Confused about the rights of casual workers?

Posted by: Brenda McInnes
Date: 21 August 2014

Are you a "casual employee" or do you employ "casuals"? We're here to help you understand your rights as an employee and responsibilities as an employer.

Did you know casual workers have the same employment rights and entitlements as all other full-time New Zealand workers? Unfortunately few casual workers know what they are entitled to, while many employers have a similar lack of knowledge.

Casual workers

  • are employees who work only when they are required.
  • do not have any guaranteed hours or income.

The term "casual work" is not defined in law, and this fact may be behind the lack of understanding of casual workers' entitlements. Generally speaking, the law, like the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, applies to all employees regardless of their label.

Casual employees should have a written employment agreement, as written agreements ensure both bosses and workers are aware of their obligations and entitlements.

If you are a casual employee and you have been working for your boss for a year you are entitled to paid holidays.

If you have been working for six months or more you may be able to get sick leave if you are ill, or bereavement leave if there is a death in your family or whanau. Employers also need to know that casuals are entitled to holiday pay and sick pay, even though they may work irregular hours and days.

The rights of fulltime employees apply equally to part-time employees and these rights also apply to casual employees, but the way in which annual holidays, sick and bereavement leave are applied can vary for these employees.

Leave entitlements

Where an employee has an irregular or changing work pattern over the entire 12-month period, so there is no pattern to the hours worked and the hours and days of work are entirely irregular, the principal of four weeks annual leave and reaching agreement on what will constitute "four weeks" in terms of time away from work, still apply. In such cases where the hours and days of work are irregular and intermittent, employers and employees sometimes agree to accrue time towards annual leave on the basis of 4/52 for every hour worked.

The Act also provides sick leave entitlements after six months to employees whose employment is not continuous if, during those six months, they have worked for the employer for:

  • an average of at least 10 hours per week, including
  • at least one hour per week or 40 hours per month.

People on a series of fixed-term agreements, or employees sometimes described as "casual", would become entitled to sick leave if they met this test.

The payment for sick leave would be made where it is a day that the employee would otherwise have worked and would be made at the employee's relevant daily pay or average daily pay (if it is not practicable or possible to work out what an employee would have earned on the day, or if the employee's pay varies within the pay period). The entitlement to sick leave is subject to the same test each 12 months.

If in any year the work pattern does not meet the above test, then no new sick leave entitlement arises. However, the employee may requalify for sick leave on the basis of six months' service.

As you can see, it is not all straight forward, if there is anything here that you would like clarification on please give me a call.


Brenda McInnes

Brenda McInnes heads TvA's Business Support team. The team covers daily administration for business owners, such as Payroll, GST, and ACC. If you have any questions related to employment matters send us an email at or contact Brenda on 03 578 3386.






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