As an employee, you have employment rights.

An employer can not offer you anything less than those rights, even if you’re a migrant or a student.

These rights include things like paid annual and public holidays, sickness leave, and a minimum wage.

In this article, we will take you through what to expect and how to find more information about your employment rights.

There are different ways to work in New Zealand

There are three main types of worker in New Zealand; Employee, contractor and volunteer.

It is important to know what type of worker you are because it affects your rights.

Employees work for an employer and can generally be told what to do on the job and where/when to do it. Employees should have a written employment contract and must be paid the minimum wage.

Contractors work for themselves and usually decide how and when they will do the work. They can work for anyone, but should have a contract signed between both parties. The terms and amount of pay will be in this contract.

Volunteers generally work for charity groups and can stop work at any time for any reason, although what is expected of them is usually agreed to beforehand. The work should be unpaid – if it’s paid work, then they might be regarded by the Government as employees, especially if they are making a profit for a business.

Employment contracts

If you’re working as an employee, then you legally must be given a contract before you start.

A contract is simply a written employment agreement between you and your employer, and you must be given a chance to read over it and ask a third party for advice if you need to.

A contract must have certain things in it to be legal, including your employer’s name, the type of work (permanent, casual, fixed-term), the hours of work expected of you, the duties expected from you, and how long your initial trial period lasts.

Your employer must provide you with a copy of your contract if requested, and you should never start work before you sign it.

How to avoid being exploited

There are some things that may be commonplace in other countries, but not here in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, there are still some people here who will exploit naïve workers, so it’s important to know what your employer can and cannot do.

Your boss can not fine you for any reason, even if you do something wrong. They can not take money out of your wages without your express permission (and for a good reason like paying off a course they have sent you on).

Your employer can’t force you to work, even to pay off a debt, and they can never keep your passport or money, or lock you inside a building.

All employees are guaranteed time off and a minimum wage, and you should never have to do a “deal” with someone to get a job, especially if it involves paying them money.

Sexual harassment and bullying is against the law, so if you feel you might be a victim, speak to Employment New Zealand immediately for free on 0800 20 90 20 or email them at

Public Holidays, Annual Leave and Sick Leave

If you work on a public holiday, you must either get another paid day off in the future, or at least one and a half times your normal pay rate.

After one year of working for your employer, you have the right to 4 weeks holiday. You do not have to take all four weeks at the same time, and can negotiate with your employer when to take them.

If you leave your job and still haven’t taken all your holidays, then you must be paid for the ones you haven’t used.

If you’ve been in your job for at least six months, then you are entitled to at least 5 days sick leave. Sick leave means you still get paid even if you’re not in work for those days.

Your sick leave also covers a child or partner if they need you to take time off work to be with them.

Rest Breaks and Parental Leave

The length and number of breaks you get at work depends on how many hours you’re there. You are entitled to a 10-minute break after 2 hours of work.

If you work more than 6 hours you are must get two 10-minute breaks as well as a 30-minute break for a meal (although this is unpaid).

When you take your breaks is up to you and your employer, although if you can’t agree, the law decides, not your boss.

How long you can take time off work when you have kids depends on how long you have been employed and if you are the primary or secondary carer of the child.

The maximum leave you can get is 26 weeks paid, extended to 52 weeks unpaid.

It’s complicated, so if you want to know how much time off you can get on parental leave, use this tool here to check.

Losing your job

Your employer cannot fire you without meeting certain criteria and following a proper process.

They must act in good faith, i.e. being open, honest and responsive, and have a good reason for letting you go.

You can only be fired without notice for serious misconduct, so if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, you can raise a personal grievance against them.

Health & Safety in the workplace

All employees have the right to be safe at work.

Your employer must provide you with proper training, safety equipment and supervision to get your job done safely. All safety equipment must be paid for by your employer, so if they ask you to buy your own or collect money from you, then they are breaking the law.

But you also have responsibilities and must follow all health & safety guidelines and instructions, making sure you and others are not harmed but your negligence.

Employment rights are for your protection

Some workers, especially migrant workers, can feel threatened or intimidated by employers, leaving them open to exploitation.

Fear of having their visa revoked, losing their job or even being kicked out of the country often means employees are reluctant to report unethical bosses.

We want to stop these employers from exploiting workers, especially migrant workers.

Government announces support to better protect migrants from exploitation

New measures have come into force on 1 July 2021 and include:

  • a new visa to support migrants to leave exploitative situations quickly and remain lawfully in New Zealand. This visa will be valid for up to 6 months.
  • a new dedicated 0800 number and web form to make it easier to report migrant worker exploitation.

Please see a link to the relevant information here:

The 0800 number and online report form are available here (under ‘How to make a complaint):


If you feel like your employer might be unfairly treating you, then please contact the MBIE Service Centre for free on 0800 20 90 20 or email them at

If you feel physically threatened or you fear for someone else’s safety, then call the local police or dial 111 if it’s an emergency.

You can also make a call to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and remain anonymous.