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Types of employment agreements

An employee can have an individual employment agreement or if they’re a union member they’ll be covered by any relevant collective agreement.

Collective employment agreements

Collective employment agreements are negotiated by registered unions (representing employees who are members of the union) and employers. Employees who are union members and covered by the collective agreement coverage clause must be on the collective agreement.

Other things to note:

  • Employers must not unduly influence employees to join or not join a union.
  • A new employee who is a union member can show they agree to the terms and conditions of an existing collective employment agreement by signing an offer of employment (but the collective agreement will apply even if they don’t).
  • If the employee is covered by a collective employment agreement, they can also have additional individual terms. These should be set out in writing and signed by the employer and employee.

Collective employment agreements has more information about individual terms and agreement options.

Individual employment agreements

Individual employment agreements are negotiated by an employer and an employee; they should discuss the terms and conditions of employment fully and put these in the employment agreement before the employee starts work.

If an employee isn’t happy with something in the intended agreement, they should tell their employer this as soon as possible, and try to negotiate the issue they’re not happy with.

Even though it doesn’t have to be, an individual employment agreement should be signed by the employee and the employer to show they both agree with it. If an employee doesn’t sign their employment agreement, but doesn’t say they don’t agree to it, the employer might take their silence and their other conduct as being agreement. The employment agreement could apply to the employee, even if they haven’t signed it, unless:

  • they can show they didn’t agree to all or part of it, or
  • some part of it is unlawful.

There are minimum rights and entitlements that must be met even if they’re not in the employment agreement or the agreement has a lesser entitlement. The employee’s individual employment agreement:

  • is just between the employee and their employer (even if its terms and conditions are similar to a collective agreement)
  • can be based on a current collective agreement as long as there is no intent or effect to undermine collective bargaining or the union agrees
  • can be similar to other individual employment agreements in the workplace or unique to that employee. Employees on individual employment agreements don’t have to have the same terms and conditions even if they do the same job in the same workplace
  • must be in writing and contain at least the terms and conditions of employment that have to be in an employment agreement
  • can’t have anything in it that is less than the minimum required by law, or is inconsistent with the law
  • should be kept in a safe place by the employee and employer (but an employee can ask their employer for a copy if they lose theirs)
  • can be changed by agreement by the employee and employer.

Things an agreement must contain provides terms and conditions that must be included in an agreement.

Keeping a copy of the employment agreement

Employers must keep a copy of each employee’s written employment agreement or the current terms and conditions of employment:

  • If the employer has given an employee an ‘intended employment agreement’, the employer has to keep a copy of the ‘intended agreement’ even if the employee hasn’t agreed to it.
  • The employer must provide the employee (or a Labour Inspector) a copy of the employment agreement if they ask for it.
  • A Labour Inspector or the employee could go to the Employment Relations Authority for a penalty if the employer doesn’t comply with the above. A Labour Inspector must give the employer written notice that they’re in breach and give them 7 working days to fix it.

Keeping acurate records has more information about which records employees should keep.

If the employee doesn’t have a copy

As an employee, your employer should give you a written employment agreement before you start work. They must also keep a signed copy of your individual employment agreement. You can ask your employer for a copy, and they have to give it to you. If your employer won’t give you a copy, contact us for help.

If you’ve never been given a written individual employment agreement (and aren’t on a collective employment agreement):

  • you still get all the minimum rights in law
  • anything you have agreed with your employer verbally can be binding, for example, hours of work, place of work, pay, etc. Once these things have been agreed, even if it is only a verbal agreement, they will be binding on both the employer and employee
  • what actually happens each day and week at work can become part of your terms and conditions (eg taking regular breaks, or filling in timesheets to be paid a standard amount each week); this is called custom and practice
  • you and your employer should record the terms and conditions that you’ve been working under
  • you and your employer can use our employment agreement builder to help write an agreement to suit your needs and reflect any verbal arrangements or custom and practice.

The employment agreement builder will assist you in writing your agreement.

Expiry of employment agreements

  • Individual employment agreements don’t expire, though they may have a review date.
  • Fixed-term employment agreements have an expiry date. At the expiry of a fixed-term employment agreement, the employee's employment ends.
  • Collective employment agreements have an expiry date, and:
    • if a party has initiated bargaining for a new collective employment agreement before the collective employment agreement expiry date then the collective remains in force for another 12 months after the expiry date, while bargaining carries on
    • otherwise, after the expiry date the employees who were covered by the collective employment agreement are automatically employed on an individual employment agreement based on the collective agreement (and any additional terms and conditions they had agreed with their employer). They can agree with their employer to change this individual employment agreement.

Changing terms of an individual employment agreement

If an employer or employee wants to change something in their employment agreement they can negotiate about it in good faith. They should be prepared to listen to any concerns or issues that the other person has and respond to them. An employee should always be given the opportunity to have a support person present for any of these discussions.

If an employer or employee want to make a change to an individual employment agreement, they both need to agree to the changes (unless the changes form part of a workplace change and there is genuine consultation). The employment agreement should be updated and signed again to include the change.

Sometimes employment agreements change because an employer needs to make a change for genuine business reasons, such as a change in the organisation’s structure or work hours.

Workplace change has more information.

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