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Employees in New Zealand have a number of different rights and entitlements through law. Unlike other countries, the system for employment rights in New Zealand is built around a framework of laws that set out basic working conditions for employees. Individual employment agreements then set out the specifics of a particular role and usually offer expansions on the basic rights set out by law. This article will set out the minimum rights for employees in New Zealand, and look at how those minimums can be expanded on in employment agreements.

Minimum Rights and Negotiated Terms

Here is a selection of minimum rights, along with terms that are often included in employment agreements following negotiation.

Rights Surrounding Leave

Minimum Rights

Examples of Common Negotiated Terms

Four weeks’ paid annual holiday per year. This is known as annual leave.

Additional annual holidays beyond four weeks, such as five or six weeks.

11 public holidays per year.

Extra holidays, e.g. company holidays or “employment birthday” (where you treat the day you started at the company as a public holiday solely for you in future years).

Five days’ paid sick leave per annum, after the first six months of working.

More than five days’ paid sick leave, no need to wait for six months. Most companies have a system of “advancing” sick leave to new staff who get sick or ill, as it is usually in your company’s interest for sick or ill staff to remain at home.

Bereavement leave for close family members, typically one to three days.

Additional support for bereavement situations, whether that is a longer period of time off-work or a flexible working period for a period of a few weeks for the employee to manage the affairs and administration of a family death.

Up to 52 weeks’ parental leave. Note this can be for either a mother or a father, if they are the primary caregiver.

Comprehensive parental leave entitlements which are more generous. Often companies will “top up” an employee’s pay so they get close to their normal pay while taking parental leave. Many companies also consider flexible working arrangements for parents.

Rest and meal breaks must be provided. For most full-time staff, these breaks consist of two 15 minute paid ‘rest’ breaks per day, and one 30 minute unpaid ‘meal’ break, usually taken around lunchtime.

More frequent or longer rest breaks. Some companies also ensure that the employee’s meal break is also paid.


Rights Surrounding Leave

Minimum Rights

Examples of Common Negotiated Terms

Additional compensation, like payment of ‘time and a half’, for working on public holidays.

Further compensation for working on public holidays, such ‘double time’ (double the employee’s usual wage).

The minimum wage must be paid to all workers.

Wages and salary rates above the minimum wage. The ‘living wage’ is a common alternative to the minimum wage for large employers. Some companies also offer bonus or additional compensation schemes beyond a base wage or salary. This varies according to industry. 

Overtime paid at minimum wage per hour. All workers must earn at least the minimum wage for all time they spend working.

Overtime at a higher rate than the minimum wage, such as ‘time and a half’. This represents that overtime is often unpredictable for the employee and can interfere with other plans the employee might have in the evening or weekends.

Payment of wages to be made in cash.

Companies vary in the frequency of payments to employees and how this payment is made. Fortnightly or monthly pay is the most common method.

Unpaid leave for jury service. Employers are obliged to allow their employees to serve when they are called up for jury duty.

Normal pay while on jury service. While jury members receive a small sum for their time and service, many employers choose to top up that sum.

Key Takeaways

There are a wide range of basic employment rights in New Zealand. There are also a number of terms that are typically included in employment agreements, but are not mandatory. These rights relate to the employee’s:

  • working conditions;
  • pay;
  • wellbeing, such as leave and support through difficult circumstances; and
  • all employees’ entitlement to the minimum wage for their time spent working.

Many companies negotiate extended or advanced terms with employees to incentivise them and to help lure great employees to join in the future. If you want to know more about employment rights in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570, or complete the form on this page.


What are the most basic employment rights in New Zealand?

All employees are entitled to the minimum wage for hours worked sick and annual leave, public holidays, and to do their civic duty as jury members. Most other aspects about an employee’s work can be negotiated in an employment agreement.

Do I have to pay full salary to an employee completing jury service?

No, you do not, but you must allow them to take unpaid leave in order to fulfil their role on the jury. 

Do new staff get sick leave straightaway?

Most employees only start receiving an entitlement to sick leave after six months’ service at a company. However, most employers allow employees to take sick leave beforehand, as sick staff may be unable to complete their work, and may spread their illness in the workplace. 

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