Contracts still important on the family farm

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Marie Callander, a Partner at ABMM, and Sean Maskill, an Associate at ABMM, recently spoke at the Federated Farmers seminar in Hawera, on the importance of Contracts, even for family:


Last updated 12:43pm, March 9 2018

Good contracts are crucial in any role, regardless of the relationship between employer and employee, lawyers say.

 It might not make for the most enjoyable dinner table conversation but good farm employment contracts are vital, even for family, lawyers say.

Marie Callander, a partner at Taranaki law firm Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen, said good contracts, filled out correctly, were crucial in any role, regardless of the relationship between employer and employee.

"It doesn't matter if you're family, you still need to have that contract in place," she said at a Federated Farmers seminar in Hawera.

"Hopefully you put it in a drawer and never have to think about it again but sometimes relationships go bad and life just changes."

As well as contracts, the seminar covered drug and alcohol issues, tenancy and landlord's rights, and health and safety at work.

Having written contracts gave both employers and employees something solid to fall back on if things went wrong, Callander said.

"That's when having negotiated and agreed good contractual terms that are fair on everybody and everybody understands - and that are properly documented - is really important because it gives you something to go back to when things don't work out and you need to know how to deal with it," she said.

"Federated Farmers have gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare a lot of standard form contracts for use in a variety of farming situations but there's still lots to be filled out in those documents."

Callander suggested having a trusted third party go over employment contracts before anything was signed to ensure every clause was well understood.

"You want to do that before you sign so you know exactly what it is you're signing up to."

Sean Maskill, an associate at ABMM, said from an employer's point of view, it was crucial a signed contract was received before new staff did any work.

"The 90-day trial clause is for genuinely new employees and if they've worked for you in any capacity before, it doesn't apply," he said.

"The contract must be returned to you, signed, before they so much as pick up a shovel."

It was also important the contract included a start date or the trial period would not apply.

Maskill also warned against using fixed term contracts as an extend trial period, which was illegal. 

"A fixed term contract must have a good reason for being fixed term and it must be written into the contract," he said.

"A good reason might be that you're a sharemilker and you are only contracted until the end of the season yourself.  The reason can't be that you just want someone for the season and then you want to try someone else. 

"You have the 90-day trial clause to see if they're any good and then you have to go through the proper processes if there are issues with performance."

 - Stuff


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Marie Callander