Workplace wellness for Employer Accreditation

The AEWV which is a new temporary visa that replaces 6 previous work visas with a streamlined single visa process enabling NZ employers to employ skilled migrants

Companies must be accredited under the new Immigration NZ policy to employ migrants on the new visa including companies that were accredited under the previous system (they need to reapply for accreditation and meet the requirements of the new policy when they want to hire more migrants).

The AEWV work visa can help set migrants on the pathway to New Zealand residence by allowing them to work in New Zealand

This has the potential to provide accredited employers with advantages over employers who are not accredited in terms of being able to source and hire skilled migrants.

Provide Evidence your business has good HR and workplace policies and processes

For Immigration New Zealand to approve your company as an Accredited Employer so that you can hire migrant employees on the new AEWV you will need to be able to provide evidence that your company treats its employees in good faith, pays people correctly, has good HR and workplace policies and processes in place.

What are HR processes?

HR processes can be described as the methods an employer uses to deal with its employees – you might describe it as the culture of the business. Details in policies and procedures cover many areas, for example, how sick and annual leave is managed, and others are supported by systems and processes such as payroll management.

With the many changes that have been made to employment legislation over the last few years, it is important that your HR processes are current and could stand up to external scrutiny. Immigration New Zealand will expect to see evidence that the employer meets the standards expected of a ‘good employer’ which is where the concept of dealing with employees in good faith comes in.

Employment New Zealand defines good faith as including the following three elements:

  • Parties must not act in a misleading or deceptive way.
  • Parties must be responsive and communicative.
  • Before making a decision, which may result in employees losing their job, the employer must give the affected employees sufficient information to be able to understand the proposal and then give them a proper opportunity to comment.

In fact, good faith is much bigger than this. It is more than just following the letter of the law and also requires employer to act in ‘the spirit of the law’. Employers are expected to treat others fairly using common sense. Broadly, good faith requires employers, employees and unions to:

  • act honestly, openly, and without hidden motives.
  • raise issues in a fair and timely way.
  • work constructively and positively together.
  • give each other relevant information ahead of when it is needed and as soon as possible, all information given should be carefully considered.
  • be fully honest with each other.
  • raise concerns or issues as soon as possible and respond to these quickly.
  • keep an open mind, listen to each other and be prepared to change opinion about a particular situation or behaviour.
  • treat each other with respect.

Often a company’s HR processes do not come under close external scrutiny until there is a dispute that has gone to mediation or, in extreme cases, to the Employment Relations Authority. The outcome often comes down to the question of “did the employer act in good faith towards the employee”.

Good faith means dealing with each other honestly, openly, and without misleading each other. It requires parties to be active and constructive in establishing and maintaining a productive relationship in which they are responsive and communicative

It is crucially important for an employer to have good, documented processes in place for HR processes such as performance management, disciplinary action, restructuring and redundancy and dismissal through long term illness. These are just a few examples where having robust HR processes can support an employer to ensure their actions meet the good faith test and employers, may be asked to show evidence of that behaviour by Immigration New Zealand.

What proof does an employer need to prove they manage their employees in good faith?

The type of evidence a company could provide to prove it acts in good faith with its employees could include the following:

  • Details of disciplinary processes, meetings and outcomes
  • Performance management processes
  • Consultation and communication during a restructure
  • Dealing with a harassment or bullying complaint
  • Any consultation processes that may have been undertaken e.g., the introduction of a new HR policy or procedure

An example of where an employer hasn’t acted in good faith is where they have incorrectly undertaken a restructuring and redundancy process to end a poor performing employee’s employment, when in fact a disciplinary process should have been carried out. Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate would definitely not approve of that type of conduct from an employer and it could have a negative effect on any accreditation application.

Payroll systems and keeping records

Payroll is another HR (or finance) process where accuracy and compliance is essential. All employers, regardless of their size, must operate and maintain good payroll and record keeping system. Immigration New Zealand may look at the employer’s compliance in this regard by checking the following:

  • Timekeeping and recording
  • Minimum wage compliance
  • Holiday (annual leave) pay, public holiday pay, sick leave and payroll calculations
  • Payslip delivery
  • Correct treatment of KiwiSaver and associated payments to third parties e.g., IRD
  • Termination pay compliance

Employers should be aware that non-compliance can lead to prosecutions, fines, and stand-down periods during which INZ would not issue any visas.

Workplace policies and processes

From our previous experiences of assisting clients with their applications for accreditation we have discovered that Immigration New Zealand requires evidence from the applying company to prove they can demonstrate that they have a genuine and serious commitment to three important processes:

  1. Implementing diversity policy and practices;
  2. Knowing about and dealing with any non-compliance (internal checks and balances, and reporting); and
  3. Implementing an immigration policy and keeping compliant with immigration and employment legislation.

Cultural Diversity policy and practices

Diversity has some key areas where it is important to be able to show the company is serious about it and prove that it proactively manages it. These include:

  • Gender pay and employment opportunities. An employer must be able to show that gender has no effect on pay differences, training and development opportunities, or opportunities to gain work experience. Also significant could be things such as lack of availability of facilities for female employees with breastfeeding responsibilities.
  • Migrant/local employee differences. These can be as obvious as pay differences but can also extend to work allocation and levels of responsibility. For example, if a migrant employee has the same qualifications, job title and experience, but is restricted to more menial work, smaller teams or less client-focussed roles, this would be clear (but less obvious) discrimination. Discrimination in this area can also include availability of facilities, such as refusing to accommodate fundamental dietary differences in rest room areas, lack of accommodation for religious needs, and might even include a failure to provide important information (e.g., health and safety information) in a non-English speaking employee’s native language.

Positively showing, or confirming, proactive compliance with these workplace processes and similar areas are most likely to be viewed favourably by Immigration New Zealand.

Managing non-compliance (and maintaining compliance)

Generally, public knowledge of non-compliance only comes about when an audit has been undertaken by the Labour Inspectorate and the results are so extreme that they publish the outcomes on their website as a warning to others. However, we know there are a number of employers who have a history of non-compliance but who don’t care that their conditions of employment are not satisfactory and will take the chance that they never get caught.

And then there are those who unknowingly make a mistake but due to having good checks and balances they can easily deal with the non-compliance.

The kinds of checks and balances that show a commitment to finding non-compliance are similar to those that help to ensure ongoing compliance, such as audits. These should be captured in a series of regular reports that show that the employer cares and follows up on its own compliance.

These include:

Testing payroll calculations regularly to ensure:

  • Holiday and absence pay are both correct;
  • Minimum pay rates are complied with (e.g. a person earning a full-time salary of $37,000 per year, but working extra hours for no pay, can easily end up earning LESS than $17.70 per hour when their annual salary is divided by the number of hours they actually worked); and
  • Termination pay is paid correctly, include all outstanding entitlements and that all deductions are properly authorised.

Auditing employee files to:

  • Ensure employment contracts exist for all employees (some employers have long-serving employees where there is literally nothing in writing from “back in the day”); and
  • Changes to employment benefits and conditions are recorded.

Auditing visas to ensure:

  • Employees are working within their visa conditions (it’s easy for a local manager, for example, to innocently transfer a foreign employee from Auckland to Hamilton to help out on a project when it could actually breach visa conditions);
  • No visas have expired; and
  • Employees on visas haven’t been promoted into jobs their visa doesn’t cover.

Auditing health and safety records to check:

  • Consistency of regular meetings and minutes (documented);
  • Health and safety training;
  • PPE safety checks; and
  • Reports, statistics and investigations.

The requirement to prove compliance also includes policies and procedures that give Immigration New Zealand confidence that the business is set up to remain compliant with at least the minimum requirements of New Zealand employment law.

And it doesn’t end there: employers with Union membership must be aware that Immigration New Zealand will also obtain feedback on all of the above from Unions and employee representatives.

Contact us to find out how we can help your business.

Contact us to find out how we can help your business.