems in place
  • Minimising the amount of data you collect (only collect what you need)
  • Ensuring that all your staff are aware of their obligations

Businesses are advised to have a privacy management process and a Privacy Officer appointed.

Immigration Changes

New Zealand has experienced what some are referring to as the ‘brain gain’ with over 50,000 Kiwis having returned or about to return from overseas. However, in some industries, skill shortages have increased with not as many international visitors or RSE workers available. Immigration NZ has backlogs and an increase in resident visa applications.

Recently the government announced that 2000 RSE workers will be brought in through managed isolation facilities in January to alleviate some of the pressure in the horticulture sector. We can expect to see more changes as we adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Employment law changes to look out for in 2021

Minimum Wage

It is expected that the minimum wage will increase to $20 per hour in April 2021.


  • The Holidays Act is now 17 years old and not set up for changing work practices. A review taskforce was appointed in 2019, however we are still waiting for the outcome of this review. What we are hoping to see is a simplification in leave calculation, interpretation and accrual methods.
  • Doubling of sick leave - the Labour Government has now announced an increase in sick leave from 5 days to 10 days per year. This will come into effect in late 2021. There is also an indication that the current 6 month stand down for new employees will be removed. This is in response to wanting staff to remain home if unwell. There is no doubt this will have an impact on small businesses.
  • Matariki has been proposed as a new public holiday, which could increase public holidays from 11 to 12 per year.

Bullying & Harassment

MBIE are currently running a public consultation on bullying and harassment in the workplace. The results will guide future policies and changes to health and safety and employment relations systems to address bullying and harassment at work.

Written submissions are invited from workers, businesses and other interested groups on the systems that prevent and respond to bullying and harassment at work, including sexual harassment.

The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2021.

Dependent Contractor Protections

What makes an employee vs a truly independent contractor is under scrutiny. Many industries currently restrict contractors contracting elsewhere and require them to work set hours, yet they do not receive the benefits of employment.

A law change in the future may address this inequality and ensure proper employment entitlements are provided in specific industries.

Fair Pay Agreements

Industry-wide collective agreements are being considered in sectors or occupations where there are issues with competitive outcomes, i.e. competition based on ever-decreasing labour costs, rather than an increase in quality or productivity. These are likely to be focused on large service sectors e.g. bus drivers.


Would you like more information on these employment law updates and how they apply to your business? Please contact us.


Whakatū | Nelson

Te Whanganui-a-Tara | Wellington

Ōtautahi | Christchurch

Waiharakeke | Blenheim

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