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Employee leave and break entitlements

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3 min read

Rest and breaks Annual leave Public holidays Sick leave Parental or primary caregiver leave Accident and injury leave Other types of leave Additional resources

Managing leave and breaks correctly fosters a positive workplace culture and ensures compliance with legal obligations. Leave includes annual leave, public holidays, sick leave, parental leave and breaks, all of which are a legal entitlement for employees in New Zealand.

Rests and breaks

Giving employees breaks promotes safe and productive work environments. It also allows them to rest and refresh, and take care of personal matters.

By law, employees are entitled to paid rest and unpaid meal breaks. The frequency and timing of breaks depend on the hours worked each day and when they are scheduled to minimise disruption to certain tasks, such as miking on-farm.

There are requirements around the minimum length of breaks. These can be found on the Employment New Zealand website.

Annual leave

All employees are entitled to four weeks of paid annual leave after each 12 months of continuous employment with one employer. Many employers, however, allow leave in advance.

An employee’s annual leave entitlement should be included in their employment agreement. To help ensure clarity to both the employee and employer, every payslip should show a summary of the employee’s annual leave.

For casual employees, annual leave may be paid on a pay-as-you-go basis at the rate of 8% of their earnings while employed.

Annual leave can be taken at any time by mutual agreement between the employer and employee. Sometimes the timing of annual leave can be inconvenient, for example, a request for leave during calving. If your employee asks for leave at a difficult time for your business it’s best to sit down and try to find a solution together.

Calculating annual leave entitlements can be complex in a rostered system. Try this calculator to help.

Public holidays

Public holidays are different to annual leave. There are several public holidays in New Zealand and employees are entitled to take those holidays on the day they fall, provided they would normally work on that day. If they were not due to work that day, they are not entitled to take the public holiday on an alternate date.

Employees don’t need to work a minimum number of days for their new employer to be eligible for public holidays.

In most cases, employees who work on public holidays are entitled to be paid different rates and take a day’s leave in lieu at a later date.

For help working out if you’re paying your employees properly and doing what’s expected regarding public holidays, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

Sick leave

Sick leave is for when an employee is ill or injured. It can also be used when the employee’s partner, child or a person who depends on them for care is sick or injured.

After the employee has worked for you for 6 months, they are entitled to a minimum of 10 days paid sick leave per year.

Any unused sick leave at the end of a 12-month period can be carried over and added to your employee’s next year's entitlement.

To learn more about sick leave visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

Parental or primary caregiver leave

Parental or primary caregiver leave is available to employees when their baby is born, or if they take permanent primary responsibility for a child under six years old.

Employees and self-employed people may be able to get a government-funded paid parental leave while they are not working and are caring for a child.

For more information visit the Employment New Zealand website.

Accident and injury leave

If an employee has an accident or is injured whilst at work, they are likely to be covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) scheme.

To understand what is covered and what you as an employer are legally obliged to do, visit the Employment New Zealand website.

Managing other types of leave

Extended time off work due to sickness or injury

This is a difficult situation for the employer and the employee. It must be managed carefully and in good faith. Stay in regular contact with your employee about how they are doing and their prognosis for the future. Work with your employee and their health professional around a return to work or rehabilitation plan.

Regular periodic sick leave

Sometimes a situation may arise when an employee is regularly but not continuously absent from work due to sickness or injury. There are some specific guidelines available on Employment New Zealand’s website to help deal with these situations.

It is possible to dismiss an employee who is regularly absent from work due to sickness, provided the decision is both substantively and procedurally sound. Seek assistance from your lawyer.

Keeping the employee’s job open

Generally, you are expected to keep an employee’s job open if they are absent due to sickness or injury. However, an employer is not bound to keep an employee’s position open indefinitely. There comes a point where an employer can decide to dismiss the employee because of medical incapacity. This situation may arise where a return-to-work date is too uncertain, or the injury means they will not be able to fulfill their role.

This situation requires careful negotiation and professional advice should be sought.

Last updated: Apr 2024
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