The pitfalls of Employment Law and how to avoid them

Posted by | November 10, 2020 | Employers, Retention

employment law pitfalls blog header

By Anissa Ljanta

Are you firmly on the path of rock-solid employment practices, or are you floundering somewhere in no man’s land making it up as you go along?

This month we talked to Maxine Roberts Corbett of Visionary HR and Kay Chapman, from Chapman Employment Relations – two women who know employment law back to front – and asked them some questions to learn more about the common pitfalls when it comes to employment law, with a special focus on the for-purpose sector.


Q. What employment law struggles do you see employers face repeatedly?

A. Maxine Roberts Corbett/ Visionary HR:

I think one of the biggest challenges employers face is finding a middle ground: smoothing the tension between meeting their employer obligations and living their own values in the HR processes.

Change is a good example of this. Change processes require the employer to follow a stringent set of steps yet, if this were any other process, it is likely they would have the conversation in a much more friendly, informal setting. This is often the feedback I hear from employees – “why didn’t they (the employer) just talk to me like normal?” Something to think about before you get into a highly formalised process.

It is key to ensure support is in place for the employee as you work through the process. It’s not always easy, but a good process makes an employee feel they have been treated in a fair and reasonable way, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the outcome.

A. Kay Chapman/ Chapman Employment Relations:

One of the biggest struggles we see is that employers often do not have the employment policies in place to address employment issues – or if they do, they are not using them.

In the not-for-profit space, we tend to see a lack of processes to manage recruitment of volunteers or their behaviour and performance. Volunteers can impact workplace culture and the public image of the organisation as they are usually front facing so having the processes in place to deal with any issues is crucial.


Q. What is one piece of employment law people seem to forget and why is it important?

A. Maxine Roberts Corbett/ Visionary HR:

Offering a support person in any formal process is one aspect of being a fair employer. Always encourage your employees to seek advice and/or support from a representative before you enter into any rigorous HR process. A support person is someone who comes along to provide moral and emotional support. They are typically a friend, colleague or family member. By contrast, a representative is someone who is usually hired by the employee to give them specific advice. They may be lawyers, non-lawyer advocates or union reps. Under the Employment Relations Act, an employee is entitled to appoint anyone they wish to be their representative.

Contrary to popular opinion, the law does not make any distinction between the rights of those who attend as support people versus representatives. If you choose to quiet a support person, or prevent them from speaking on the employee’s behalf, you may risk reaching an unjustified decision at the end of the process. It’s best to let the support person speak. If necessary, make the employee aware that you will consider that person as their spokesperson so if they do not agree with what their support person is saying, they will be prompted to let you know.

A. Kay Chapman / Chapman Employment Relations:

People often seem to forget their obligations to consult with an employee or volunteer before taking decisive action. Being communicative, responsive, fair and reasonable is important so there are no surprises.

Having clear policies in place (including the requirement to consult) and having everyone aware of them is important to mitigate the risk of a situation escalating beyond repair.


Q. What are your key suggestions for employers?

A. Maxine Roberts Corbett/ Visionary HR:

  • Listen to your employees. They will tell you how you can best support them in tough times, but also generally in their employment.
  • Carry out engagement surveys, ask questions that might be hard to hear the answers to. And crucially, reflect on and use that information to make a difference in your workplace.

 A. Kay Chapman/ Chapman Employment Relations:

  • Have clear policies and procedures in place and communicate these to your employees.
  • Create volunteer agreements and job descriptions with a well communicated code of conduct. These agreements are as important for volunteers as for employees.
  • Hire volunteers/employees who are good role models, living the organisation’s values and leading by example to create the organisation’s unique culture.


Save yourself and your employees the pain of pitfalls by thinking ahead and setting good policy and procedures in place. Make sure your HR communication is clear and think of your volunteers as members of your team, who deserve the same respect and HR practices. If you do hit bumps on the HR road, it can be helpful to have the fresh eyes of a skilled person from outside the organisation.

Huge thanks to Kay and Maxine for sharing their employment law wisdom with us. May they inspire us all to invest in the time and energy to forge a path to shining best-practice land.



About Anissa Ljanta

Anissa is an online content and comms specialist with a long history in the not-for-profit sector both here in NZ and internationally.   She is on the board of her small local community library, is part of a delightful book club, several writers’ groups, and her idea of a fun Saturday night involves writing and wine. Words, social change and deep ecology are at the centre of her life.

Anissa can be found (and hired for word geekery) at

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.