Specific advice for the business practices of Crown Entities

What is a 'good employer'?

The following sources provide guidance and descriptions of a 'good employer'.

Case law

There are some common themes in the legal cases where the ‘good employer’ has been referred to:
  • There is no one recipe or template for being a ‘good employer’ as it relies on context and the facts of each case.
  • The State Sector Act 1988 reaffirmed the concept of the ‘good employer’ and 'elevated it to a principle,' which permeates other pieces of legislation (such as the Crown Entities Act 2004), policy and practice.
  • The concept of the ‘good employer’ is bound up with the principles of natural justice and requires employment procedures to be 'fair in all the circumstances'.
  • The ‘good employer’ obligations, including administrative fairness, can readily be adapted to all stages of the employment agreement. For example, there is a duty to act fairly in appointments, recruitment, promotion, pay relativities, redundancy and so on.
  • A failure to consult adequately with staff about aspects of the employment relationship and workplace practices breaches the ‘good employer’ obligations. The Employment Court requires the consultation to be more than mere notification. 
  • The ‘good employer’ principle imposes obligations of 'trust, confidence and fair dealing'.
  • In the Rankin case for example, it was stated that 'where an employer required by statute or by agreement to be a "good employer" had it in mind not to renew the fixed term employment of an employee who was eligible for reappointment by reason of dissatisfaction with his or her conduct or performance, the employer was under a duty to disclose the factors being considered so far as they were not obvious or present to the mind of the employee and to give him or her a reasonable opportunity to address the employer’s concerns'.
  • The ‘good employer’ requirement may not necessarily be explicit in the employment agreement, but this does not mean that it does not apply. In one particular case, it was said that the agreement was not immune from the implied term of fairness. That implied term was bolstered by the ‘good employer’ provisions of the State Services Act 1988.
  • It has been said that the duty to treat employees fairly and reasonably exists independent of statute. The statutory duty is to put in place a personnel policy that will ensure that the contractual duty is carried out.
  • In a case involving constructive dismissal after a request for one year’s unpaid leave for family reasons was denied, it was argued that the ‘good employer’ notions required consideration of Māori notions of extended family.

Exceptional workplaces

What makes a workplace good or even exceptional? In 2004, an Australian research project, Simply the Best, located 15 themes or drivers for workplace excellence as outlined below.
  1. The quality of working relationships – people relating to each other as friends, colleagues, and co-workers. Supporting each other, and helping to get the job done. 
  2. Workplace leadership – how the immediate supervisor, team leader, manager or coordinator presented himself or herself. Their focus of leadership and energy, not management and administration. 
  3. Having a say – participating in decisions that affect the day-to-day business of the workplace. 
  4. Clear values – the extent to which people could see and understand the overall purpose and individual behaviours expected in the place of work. 
  5. Being safe – high levels of personal safety, both physical and psychological. Emotional stability and a feeling of being protected by the system.
  6. The built environment – a high standard of accommodation and fit out, with regard to the particular industry type. 
  7. Recruitment – getting the right people to work in the location is important, and they need to share the same values and approach to work as the rest of the group. 
  8. Pay and conditions – a place in which the level of income and the basic physical working conditions (hours, access, travel and the like) are met to a reasonable standard. At least to a level that the people who work there see as reasonable. 
  9. Getting Feedback – always knowing what people think of each other, their contribution to the success of the place, and their individual performance over time. 
  10. Autonomy and uniqueness – the capacity of the organisation to tolerate and encourage the sense of difference that excellent workplaces develop. Their sense of being the best at what they do. 
  11. A sense of ownership and identity – being seen to be different and special through pride in the place of work, knowing the business and controlling the technology.
  12. Learning – being able to learn on the job, acquire skills and knowledge from everywhere, and develop a greater understanding of the whole workplace. 
  13. Passion – the energy and commitment to the workplaces, high levels of volunteering, excitement and a sense of well-being. Actually wanting to come to work.
  14. Having fun – a psychologically secure workplace in which people can relax with each other and enjoy social interaction. 
  15. Community connections – being part of the local community, feeling as though the workplace is a valuable element of local affairs. 
The researchers said: 'As we discussed and analysed our findings further, it became clearer that the central focus for excellent workplaces was the quality of the working relationships between the people who worked in them. All the other dimensions were important, but somehow the issue of working relationships linked all of them together.'

'We cannot emphasise enough that what distinguishes the excellent workplaces from the very good workplaces is that these 15 drivers are all present in the excellent workplaces, without exception…'

Equal employment opportunities

Having equal employment opportunities embedded in the culture (or working towards this occurring) is an essential part of being a ‘good employer’. All individuals and groups should have equal opportunities without barriers or biases interfering with these opportunities. However, there are some groups who are often marginalised when it comes to fair and equitable opportunities. They have been hindered through bias and assumptions in recruitment, development and promotion. Worse, in many cases they have had to put up with harassment and bullying arising from the simple fact that they are not part of the majority or the senior ranks. The Crown Entities Act refers to four groups in particular. It states that:
  • the aims and aspirations, employment requirements, and need for involvement of Māori as employees of the entity;
  • the aims and aspirations and employment requirements and the cultural differences of ethnic or minority groups;
  • the employment requirements of women, and
  • the employment requirements of people with disabilities

should be taken into account when developing a ‘good employer’/EEO programme.

Layers of diversity

There are many layers of diversity, and people identify with many characteristics or qualities, not just with gender, ethnicity or whether they have a disability. Loden and Rosener (Workforce America! 1991) have developed a model of diversity which involves the interaction of three dimensions.
 
It is the combination of these diverse factors in the model above that makes workplaces and people unique and diversity complex.  Any EEO programme or plan needs to take this into account.