Comment: Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers employment spokesman, lists his top seven "must-do's" for farmers when it comes to employment contracts.
Recent legal decisions on employment agreements have highlighted the need for farmers to get the fine print right. Here are my top seven considerations from a farmers' perspective.
1. Get an agreement in place
The first priority is to get a written employment agreement in place to begin with for every employee, even for casual and part time workers. This should outline the terms and conditions of employment fully, be provided to the employee before they start work, and be agreed upon and signed by both parties.
Agreements also need to be kept up to date, particularly if the nature of the role changes, or the hours of work change. Regularly reviewing the contract means you capture these changes and any changes to employment law.
2. Ensure the agreement complies with employment legislation
The employment agreement has to include some basic information, including but not limited to the names of both parties and the conditions of work, pay, description of the work and the nature of employment.
Agreements also need to be clear and up to date. Both parties should be clear on the details and obligations, and these need to be included in an agreement. The days of handshake deals are gone.
3. Get the right type of agreement
There are three types of employees: permanent, fixed-term, or casual. The agreement needs to match the work the employee is doing, the hours, frequency and other related terms and conditions.
Common mistakes include using a fixed term agreement as a trial period. Fixed term agreements should only be used where there is a genuine commercial reason, not simply to make it easier to end an agreement that isn't working out. You need to know the differences and reflect these in each agreement.
Another is using a casual employment agreement for part time workers. Once a person is required to work regular hours they are no long casual.
4. Reflect minimum standards
The employment agreement needs to reflect the minimum employment standards. This includes minimum pay rates, meal breaks, paid annual and public holidays and paid rest. These are minimum entitlements, and legally binding.
5. Including too many policies and procedures
Farms include a range of policies and procedures. Some of these may need to be referenced in the contract, and others need to sit outside the contract. As a pointer, if it is relevant to the individual contract include it, but if it is a general farm process or procedure it may be better to refer to the policy outside the contract.
if you include it in the contract, you don't have the flexibility to alter it without a change to the employment agreement.
6. Job description
Make sure you have one of these included. What does the job entail? Hours worked? Rosters six on/two off?
There's always so much discussed at a job interview and questions asked, but make sure you have these addressed in writing. I've found the best place is in the job description.
I've always made it clear in this part what our expectations are for working on our farm, the health and safety requirements, looking after the house, lawns mowed, how we like our animals treated.
Yes, mine is eight pages long now but I've built this up over several years. Staff get no surprises when they work for us; we are very fair employers, hence our low staff turnover, but we get the basics right from the first meeting.
7. Follow the terms of the agreement
Once an agreement is in place, be sure you're aware of your obligations and follow these. That includes not only what is in the agreement but also the overall requirement to act in 'good faith'.
These pointers don't cover all obligations but provide a basic starter. It is important you ensure employment agreements are up to date, cover the basics, reflect the work conditions and are fit for purpose.
Getting employment agreements right at the front end is not only a basic foundation for being a good employer, it reduces the potential for disagreement and hefty costs down the track.
Farming is hard work. While the above does not cover everything, don't make it harder work by not getting the basics right in the employment contracts when signing them.
You don't have to spend many hours doing this. Take the smart short cut like I do – buy a Federated Farmers contract, fill it in correctly, download some additional documents, checklists from DairyNZ website or from the trusty Google search!
There's so much help out there now; please make the employment experience on your farm memorable from the initial handshake meeting your new employee, to the day they leave and progress to the next job.
Satisfaction comes from watching good people grow with your help and guidance – not in the lawyer's office!