Since the Holidays Act 2003 came into force in April 2004, NZ employees have been entitled to a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave after 12 months of continuous employment, and 4 weeks for every 12 months thereafter.
The purpose of annual leave is to provide employees with the opportunity for paid time off work for rest and recreation.
It is very important to remember this last statement, as it is a foundational/founding principle of the Act. This law made it unlawful to adopt “use-it-or-lose-it” leave policies, it restricts cash out options and allows annual leave to accrue unlimited during employment.
The law wants people to take a break, which is a good thing! Rested people are safer, happier and more productive.
This guide is designed to make it clear what employers can and cannot do regarding leave cash outs.
Cashing out annual leave is only allowed in some very specific situations:
In accordance with Section 28A of the Holidays Act 2003, an employee can request, in writing, to have up to 1 week of their annual leave, per entitlement year, paid out to them.
Some very important points to note about this:
Despite the clarity of the Holidays Act regarding cashing out of leave, we have been surprised to find that some employers still pay out leave to their employees over-and-above the 1 week allowed by law.
In our experience, this is not because the employers are dodgy at all – leave is most often paid out following a direct request from an employee who needs the money. The employer believes they’re helping their staff and many employees feel that they should be allowed to get access to this money as it’s their accrual.
The blanket response to this is that you cannot cash out more than 1 week of leave per year for permanent employees.
Here are some questions we are frequently asked:
Q. What happens when an employee needs the money for hardship or general life expenses and pleads with me? I know they need to cover bills at home, can I pay out a few extra days to help them out?
A. Nope. Sorry, the Holidays Act does not allow for hardship like this.
Speaking from experience, these conversations can be very difficult and upsetting, but there really isn’t any wiggle room on this.
You could consider some other form of financial help. Paying the money as a wage advance or some form of the loan. This may be accompanied with a written agreement that the employee must pay the money back from wage deductions or have the money deducted from their final pay if they leave employment (which may include owed annual leave). We recommend getting some advice before taking this option as there are a few fish-hooks to be mindful of.
Q. What about part-timers? They often don’t take much leave because they only work one day per-week and they ask me for the cash.
A. No, unfortunately once again the Holidays Act doesn’t allow for this either. Part-timers are also entitled to 4 weeks holiday and only allowed to have 1 week per year paid out.
Q. OK, so my part-timer and I have agreed that she’ll take her “holiday” next week on days she normally doesn’t work. I’ll pay the holiday in her next pay, along with the worked shift. All good?
A. Creative! And we are aware of some employers and employees agreeing to do this, both parties agree to it and enjoy it. But it’s also in breach of the Act, so we do not advise doing this – if your relationship turned sour, the employee could claim that they never took their leave and would get paid it again (double dipping).
Q. I have heaps of students working for me, they will regularly ask for the cash to buy a new laptop for Uni, or food or concert tickets. They value this cash, it’s like forced savings for them and they see it as their money. Plus, it’s good for me because I can manage my leave liability.
A. We understand your situation, but no, they can’t request this additional cash out. Yes, it is their money, but it is money in the form of a holiday accrual. It is there for them to take a paid break for rest and recreation, not as savings for life expenses.
Q. Can they quit on Friday and re-start on Monday, then get all their leave?
A. Sadly, not this one either. They would need to be out of work for the length of time the leave covers, plus their contractual notice period. Remember too that the employee is entitled to be paid for public holidays that fall after their employment ends within the notice and leave period. This means if they return to work too soon you could end up paying twice for public holidays!
This approach is also administratively heavy, as you need to terminate them in your payroll, make all the final payments, then reinstate them and create another employment agreement.
Not to mention you’re in breach of the Act!
Q. OK fine, so what are the consequences if I just go ahead and ‘cash up’ the employee’s annual leave above and beyond what legislation allows?
A. f you’re caught, you will be required to reinstate the annual leave to an employee that is equivalent to the amount you cashed out and the employee can keep the cash out that was previously paid (double dipping). In addition, you may be required to pay a penalty.