Sasha Borissenko: 2020 in review – the law changes that kicked off last year


It’s been quite the year and I’m so glad to see the back of it, like the world over. To celebrate let’s look at some of the law changes that kicked off in 2020.

Parents rejoice

We may not be Scandinavia – Denmark provides for 52 weeks of parental leave, for example – but women cooking buns in their ovens prior to July 1 rejoiced as the Government-funded parental leave payments extended from 22 to 26 weeks. Unpaid parental leave also increased for those whose jobs are protected.

People who worked an average of 10+ hours a week for six months or more could now qualify for 26 weeks parental leave, and people who worked an average of 10+ hours a week for 12 months or more could now qualify for 52 weeks parental leave.

For the parents who can do it all – Lord knows why you would want to – “keeping in touch” allowance also increased meaning employees can work up to 64 hours during their 26 weeks of parental leave, without losing eligibility for government payments.

Puff puff away

For those who quit smoking in favour of vaping thinking they would qualify for sainthood – think again. As of November 11 vaping and vaping products now have the same rules as smoking and tobacco products.

This means: no sales or supply of vaping products to people under the age of 18; most advertising and sponsorship is banned; vaping is restricted in indoor workplaces, anywhere in or around early childhood centres and schools, or on planes, buses, trains, ferries, taxis, and ride-share services. Vaping is only allowed in open areas of bars, restaurants, and casinos, and they’re subject to import restrictions.

Privacy Act

As a result of the changes to the Privacy Act businesses must now: report serious privacy breaches; ensure personal information is not destroyed if someone requests their information; and check personal information disclosed with over companies overseas will have similar protection here.

The Privacy Commissioner now has more teeth, meaning they can order a business to give a person their personal information, and issue a compliance notice if a business fails to comply with the legislation. The Commissioner can prosecute repeat offenders, who could face fines up to $10,000 per case.

It is said the changes could lead to a seven-fold increase in the number of privacy breaches reported. For context – the Commissioner received 205 notifications about privacy breaches from businesses and government agencies and responded to 7734 inquiries last year.

The kids will be all right

The Government passed the Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill under urgency in December, ahead of the festive, and festival, season. According to a 2018 study, legal drug testing had reduced hospital admissions from illicit substances by 95 per cent at one festival in the UK, for example.

Prior to the bill’s passing, festival hosts were technically liable for prosecution if they knowingly provided a venue that was used for illicit drug use. While the move may make festival goers safer in the long term – the timeline has been criticised by festival organisers saying there has not been enough time or resources allocated to ensure public-facing testing can be rolled out before the summer holidays.

Healthier homes

While no person under the age of 65 may be able to buy a house any time soon, renters can sleep easier knowing that landlords, property owners, and managers are increasingly under scrutiny. New tenancy laws mean rent increases are now limited to once every 12 months as opposed to six months.

What’s more, from December 1, most new or renewed tenancy agreements must also include specific information about the landlord’s current compliance with the healthy homes standards. The standards cover heating, insulation, underfloor insulation, wall insulation, ventilation, moisture ingress and drainage, and draught-stopping.

Specifically, landlords must provide one or more fixed heaters, adequate ceiling and underfloor insulation, open-able windows and extractor fans, efficient drainage systems, and no unreasonable gaps or holes in walls, ceilings, windows, skylights, floors, and doors.

Most new or renewed tenancies from July 1, 2021 will need to comply with the standards within 90 days of the start of the tenancy.

Overseas investments limited

While capital gains tax might seem like a foreign and unfathomable concept in New Zealand – new checks and balances on overseas investors who fund or buy New Zealand businesses, property, and assets were put in place in June.

There is now a new requirement to notify the Overseas Investment Office about overseas investments; a new national interest test will apply to some investment transactions; and the Overseas Investment Office will need to be notified about all overseas investments that will result in more than 25 per cent of a NZ business or asset being owned by investors outside the country or if there is an increase to an existing holding beyond 50, 70 or to 100 per cent.

Seeing as even the thought of investment is out of my millennial hemisphere I think it is time to enjoy the rest of the holidays with friends and family so I’ll leave it there. Here’s to 2021!

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