Every group has its peacemaker – the person who smoothes over differences and tries to get everyone working harmoniously together.

My book group is no exception. In our case, it’s Alphonse – a charming Frenchman here for two years as part of his firm’s international training programme for senior executives.

He’s been fascinated by the New Zealand employment relations system. He likes the freedom we have to make our employment agreements fit the work we do.

But, he protested at the last meeting, why are there always grievances and disputes? What can he as an employer do to prevent them? People will always argue.

But most problems that I see about agreements arise from one of three things. Either the employer didn’t properly think through what they were asking for; or the employee didn’t pay enough attention to what the agreement involved; or both.

When the employer gets it wrong, the most common problem is that they did not define what they wanted to achieve, and then didn’t put it in the agreement.

Many New Zealand employers don’t give enough job details.

The advertisement lacks detail, the agreement is a “one-size-fits-all” cut and paste effort, and there is either no true job description, or a vague “Kiwis can do everything and in this job you will have to” document.

What are the key ways to use the employment process to reduce the chances of a problem later?

Before advertising, consider:

  • Is the job permanent or fixed term? Part-time, full-time, or casual?
  • What are the key tasks and accountabilities?
  • What skills and experience does the employee need?
  • What are the salary-wages and benefits on offer?

In the advertisement:

  • Describe the key elements of the position – duties, essential qualifications or attributes, full-time or part-time, salary-wages band.
  • Specify any time frame for applications and if candidates are to complete application forms.

They must not breach any legislation (such as the Privacy, Employment Relations, Human Rights or Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Acts).

But otherwise you can ask a wide range of questions, such as are there relatively recent court convictions or charges awaiting hearing, or has the person ever been dismissed or had disciplinary action against them.

Before interviewing:

  • Check answers on application forms, and if there any areas you need to follow up.
  • Do you need referees? What type?
  • Will any offer be conditional upon referee checks?
  • Will the candidate need to undergo any medical, drug, alcohol or psychometric tests?
  • Are medical-drug-alcohol tests lawful for this type of position?

In the interview:

  • Don’t ask questions that might be discriminatory or breach the Acts listed above, for example, questions must not intrude on the candidate’s personal affairs.
  • If referee checks or medical tests are requested, get the candidate to sign a consent form.
  • Ask for a reference from the most recent employer – if the candidate refuses, ask why.
  • Ask specific questions to elicit information and questions that are clearly relevant to the job and the person’s ability to do them.
  • Be ready to answer questions about salary-wages, benefits and holidays.

By Penelope Ryder-Lewis, first published in The Dominion Post

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