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Your legal rights as a worker: Where they come from

Your employment agreement

What is an employment agreement?

Your employment agreement sets out the terms and conditions that govern your relationship with your employer.

It can be either:

  • an individual agreement – that is, between one employee and one employer, or
  • a collective agreement – that is, between two or more employees, and one or more employers, and one or more unions.

(See the next section “Different types of employment agreements and arrangements” in this chapter.)

The terms of your employment agreement include not just what is in the written agreement but also any extra terms that you and your employer agree on verbally.

Your agreement might not include the specific normal practices of your workplace, but by signing the employment agreement you are legally agreeing to adhere to these normal practices.

Does my employer have to give me a written agreement?

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 54, 64, 65, 235B; Employment Relations (Infringement Offences) Regulations 2019, reg 5

Yes. Every employee must have a written employment agreement.

If your boss doesn’t provide you with a written agreement, a labour inspector can give them an infringement notice (like a speeding ticket) requiring them to pay a $1,000 fine. Alternatively, you or a labour inspector can ask the Employment Relations Authority to order your boss to pay a financial penalty.

Your boss must keep a signed copy of the agreement. They must also give you a copy, if you ask for one. If they breach those rules, the Employment Relations Authority can order them to pay a penalty.

Your rights if you don’t have a written agreement (you’re still protected)

You have legal rights as an employee even if you don’t have a written employment agreement, because a verbal agreement between you and your employer is still legally valid.

The terms and conditions of your employment relationship will include:

  • the terms and conditions you’ve agreed to verbally
  • the normal practices in your workplace
  • the protections for employees in the Employment Relations Act
  • the minimum conditions guaranteed by Acts like the Holidays Act and the Wages Protection Act (see the chapter “Employment conditions and protections”)
  • the protections provided by Acts such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and
  • the basic obligations that the courts see as implied in all employment relationships (see below, “Basic rights and obligations implied into all employment agreements”).

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Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal information, advice and education about employment law issues.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of publications on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Free phone: 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about employment relations, pay and holidays.

For translated employment information go to www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/rights-and-responsibilities/minimum-rights-of-employees-translations/#minimum

Reporting migrant exploitation


Make a complaint to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment about migrant exploitation with this online form.

If you need help completing the form or would like to speak to an interpreter, call 0800 200 088 between 8:00am – 5:30pm, Monday to Friday. You will be connected with an interpreter after you say the name of the language you speak.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

The NZCTU is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective


A nationwide organisation run by sex workers for sex workers. They provide information and services for people who are doing sex work or thinking about doing sex work.

Phone (04) 382 8791
Mobile and media inquiries: 027 496 0700
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz

Migrant worker organisations

Union Network of Migrants – UNEMIG


Part of FIRST Union

Phone: 0800 863477

Migrant Workers Association


Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz

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