Careers advice

Employment in NZ: what to look for in a job contract

We know they look boring, but you really do need to read your employment agreement.

It’s a great feeling when a shiny, new employment agreement lands in your inbox. You’ve worked hard, and your job search is nearly over!

However, a final crucial task is ahead of you – checking through the document before putting pen to paper.

Because employment agreements, or contracts, can be daunting and dull in equal measures, we’ve created this quick guide to help see you through. We’ll look at the most important elements of a job contract, as well as how long you have to respond to a job offer, giving you the power to accept your new role with confidence.

There's a lot to think about before you put pen to paper.

Things you need to check before signing a contract: what employers must include

Note, the terms ‘employment agreement’ and ‘job contract’ are used interchangeably, and we’ll be doing the same throughout this article – they refer to the same document.

In New Zealand, employment law dictates that every job needs to be accompanied by a written employment agreement. The first thing to check is that yours contains all the following elements, which the government requires from employers:

1. Your name, and the employer’s

This is so it’s clear who is bound by the terms of the agreement.

2. The job description

It’s crucial you check this aligns with what you’re expecting. You don’t want to agree to performing additional duties you haven’t talked about previously, unless they’re minor and tasks you’re sure you could perform well on top of the rest of your workload.

Also, make sure the job title is correct for the role you applied for – admin mistakes happen!

3. Your hours of work

You should have a solid idea of your working hours from the job listing and your interviews. As with the description section, all you need to do here is check that what’s written in the employment agreement matches up with what you were expecting.

Note, your hours of work could be given as:

  • A number per week.
  • Start and finish times.
  • The days of the week you’ll work (if you’re not full-time).

If your employment is fixed term, details about the length of the contract should also be part of the agreement.

4. Salary/wage details

On top of how much you’ll be paid, the employment agreement should specify how you will receive the money.

If you’ve already negotiated your salary up from the initial offer, make sure the employer has included this figure in your employment agreement. Don’t rely on verbal agreements, and don’t sign if the correct sum isn’t in your contract.

5. The location of work

Pretty straight forward, just check this is what you expected.

Study your job contract carefully, and ask as many questions as you need.

6. Info about working on public holidays

If you ever work on a public holiday, your boss is required by law to pay you at least time and a half, and your contract should include a statement committing them to this.

Note: the employer doesn’t have to include your annual leave details in the employment agreement (although they’re legally obliged to give you a minimum of 20 days per year). However, if you negotiated on your annual leave allowance, and the employer agreed to give you more than the minimum, this info should be in your contract.
It’s also important to know the company’s rules around taking leave, for example if you can carry unused days over to the next year.

7. Dispute resolution processes

Hopefully you’ll never need the details in this section, but it’s important that your contract lays out clearly how you’d go about dealing with relationship problems with your employer.

If any of this part doesn’t make sense, be sure to clarify how the process would work before signing the contract.

8. Anything specifically agreed upon

We touched on this with holidays, but if you and the employer made any other specific arrangements to do with your employment, these should be noted in the contract. For example, a trial period or perks you’re entitled to.

In certain businesses, it’s also a requirement for the employer to provide an employment protection provision. This would come into play if the company is sold or transferred, or if your work is contracted out.

Your employment agreement should contain info on the pay you'll receive if you have to work on public holidays.

What else should I know before signing an employment agreement?

While the above is all stuff the employer has to include in your contract, we also recommend looking out for:

  • Notice periods and termination: it’s weird to think about leaving the job before you start, but make sure you’re aware of the notice you’re required to give if you decide to move on. Similarly, check out info on termination, and the rights the employer has to dismiss you.
  • Shift cancellation: if you’re doing shift work, find out how much notice your boss needs to give you if they need to cancel your shift, and what compensation you might be entitled to.
  • Sick leave: in New Zealand, an employer can give you a minimum of five sick days a year.
  • Restrictive clauses: these are important if you have a side hustle, and for after you leave the job. Common restrictive clauses include not working for competing businesses, and not poaching clients if you decide to set up by yourself.
  • Copyright and intellectual property: usually, work you complete on behalf of the company will be their intellectual property and copyright, so make sure you understand this and stay on the right side of the rules.

How long do you have before accepting a job offer?

Often, you will receive an offer letter with your employment agreement that includes a deadline, usually around a week, after which the offer expires. During this period of time, negotiate and ask questions of the employer.

They should respect that you making an informed decision is important, and should make someone available to communicate with you on any queries or concerns you have.