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Prince Harry's Kiwi job 'offer' not necessarily proper

7 November 2018

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle won the hearts of many New Zealanders on their visit. They focused on issues that are important to us.

While many Kiwis are not monarchists, we seem to have been impressed with the royal couple's respect for Maori culture, their attention to mental health issues, and their support of women's suffrage and feminism.

In their four busy days in New Zealand, Harry and Meghan visited Wellington, Abel Tasman, Auckland, and Rotorua. While in Wellington, they visited Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay for a mental health event aimed at helping eradicate stigma around discussing mental health.

One of the young leaders to meet Harry and Meghan at the event was 19-year-old Victoria University student, Lucia Kennedy.

Lucia boldly said to Harry "I finish uni in two years, I'd love to come and work for you". It is reported he replied "we'd love to have you, just give us a yell when you come over we'll sort it out".

Lucia is an impressive young person. At the age of 12 she created the Take A Chance project. The project aimed to encourage 8 and 16 year-olds affected by the Christchurch earthquakes to achieve their dreams.

Last year, Lucia founded Luminary Legacies which aims to acknowledge and encourage people who are making a difference. Lucia's concepts have been selected by international programmes for which Lucia was the only New Zealander chosen and among the youngest selected.

The media has been reporting on Prince Harry's comment to Lucia as a proper job offer. She has talked about what she will do to celebrate landing her dream job.

Is securing a job really that simple? Should Lucia book a one-way ticket to London for two years' time when she finishes her degree?

An employment relationship is essentially a contract. Before a contract can be formed there must be a definite offer which can be accepted. When does a conversation about a job actually become an offer of employment?

They key thing is that the terms and conditions of employment must be sufficiently clear. Generally, a person should not rely on a job offer until they receive a written offer with an employment agreement.

Prince Harry's "offer" might also be conditional on Lucia Kennedy receiving her degree. Further, anyone working for the royal family would need to pass extensive security and background checks.

So do pre-employment discussions really mean anything?

The short of it is that it is very difficult to enforce anything said when discussing a potential job.

To enforce a statement by a future employer you must be able to show there was a clear and unequivocal statement that you relied on to your detriment. In employment, the detriment may well be that the worker resigned from their previous job.

It is crucial that all important terms discussed are included in an employment agreement because it is difficult to enforce pre-employment conversations.

Jumping into new employment without sorting out the terms and conditions is a recipe for disaster.

In 2011 the Employment Court heard the case of Ricky Blackmore who did just that.

Blackmore left his job after he was offered the position of farm manager at Honick Properties. Concerningly, no employment contract was provided with the offer.

After Blackmore had started working he was given an employment agreement containing a 90-day trial clause. Blackmore said he would not have accepted the offer if he had known there was a trial period.

As Blackmore had already started work he had no opportunity to negotiate the terms or obtain legal advice and felt pressured to sign the agreement.

Blackmore was dismissed at the end of the trial period. He said he was unjustifiably dismissed but Honick Properties argued he could not bring a claim as he was dismissed under a trial period.

However, trial periods can only be used where an employee has not previously worked for the employer and has not already started work. Of course, Blackmore had already started work when he was given the agreement with the trial period.

The court decided Blackmore could bring a claim for unjustified dismissal. The employment agreement was also found to be unfair as Blackmore had no opportunity to consider the agreement and negotiate.

Blackmore was fortunate his employer had made a mess of the contractual arrangements which gave him a personal grievance. He might well have ended up with nothing.

Even so, Blackmore still lost his job and had to take legal action. The much better alternative is to make sure all the important details are set out in an employment agreement and settled before commencing work.

No doubt Prince Harry's job offer to Lucia was in genuine. Hopefully in a few years we will hear stories of the great work she is doing in London on mental health.

The lesson for those not offered a job by a royal is not to rely on pre-employment conversations. Everything important should be confirmed in the written agreement.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm was one of the first eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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