Trial Periods – A Further Update – The Importance of giving an employee time to take advice 04 Mar 2013

The law around 90 day trial periods continues to develop. We have previously posted articles on the importance of having an employee sign their employment agreement before their first day of work and also agreeing to a trial period before accepting an actual offer of employment.

A recent case – Allan v Mobile Shop Limited & Anor [[2012] NZERA Auckland 430; 30/11/2012; R Larmer] – has now confirmed the importance of also ensuring a prospective employee is given a real and reasonable opportunity to obtain legal advice on their employment agreement, including the trial period, prior to signing the agreement. If an employer does not, they may not be able to rely on the trial period, even if they have met all other pre-requisites.

The Facts

In the case, the employee claimed he was unjustifiably dismissed from his employment. One of the employer’s arguments was that the employee was prevented from raising a personal grievance due to the 90 day trial period in his employment agreement.

The employee was offered employment but it was not until approximately 2 week’s later that an employment agreement was signed. He then signed the agreement within 20 minutes of receiving it from the employer and was not advised of his right to seek independent legal advice. He started work the next day. His employment was later terminated on the grounds of poor performance.

The Outcome

The Employment Relations Authority considered that the dismissal was procedurally and substantively unjustified for a variety of reasons. Despite there being a trial period in the employment agreement that complied with the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Authority decided that the lack of time given to the employee to seek independent legal advice on the terms of the agreement prior to signing it meant that the trial period clause should be struck out of the agreement.

The Authority confirmed that there is an obligation on an employer to provide a reasonable opportunity for an employee to take independent advice, even if the employee freely wants to sign the agreement immediately and without taking advice. In addition, starting work the day after signing an agreement suggested that there had not been a “real” opportunity to take independent advice/negotiate any terms.

The lessons to take away

If you want to protect your right to rely on a 90 day trial period when employing a new employee make sure:

• You give them a copy of their employment agreement containing the trial period at the time they are offered employment.

• They have a sufficient amount of time after that to take independent advice on the agreement/negotiate its terms with you, if they so choose. In other words, make sure the agreement is not given to them just before they are due to start work!

• They don’t just sign the agreement immediately, even if they want to. You may need to insist that they take the agreement away, unsigned, to be returned at a later date.

Should you need any assistance with this, or with any other Employment matters, please contact Lois Flanagan at Parry Field Lawyers (348-8480).