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What Types of Employment Disputes Can Arise in the Workplace?

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When you employ people to work for your business, it is essential that they work and communicate effectively together. When problems arise in the workplace, they can easily become employment disputes. It is important that you, as an employer, know how to spot common types of workplace disputes, such as those that concern the employment relationship. This article will explain the different types of employment disputes to help you solve any issues productively.  

What is an Employment Dispute?

An employment dispute is when a problem arises in the workplace. The issue will be between you and your employee to resolve, although the problem could be between different employees and not involve you. When employment disputes occur at work, it is important to resolve them and take the correct steps to do so.

Some situations can commonly result in employment problems arising at work. Issues can arise from you: 

  • restructuring your business,
  • failing to carry out our procedures correctly, such as disciplinary procedures and performance management processes; and 
  • using your employee’s confidential information or intellectual property.

What Are the Different Types of Employment Disputes?

Misconduct or Serious Misconduct

Misconduct is an employment dispute in the workplace concerning your employee’s wrongdoing. This can occur through three different ways, which are through them:

  • doing something wrong;
  • failing to do something they should have; or
  • behaving incorrectly.

If you face potential misconduct or severe misconduct with a worker, you may have to take disciplinary action against them. 

Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination

Bullying, harassment and discrimination are all types of employment disputes which can occur in the workplace. You must take these very seriously and investigate any of these allegations, as well as support the affected employees. Harassment can include:

  • racial harassment; and 
  • sexual harassment. 

Discrimination can also occur across a range of different discriminatory strands. 


Incompatibility is the term you use where there has been a relationship breakdown between at least two people at work. This breakdown must be so fundamental that it prevents the employer or employees from working together. 

Medical Incapacity

An employment dispute can arise due to the medical incapacity of one of your employees. This means that they cannot continue carrying out their job either because:

  • illness; or
  • injury.

This can be a particularly difficult employment dispute to deal with for both you as an employer and the employee affected.

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Migrant Exploitation

If you or someone else exploits a migrant worker in the workplace, this becomes an employment dispute. Both domestic New Zealanders and migrant workers have minimum employment rights. If you exploit a migrant worker in your workplace, they or another employee may report you. 

Disagreements Around the Employment Agreement 

It is possible to have a dispute about an employment agreement at work. An employment agreement dispute concerns issues about how the agreement is:

  • applied;
  • operated; or
  • interpreted.

It has to be an honest and genuine dispute to qualify as an employee agreement dispute. These disputes may raise issues about, for example:

  • job titles;
  • job duties;
  • wages;
  • hours of work; and
  • leave entitlement.

If your employee raises a hypothetical situation, this does not count as an employment agreement dispute.

Where an employment agreement dispute occurs, you must try to resolve it with your employee. If you fail to, your employee may: 

  • attempt mediation; or 
  • take their case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).  
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Key Takeaways

As an employer, you may sometimes face employment disputes. This is when an issue arises in the workplace between you and your employee or between employees. You must attempt to resolve these within the workplace or your employees may take legal action. Some common forms of employment disputes include: 

  • misconduct or serious misconduct; 
  • bullying, harassment and discrimination; 
  • incompatibility; 
  • medical incapacity; 
  • migrant exploitation; and 
  • disagreements regarding the employment agreement. 

If you need help understanding what types of employment disputes can arise in New Zealand, LegalVision’s experienced dispute lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

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Clare Farmer

Clare Farmer

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