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An employment advocate represents someone (usually an employee) during employment disputes, particularly in the early stages of resolution and at mediation. They play a similar role to employment lawyers, but employment advocates are not lawyers. There is no qualification to become an employment advocate. Additionally, they do not have to follow the same professional standards of conduct as a lawyer.

This article explains: 

  • what employment advocates are; 
  • how they differ from employment lawyers; and 
  • what you need to know as an employer when engaging with an advocate who is representing an employee.

The Role of Employment Advocates

Employment advocates can represent either employees or employers during the resolution of employment issues. Employment law in New Zealand is clear that both employees and employers can be represented by ‘any person’, not just lawyers. This has opened the door to a group of professional representatives, who usually specialise in representing employees, and market themselves as being cheaper than employment lawyers

Employment advocates can represent employees at many different points during the employment process, including for employment problems such as a personal grievance. Additionally, an employee does have the right to choose whoever they like as their representative in a process. For that reason, you may see employment advocates at disciplinary meetings, poor performance reviews and mediations. During these meetings, the advocate’s role is to work for their client, and different advocates can take very different approaches to how to best get a result for a client. 

As employment advocates are not lawyers, they do not have to have a legal background, although some have legal experience.

How Employee Advocates Are Different From Employment Lawyers

While they can fulfil a similar role in the employment processes, employment advocates are different from employment lawyers. 

For someone to call themselves a lawyer (including an employment lawyer) in New Zealand, they must:

  • have a law degree;
  • have completed a professional training qualification; and
  • hold a current practising certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society.

To receive a practising certificate, employment lawyers must either:

  • be working under the supervision of a suitably experienced lawyer; or
  • have the authority to practice on their own account (which requires sufficient experience working as a lawyer and usually means the lawyer has undertaken further training).

Lawyers are obligated to comply with specific regulations and the professional and ethical standards required of lawyers.  Anyone has the right to complain to the Law Society if they believe a lawyer has not met those standards in some way.

On the other hand, there are no requirements for someone to call themselves an employment advocate. Even if the employment advocate has some legal training, a law degree or experience in a law firm, that does not necessarily make them employment lawyers. Either they are not qualified to hold a practising certificate, or they have chosen not to be bound by the same legal and professional standards as lawyers. 

Employment advocates are not regulated and there is no professional body that the public can complain to about the service they have received from an advocate. Furthermore, employment advocates typically decide their own pricing structure.

How to Engage With Employment Advocates as an Employer

Even if an employment advocate is behaving in a hostile or aggressive manner towards you or other people in your business, it is important to treat them with respect and seek a constructive conclusion to the dispute with the employee. Advocates can take irregular and unorthodox approaches in resolving employment disputes on occasion. However, an employee still has the right to have whoever they like represent them, and advocates can provide a level of experience and advice that is helpful to a stressed employee in a difficult employment situation. 

It is best to treat employment advocates and employment lawyers alike, and seek a proactive and constructive approach to resolving any issues with your employee. 

Key Takeaways

Employment advocates can represent parties in employment disputes in New Zealand, particularly employees. While they are commonly mistaken as lawyers, they do not need to hold a law degree or have any legal knowledge. They are also not bound by the same regulations and standards as a lawyer. As an employer, you must respect your employee’s right to select who they like as a representative and work constructively and positively with the advocate even if you do not believe they are fairly or reasonably representing the employee’s perspective. 

If you have any questions about dealing with employee advocates, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.


Do employment advocates have to have a law degree?

No, they do not. There are no requirements to be an employment advocate.

Are employment advocates cheaper than employment lawyers?

It depends. While many advocates advertise themselves as cheaper than employment lawyers, they might take a larger cut of any final settlement than a lawyer would. Lawyers tend to charge on a per-hour basis.

Do employees have to have representation in a mediation?

No, both employers and employees are allowed to represent themselves in mediations. Employment advocates and lawyers are sometimes, but not always, used in these settings.

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