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Employment Law: Danger in the appliance store

 Last Saturday Jessica was shopping with her husband and children at a local appliance store. The store was having a huge weekend sale, so the store was really busy.

As Jessica and her family navigated their way to the whiteware section of the store, Jessica tripped on a display left out in one of the aisles. Jessica felt shooting pain in her arm as she fell. Later that evening Jessica went to the local Accident and Emergency clinic, as the pain in her arm had increased. An x-ray revealed two fractures in her forearm.

Jessica and her family were extremely upset and angry with the appliance store for being so careless with the location of the display, particularly given that it was reasonably foreseeable that the store would be hectic that weekend. They decided to contact their employment lawyer to see whether there was anything they could do to hold the company to account for its actions.

The lawyer said that New Zealand’s ACC laws prevent Jessica from taking a civil claim for personal injury, however the lawyer said that Jessica could report the incident to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (what used to be the Department of Labour). The Ministry may then decide to take a prosecution against the company. By way of comparison, the lawyer said that a major New Zealand retail store had recently been fined $42,000 (reduced from $75,000 due to mitigating circumstances) for failing to comply with its health and safety duties when a customer broke his leg after tripping on a carton left out in the aisle.

The lawyer also said that the appliance store was lucky that the incident had happened before the new Health and Safety Reform Bill comes into law, as under the Bill the penalties for breaching a health and safety duty are set to increase drastically. The Bill will repeal New Zealand’s Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and it contains sweeping changes that will affect all businesses, including placing new personal liability on directors and officers of companies. This Bill is currently before the Select Committee and is likely to be enacted at the end of the year and come into force in April 2015.

Bronwen Newcombe (BA, LLB) is an employment law and trust specialist at Davenports Harbour Lawyers. In her employment practice, Bronwen advises on all employment-related work including restructuring, redundancy, employee benefits, protecting intellectual property, employee v contractor issues, health and safety, performance management,  restraints of trade, personal grievance claims and trial periods.   Bronwen also prepares “fit for purpose” employment and contractor agreements and notes that the penalty for an employer not having a written employment agreement has recently been increased to $20,000!To find out more about health and safety in the workplace, please contact our employment law specialist Bronwen Newcombe on bcn@davenportsharbour.co.nz or 09 915 6140 .

by Channel Magazine

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