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Some employment issues can involve breaches (or alleged breaches) of human rights and privacy. In these circumstances, an employee has the option of making a claim at the Human Rights Review Tribunal instead of raising a personal grievance at the Employment Relations Authority. The Human Rights Review Tribunal operates differently from the Employment Relations Authority, and there are different things to be aware of as an employer. This article explains what: 

  • the Human Rights Review Tribunal is; 
  • kinds of complaints it hears; and 
  • the process is for making a claim. 

What is the Human Rights Review Tribunal?

The Human Rights Review Tribunal is an independent judicial body that exclusively deals with certain kinds of legal issues related to basic rights. This can include employment cases, as well as different kinds of legal cases not related to employment. It is separate from the standard court system, which means it operates differently from the High Court and employment-specific judicial bodies like the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court. 

A panel of three members oversees each case at the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Panel members can come from different backgrounds and do not always have to be lawyers (though the Chair of the panel must be a lawyer).

What Employment Cases Are Dealt With at the Human Rights Review Tribunal?

The Human Rights Review Tribunal can only manage cases if there is an alleged breach of human rights. In the employment context, this typically includes discrimination, harassment or bullying on racial or sexual grounds. Privacy breaches also fall within the ambit of issues the Human Rights Review Tribunal can oversee. 

The Human Rights Review Tribunal has heard a wide range of employment cases in the past. However, whether they will take any particular case in the future depends on the specific circumstances of the case in question. If you think that an employee might make a case against your business in the Human Rights Review Tribunal, you should get legal advice from an employment lawyer

The Human Rights Review Tribunal has the power to order serious penalties for breaching human rights. It can award compensation for harm to feelings and humiliation up to a total of $350,000. The Tribunal can also make a variety of orders to require the employer or employee to do something to fix the problem. This can impose other costs on your business. 

The Process for an Employee Making a Claim at the Tribunal

There are different administrative aspects to consider regarding the Human Rights Review Tribunal process, particularly compared to a standard judicial process. 

If an employee is claiming a breach of human rights (specifically under the Human Rights Act 1993), they must first make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. If they are making a claim for a breach of privacy, they must first have the complaint investigated by the Privacy Commissioner. Further, the Privacy Commissioner’s office must be involved in the resolution of the dispute. Your business has the opportunity to resolve issues at an earlier stage as a consequence of these additional process requirements.

Note that if an employee chooses to take a claim through the Human Rights Review Tribunal, they are not subject to the standard time limitations for raising a personal grievance through the employment process of the Employment Relations Authority. In other words, they do not have to raise the claim within 90 days.

Another important process aspect is the choice aspect for an employee in terms of process. An employee with a grievance with human rights aspects can either: 

  • choose to raise a personal grievance at the Employment Relations Authority; or
  • make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. 

They cannot do both, and starting one process means they cannot start the other (in terms of the same claim). 

Key Takeaways

The Human Rights Review Tribunal deals with possible human rights breaches, including employment issues in some circumstances. The employment claim must have an alleged breach of human rights, and the employee must have raised a complaint at the Human Rights Commission or with the Privacy Commissioner. In the employment context, relevant cases heard at the Human Rights Review Tribunal usually involve discrimination, harassment or privacy issues. If you want to know more about how the Human Rights Review Tribunal deals with employment issues, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the NZ Human Rights Review Tribunal?

A judicial body that deals with human rights issues. These can include certain employment claims that relate to alleged breaches of human rights, like discrimination, harassment or interference with privacy.

Can the Human Rights Review Tribunal take employment cases?

Yes, they can. However, not all employment cases are eligible for the Human Rights Review Tribunal. They have to include some breach of human rights. In addition, an employee can’t raise a personal grievance at the Employment Authority and also make a claim at the Human Rights Commission on the same issue. They must pick one or the other. 

Does an employee have to raise a claim at the Tribunal before 90 days?

No, they do not. It is separate from the standard personal grievance process, and so employees are not limited by the standard 90 day limit for raising a personal grievance.

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