What is a casual? The HUGE disconnect that every HR and Payroll person should know.

Why are casuals so hard to understand? What defines a casual? How do you pay them correctly for public holidays? Why does HR and payroll keep getting this wrong?

APPNZ’s payroll workshop on Navigating the Holidays Act was always going to be a hot topic. Most New Zealand companies are paying casual employees incorrectly – so what is going wrong?

APPNZ ran a Wellington and an Auckland workshop on the topic. The Wellington workshop was presented by Bronwyn Heenan from Simpson Grierson and Erin Spence, a Senior Labour Inspector from MBIE.

Bronwyn started by presenting on what the legislation and case law define a casual as. The Holidays Act doesn’t actually mention casuals, it just talks about employees with hours which are “intermittent or irregular

However in Jinkinson vs Oceana Gold, the Employment Court said that the characteristics of a casual include:

–short periods of time for specific purpose;

–lack of regular work patter or expectation of ongoing employment;

–dependent on availability;

–no guarantee of work;

–as and when needed;

–lack of obligation on employer to offer engagement; and

–lack of obligation on employee to accept engagement

Erin Spence presented next and said that when a Labour Inspector audits a company, they don’t look at any of the above. They look solely at the pattern of work. Are the hours so intermittent that you cannot predict if the day was a regular working day?

This raised that there is a HUGE disconnect between HR and Payroll.

HR are often working off the legislation and case law definitions to argue that someone is a casual, however Payroll need to work to how MBIE identify whether a public holiday is a regular working day for a casual and therefore they should get an alternate holiday.

And so, this is the first NZ Payroll Standard that APPNZ will shortly be releasing to provide clarification on how you can correctly identify and pay for casual employees  – what is a regular working day and what does a pattern look like. These standards will be available for all Professional Associates of APPNZ – whether you are a Professional Associate in HR or Payroll.

The NZ Payroll Standards will then be provided to MBIE and Inland Revenue and the Association will stand behind these for all Professional Associates who use them.

Both Bronwyn, Erin and everyone attending agreed that the confusion about how to apply the Holidays Act needs to be fixed. The legislation isn’t going to change any time soon, but if there is a standard that we all agree on, it will make things much clearer.


This is a thought provoker article written by APPNZ following on from each of our professional development workshops.

Bronwyn and Erin

Thank you to Bronwyn (left) and Erin (right) for discussing such a hot topic and providing a path to the answer of how we get this right in the future.

For more about the Payroll workshops APPNZ run click here. For more about our HR workshops click here and our Learning workshops click here.


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