• Casual worker

    A recent Federal Circuit Court judgment (WorkPac v Skene [2018]) has turned the commonly understood definition of a ‘casual employee’ on its head, bringing to light the fact that employers could be blissfully unaware of the fact that their labour hire workers or casual employees are in fact permanent employees!

  • Wage theft

    Celebrity Chef George Calombaris is under fire for reportedly underpaying 515 past and current workers a staggering $7.8 million in wages.

    Last week the Fair Work Ombudsman slapped the celebrity Chef and his Made Establishment business with a $200,000 fine for the underpayment wages to past and current employees.

  • Real Estate Awards

    There are some significant changes coming to the Real Estate Industry Award (‘the Award’) commencing on 2 April 2018.

    If you are an employer in the Real Estate sector, it is crucial that you are up to speed with the latest changes so that you can put systems and procedures in place to ensure you meet all the required minimum standards.

  • Coronavirus – What Do I Do With My Employees?

    Obviously one of the biggest areas of uncertainty regarding the impacts of COVID-19 is on staff. Our expert Employment Law Team has put together the following overview, regarding standing-down employees and making employees redundant as a result of the current pandemic.

    Employee Stand-Down

    Pursuant to sections 524 and 525 of the Fair Work Act, employers can stand employees down without pay during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed because of:

    • equipment breakdown;
    • industrial action, when it’s not organised by the employer; or
    • (most relevant given the corona virus outbreak) stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible.

    During a legitimate stand down period, employees do not need to be paid but they will accrue leave in the usual way.

    Whether a particular employee can be usefully employed is a question of fact to be determined having regard to the circumstances that face the individual employer and the specific employee. “Usefully employed” has not been defined, but Courts have in the past determined that if an employer is able to obtain some benefit or value for work that could be performed by the employee, then the stand down provisions will not apply.

    For example, let’s say a local take away shop has to ‘shut its doors’ due to a government lock-down proclamation, then it may be reasonable to stand the front-line employees down without pay, but employees who do accounts, bookkeeping, marketing and alike may not be eligible to be stood down because there may still exist an opportunity for them to be ‘usefully employed’.

    Awards, Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and Employment Agreements could alter the statutory position above, so EL always cautions clients against taking an action as drastic as stand down without pay until considered legal advice tailored to that client’s business and the specific employee(s) have been obtained.

    Because of the significant impacts stand down without pay can have on employees, EL would treat such a step with extreme caution. Fair Work guides at the moment are saying that ‘best practice’ would be to discuss different options with each employee, and consider letting employees take leave on the basis of paid leave such as sick, annual, long-service etc. where available, or to allow them to work from home where possible.

    However, EL recognises that sometimes when there is a stoppage of work, standing employees down without pay may be the only option available to our clients, and in those circumstances we encourage clients to contact us for a tailored, short-form advice from $1,350.00 (including GST).

    Redundancy Option

    Some EL clients may see their business take such a downturn that they need to consider making employee(s) positions redundant.

    Essentially, a redundancy could be a potential strategy for employers where an employee’s position is no longer required by the employer due to restructure or operational changes in the employer’s business, which renders the position unnecessary. The work or role must no longer be required to be performed by any employee.

    The Fair Work Act has strict requirements that employers must meet prior to qualifying for the redundancy provisions, and a relevant Employment Agreement, Award or Enterprise Bargaining Agreement may create complimentary and/or additional onerous obligations on employers in this regard.

    Given the current climate, EL’s advice is to approach any redundancy decision with caution, and always ensure you have sought tailored legal advice so as to minimise any risk or unnecessary exposure to your business.

    Contact Us

    Our expert Employment Law team can also assist your business by developing a range of customised and appropriate policies and documents – please contact us to obtain a fixed fee quote for these services. In the interim, our team has prepared a generic Coronavirus Policy for your free download and use, to ensure that your business is on the front-foot.

    The application of the existing law to the current situation is rapidly-developing, so we encourage all clients to ensure they regularly check our platforms for updates or to contact us directly with any concerns that they have.

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2621

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • JobKeeper Directions – Is Your Business Exposed?

    With businesses starting to receive JobKeeper payments, the economy is in the midst of transitioning to the ‘new normal’ and business owners are finally starting to feel like they can, at least somewhat, breathe again. Consequently, now is the time to ‘take stock’, conduct an audit and ensure that the measures that your business implemented (most likely in haste), over the past few months are not now leaving your business exposed to potential claims and other legal risks.  

    Notably, a new section was introduced into the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act), which allows the Commission to deal with disputes specifically regarding employer ‘JobKeeper directions’. This dispute mechanism allows for employees to lodge an application (at no cost) detailing their dispute, to which an employer must then respond to the application in the relevant time frame. Once the application and response has been submitted, the Fair Work Commission will deal with the dispute via arbitration, mediation, conciliation or alike, and it has broad powers to make orders “to give effect to a direction, set aside the direction, substitute the direction for a different direction or any other direction it considers appropriate”. There are also civil penalties that can be imposed on the employer, in certain circumstances.

    New figures revealed by the Fair Work Commission show that its overall workload is already up by 40% compared to April 2019, with the increase apparently due to more cases about unfair dismissal, JobKeeper directions and JobKeeper payment disputes.

    As at 7 May 2020, the Fair Work Commission had already received 212 disputes pertaining to the JobKeeper scheme, with the leading dispute topic being JobKeeper directions pertaining to changes to employee working hours. 

    Most businesses had to respond quickly to be able to adapt to the COVID-19 impacts and this saw a number of businesses taking drastic measures both in the restructuring of their businesses (such as new service offerings and operating hours), but also in the restructuring of their employees and the basis on which they are employed (such as reduced hours, different hours, change of duties and roles, change of location of work and so on). Most of these changes to employees’ employment can be made legally in certain circumstances, provided they strictly comply with the requirements of the Act. The problem is, most of these changes were made in a ‘reactive’ manner by businesses and when businesses ‘react’ they can often fail to comply with the myriad of applicable legal requirements. 

    Here are a few things that employers must know in relation to JobKeeper payments:

    • no employer is entitled to (and is taken never to have been entitled to), a JobKeeper payment unless it complies with record keeping requirements under the relevant Acts and Regulations - this could very well mean, that if employers and businesses have been receiving JobKeeper payments but they did not comply with the record keeping requirements, they could be required to repay the JobKeeper payments;
    • JobKeeper enabling directions cannot be made retrospectively - this means that directions given before the Act was amended on 9 April 2020 are not authorised, meaning they could be construed as unlawful and employees may have remedies against their employers in this regard (or civil penalties may apply);
    • JobKeeper enabling directions will not be valid unless an employer gave the requisite written notice to employees (3 days before the direction commenced) and consulted with the employees in accordance with the requirements under the Act; and
    • the JobKeeper payments must be dealt with strictly in accordance with the relevant parts of the Act, otherwise the employer risks a claim by the employee and also civil penalties being imposed against the employer.

    The above examples are a mere snapshot of certain key considerations that employers ought to turn their mind to, so as to avoid unnecessarily exposing their businesses to legal claims and potential civil penalties. 

    It is now critically important that businesses audit the decisions they made over the past few months, to ensure those decisions strictly complied with the relevant laws, regulations and rules. Where it is found that decisions didn’t comply, a number of corrective measures are available to businesses to correct or mitigate any potential impacts.  

    If your business needs assistance, our team of employment law experts are standing by ready to guide you through this audit process. 

    EL has further put together an exclusive JobKeeper Audit Package, available to the first five businesses (with under fifteen employees) who contact us, under which we will audit your business and provide you with a compliance report and summary of required corrective measures (if necessary) for a fixed fee of $2,200.00 (incl. GST).

    Call our team today to take advantage of this exclusive offer:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2621

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • Employees covered by the Nurses Award 2010, Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2020 and Aged Care Award 2010 who are employed by residential aged care providers or are required to work in residential aged care facilities are now entitled to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave following a recent announcement from the Fair Work Commission. 


    What is the Entitlement?

    Permanent and casual employees engaged on a regular and systematic basis under the aforementioned modern awards are now entitled to take up to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave on each occasion they are prevented from working when:

    • the employee is required to self-isolate or quarantine by government or medical authorities or their employer;
    • the employee is required to self-isolate or quarantine following receipt of medical advice because they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or have come into contact with a person suspected of contracting COVID-19;
    • the employee is isolating while they await their tests results;
    • because of measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


    Are There Exclusions?

    Yes, employees will not be entitled to access paid pandemic leave if:

    • they are not covered by the aforementioned awards;
    • they are able to work from home or remotely;
    • circumstances dictate that they should access personal/carer’s leave (for example, if the employee was actually unwell, they would be entitled to personal leave);
    • they are covered by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement that does not expressly incorporate the aforementioned awards.
      Importantly, the leave is conditional on employees taking a COVID-19 test at the earliest opportunity. 

    Employees requesting pandemic leave are also required to: · provide their employer with notice and the reason why they are taking the leave, as soon as practicable; and if required · provide evidence that would satisfy ‘a reasonable person’ that the leave is being taken for one of the specified reasons; and produce a medical certificate.

    Employees are still entitled to workers’ compensation if they test positive for COVID-19 and their paid pandemic leave ceases, provided COVID-19 was contracted during their employment. 


    What About Other Industries?

    At this point in time it is uncertain whether or not this entitlement will be broadened to other modern awards and employers in other industries are understandably curious and nervous. The Fair Work Commission, in their statement, confirmed that the paid pandemic leave is in response to “The seriousness of the position in the aged care sector”, however time will tell if this will broaden further in the rapid changing times. 

    If you have any questions or need any support with your workplace during these times, do not hesitate to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The Fair Work Commission (the Commission) has stepped in to provide support for the real estate industry and commission-only real estate agents who are covered by the Real Estate Industry Award 2020 (the Award), by removing the months of May, June, July, August, September and October 2020 from the calculation of Minimum Income Threshold Amount (MITA) for the preceding 12-month period.

    The MITA will be subsequently adjusted in proportion to the number of months disregarded, provided that, where the commission-only employee’s review date falls partway through any COVID-19 month, that month may only be disregarded where the review is due after the 14th of the month.

    The Commission has also amended the Award to suspend the eligibility for the engagement of further commission-only agents for the period 6 August 2020 to 1 November 2020. Specifically, the Award has been amended to state:

    “An employee who is not employed as a commission-only salesperson as at 6 August 2020, shall not be eligible to be employed on a commission-only basis prior to 1 November 2020.”

    The aforementioned changes are in operation from the 6th of August 2020, however, for those recently employed, they do not take effect until the start of the employee’s first full pay period that starts on or after 6 August 2020.

    You can read the Commission's decision on The Treasury's website.


    Changes to JobKeeper

    The recent changes to JobKeeper announced on the 7th of August 2020 will also provide an element of reprieve for some, with businesses now only needing to demonstrate that their GST turnover has fallen in one quarter, instead of two, in order to qualify for the recently extended scheme.

    Instead of the requirement to demonstrate a decline in turnover for both the June and September quarters, the 7th of August 2020 announcement confirms businesses will now only need to show that GST turnover has fallen in the September quarter, compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

    Employee eligibility and payments have also changed, to the extent that the scheme has been amended to cover those who have been working since at least 1 July 2020, instead of the original deadline of 1 March 2020. The payment rate will also drop from October to $1,500 to $1,200 for full-time workers, and to $750 for part-time workers, before dropping again in January to  $1,000 per fortnight for full-time workers and $650 for part-time workers.

    Employers will need to use the two fortnightly pay periods to either 1 March 2020, or 1 July 2020 to calculate JobKeeper payment tiers and if an employee has been eligible for JobKeeper since March 1, the fortnightly period with the highest number of hours worked should be used. 

    Click here to read the 7 August 2020 announcement from The Treasury detailing the changes to JobKeeper.


    If you have any questions or need any support with your workplace during these times, do not hesitate to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The recent decision in Broadlex Services Pty Ltd v United Workers’ Union [2020] FCA 867 highlights the risks employers will face if they reduce the hours of their employees without consent.

    Broadlex, a cleaning company, experienced a downturn in business which triggered it to advise full-time employee, Ms Vrtovski, that her employment status would be reduced from full-time to part-time, reducing her hours from 38 hours per week to 20 hours per week (with a proportionate reduction in salary).  

    Ms Vrtovski declined to sign a form consenting to the change but nevertheless worked the reduced hours as she felt she had no choice. She later filed a dispute and upon examination, Justice Katzmann of the Federal Court of Australia held that Ms Vrtovski was entitled to redundancy pay on the grounds that:

    1. Section 119 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) confirms that a redundancy requires:

    • the employee’s employment to be terminated
    • the termination to be done at the employer’s initiative because it no longer requires the job to be done by anyone.

    2. by reducing Ms Vrtovski’s hours without consent, Broadlex had repudiated her contract of employment, which was accepted by her when she refused to sign the consent form. This, in turn, had the effect of terminating Ms Vrtovski’s full-time employment and when she commenced working on a part-time basis, she did so under a new contract of employment;

    3. as the termination of Ms Vrtovski’s employment was initiated by Broadlex (when they changed her employment to part-time), who did not require her full-time role to be done by anyone, Ms Vrtovski’s circumstances met the requirements of section 119 and she was therefore entitled to redundancy pay.

     

    Lesson for Employers 

    The decision in Broadlex serves as an important reminder that employers need to be very careful when making changes to an employee’s employment.

     

    If you find yourself in a situation where you are considering making similar changes within your business, we encourage you to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills for advice & support:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The Devil Is In The Detail - When Workplace Redundancy Alternatives Just Don't Cut It

    An employer has been ordered to pay full redundancy entitlements to employees despite offering them other employment arrangements.

     

    The recent decision of Lee Crane Hire Pty Ltd v Sneek and Ors [2020] FWC serves as an important example of when an employer will be required to pay redundancy entitlements to employees, despite offering them alternative means of employment.

     

    What the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) Says:

    Section 120 of the Fair Work Act provides a mechanism for employers to apply to vary the amount redundancy pay owing to an employee (which may be reduced to nil) in circumstances where the employer obtains other acceptable employment for the employee (and they reject it) or the employer simply cannot pay the amounts owing.

     

    What is ‘Other Acceptable Employment’?

    If an employer is able to prove that it offered an employee other acceptable employment and the employee rejected such employment and sought payment of their redundancy entitlements instead, an employer could request the Fair Work Commission reduce the redundancy pay potentially to nil.  

    The onus of proving that the alternative employment is acceptable rests with the employer. There is a body of case law which has set the bar particularly high and involves consideration of a range of non-exhaustive factors including, pay levels, hours of work, seniority, fringe benefits, workload, job security, work location, continuity of service, accrual of benefits, probationary periods, as well as the employee’s skills, experience and physical capacity. The location of the other employment must also not be unreasonably distant from the employee’s original place of work.

     

    So What Happened in Lee Crane v Sneek?  

    Lee Crane v Sneek is a prime example of how the Fair Work Commission assesses ‘other acceptable employment’ and is a cautionary tale for employers, particularly those who may wish to offer casual or far away employment to soon-to-be redundant employees. Here’s what happened:  

    • Lee Crane Hire operates a mobile crane hire business in Gladstone and operates another depot at Biloela (121kms inland from Gladstone). There had been a downturn in business of the Gladstone Depot such that the business could no longer guarantee full time work to the employees based at the Depot. The owner of the business decided to close the Gladstone Depot and operate all his business through the Biloela depot.
    • Employees Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy worked at the Gladstone depot and were offered two alternatives to a redundancy:
      1. continue in the same role, but be based out of Biloela and Gladstone with the only Depot being in Biloela. This option would include payment for time spent travelling to work and accommodation, the same hours of work, a company vehicle supplied, the same salary and leave entitlements. Additionally, as the role was the same mobile crane operations role, the travel to different sites would be largely unchanged; or
      2. to take on casual employment for Lee Crane Hire in Gladstone, this would involve the employees performing the same work, however there would be no guaranteed hours of work.
    • Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy declined the above options and were terminated on the 31st of March 2020.
    • Lee Crane Hire filed an application in the Fair Work Commission seeking the redundancy pay of Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy be reduced on the grounds that it offered them ‘other acceptable employment’.
    • When assessing the alternatives offered to the employees, the Fair Work Commission viewed both alternatives in the negative, and stated:

     

      • [29] It is the devil’s alternative: move to a new location some 121kms away and incur a practical detriment on a continuous basis or, keep your job, but as a casual with no assurance of work in an evidently declining market. This should not be classified as acceptable alternative work that would release the employer from their obligation to pay out a redundancy entitlement. In short, the travel to Biloela makes the options, in line with the authority cited, unreasonably distant.
      • [35] My considered view is that the two employment options offered by Lee Crane Pty Ltd are not ‘acceptable other employment’ for the purpose of s.120(1)(b)(i) of the Act.

    Ouch.

    • Lee Crane Hire were ordered to pay Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy their full redundancy entitlements which equalled 16, 12 and 7 weeks respectively.

    Triple ouch.

    What’s the lesson?

    Employers need to tread very carefully when navigating redundancies and further, they need to ensure that any offers for other employment are indeed ‘acceptable’ based on the Fair Work Commission’s assessment criteria.

     

    It goes without saying that if you are wondering if your redundancy process is correct or you are wishing you had some expert assistance to ensure your redundancy alternatives are not labelled “the devil’s alternative”, do not hesitate to contact Enterprise Legal’s Principal Workplace Relations Advisor, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request