Casual employee agreements are a tricky business, and aren't clearly defined in employment law. But the term usually refers to a situation where an employee has no regular pattern of work.
The employer doesn’t have to offer work to the employee, and the employee doesn’t have to accept work if it’s offered. The employee works as and when it suits both them and the employer.
This can sometimes happen because it’s hard for the employer to predict when the work needs to be done, or when work needs to be done quickly. Each time the employee accepts an offer of work it is treated as a new period of employment.
If you are employed to do casual work, the arrangement must be made clear in your employment agreement.
Employment rights and responsibilities also apply to casual employees, but the way in which annual holidays, sick and bereavement leave are applied can vary for these employees.
Casual employees vs part-time employees
It’s important not to confuse part-time employees with casual employees. Some employees who are described as ‘casual’ are in fact part-time employees with a clear work pattern.
It’s also possible for an employee to start out as casual but become a part-time permanent employee.
Aroha takes a job working in a bar. She is given a casual employment agreement (also known as a contract) meaning that she has not been offered regular, or fixed hours; and will be contacted when hours become available. At this point, Aroha can say yes or no to accepting the hours/shifts offered.
In the beginning, Aroha worked the odd shift here and there. However, after she'd been working at the bar for around six months, Aroha starts to notice that the hours she is being offered are the same every week. 2pm to 10pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
This means that Aroha's employment status has changed to permanent part-time. If Aroha was, suddenly told not to come into work anymore this could be classed as an unjustified dismissal.
All employers must follow the correct process when dismissing staff, and in this case Aroha is no longer casual, but permanent part-time.
There must be a reason why the 2pm-10pm shifts became available, so the employer could have handled this situation differently. For example:
- if a permanent employee was off work on ACC, the employer could have offered Aroha a fixed-term employment agreement to cover the other employee until they were fit to come back to work, or
- to cover the peak summer period Aroha could have been offered a fixed-term employment agreement on this basis.
Rights and responsibilities of casual employees
Casual employees have pretty much the same rights and responsibilities as permanent employees with a few exceptions.
Dismissing a casual employee
Every time a casual employee accepts the offer to work it’s considered a new period of employment.
If your boss decides to stop offering work, this doesn’t count as a dismissal because they have no obligation to provide work.
However, if your employer sends you home in the middle of a shift or goes back on an agreement to provide work for a shift then this could mean that you were dismissed.
Holiday and leave entitlements
Because casual employees don’t have set hours, it's unlikely that you will take annual holidays. Instead, you and your employer can agree that an extra 8% will be paid on top of your wages or salary instead of taking annual holidays.
Casual employees are also entitled to sick leave and bereavement leave after 6 months of starting work if during that time they have worked:
- an average of at least 10 hours a week, and
- at least one hour a week or 40 hours a month.
Employment agreements for casual employees
A casual employment agreement should outline the details of your work hours. This should make clear:
- that there is no guarantee of work on a specific day
- that the amount of work will fluctuate
- that each time you accept an offer of work it’s considered a new period of employment.
- how the employer will let you know when there is work available.
- that you don't have to make yourself available for work. (Find out more about having to be available for work or shifts.)