Changes to Increase Time Available to Lodge Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment

The Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Act came into force on 13 June 2023. It has extended the timeframe in which a personal grievance (PG) can be raised when sexual harassment has occurred at work.

Extended from 90 days to 12 months

The timeframe now allows a PG to be raised within 12 months of the harassment occurring or coming to an employee’s attention, rather than the former period of 90 days. The purpose of this amendment is to allow sexual harassment victims more time to come to terms with what has happened before deciding whether or not to raise a PG.

 

Employment law fundamentals

Employment law in New Zealand is underpinned by the Employment Relations Act 2000; it promotes productive employment relationships and encourages employers and employees to act in good faith in all aspects of the employment environment. This is achieved by specific processes to help parties resolve employment disputes in a quick and flexible way, such as allowing an employee to raise a PG. A PG is a complaint that allows an employer and employee to address, amongst other things, a sexual harassment claim.

 

What is a personal grievance?

You may raise a PG against your current or former employer if you believe you have been treated unfairly or unreasonably. This includes situations where you think you have been:

  • Unjustifiably dismissed
  • Unjustifiably disadvantaged
  • Discriminated against in your employment
  • Sexually harassed in your employment
  • Treated adversely in your employment on the grounds of family violence, or
  • Racially harassed.

 

When deciding if an act or dismissal was justified, your employer, the mediator or the Employment Relations Authority must consider what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time the dismissal or action occurred.

You can choose to raise a PG with your employer directly or via the Employment Relations Authority. To raise a PG, you have 90 days, or 12 months for instances of sexual harassment, from the date the action or dismissal occurred or from when you became aware of it. You can, however, raise a PG after the 90-day period has expired in other circumstances if your employer agrees.

 

Defining sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is either repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect. It can be direct or indirect. Sexual harassment does not have to be physical; it can also be through written, verbal or visual materials/actions. You may only raise a PG for sexual harassment if it has occurred during the term of your employment. Sexual harassment is defined in sections 108 and 117 of the Employment Relations Act 2000.

 

Know your rights

It is important for both employees and employers to know their rights and obligations surrounding personal grievances. Employers should ensure their employment agreements are updated to reflect the above amendments.