A recent Federal Circuit Court judgment (WorkPac v Skene ) 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!
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.
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.
Each year the Fair Work Commission reviews the minimum wages contained in all Modern Awards and this year it announced a 1.75% increase to minimum wages on 19 June 2020. Whilst the wage increases usually apply from 1 July for all Modern Awards, this year the Fair Work Commission postponed a number of increases to industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. All Modern Awards were broken up to three groups, with Group 1 increases starting on 1 July 2020, Group 2 commencing on 1 November 2020 and lastly, Group 3 commencing on 1 February 2021. The full list of awards that will be increasing on November 1 include:
Aluminium Industry Award
Animal Care and Veterinary Services Award
Aquaculture Industry Award
Asphalt Industry Award
Black Coal Mining Industry Award
Book Industry Award
Broadcasting, Recorded Entertainment and Cinemas Award
Building and Construction General On-site Award
Business Equipment Award
Car Parking Award
Cement, Lime and Quarrying Award
Clerks—Private Sector Award
Coal Export Terminals Award
Concrete Products Award
Contract Call Centres Award
Cotton Ginning Award
Dredging Industry Award
Educational Services (Post-Secondary Education) Award
Electrical, Electronic and Communications Contracting Award
Food, Beverage and Tobacco Manufacturing Award
Gardening and Landscaping Services Award
Graphic Arts, Printing and Publishing Award
Higher Education Industry-Academic Staff-Award
Higher Education Industry-General Staff-Award
Hydrocarbons Field Geologists Award
Hydrocarbons Industry (Upstream) Award
Joinery and Building Trades Award
Journalists Published Media Award
Labour Market Assistance Industry Award
Legal Services Award
Local Government Industry Award
Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award
Marine Towage Award
Maritime Offshore Oil and Gas Award
Market and Social Research Award
Meat Industry Award
Mining Industry Award
Mobile Crane Hiring Award
Oil Refining and Manufacturing Award
Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award
Pest Control Industry Award
Pharmaceutical Industry Award
Plumbing and Fire Sprinklers Award
Port Authorities Award
Ports, Harbours and Enclosed Water Vessels Award
Poultry Processing Award
Premixed Concrete Award
Professional Diving Industry (Industrial) Award
Professional Employees Award
Rail Industry Award
Real Estate Industry Award
Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award
Road Transport and Distribution Award
Salt Industry Award
Seafood Processing Award
Seagoing Industry Award
Security Services Award
Stevedoring Industry Award
Storage Services and Wholesale Award
Sugar Industry Award
Supported Employment Services Award
Telecommunications Services Award
Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award
Timber Industry Award
Transport (Cash in Transit) Award
Waste Management Award
Wool Storage, Sampling and Testing Award
The third group of awards that will increase on 1 February 2021 include:
Air Pilots Award
Aircraft Cabin Crew Award
Airline Operations-Ground Staff Award
Airport Employees Award
Alpine Resorts Award
Amusement, Events and Recreation Award
Commercial Sales Award
Dry Cleaning and Laundry Industry Award
Fast Food Industry Award
Fitness Industry Award
General Retail Industry Award
Hair and Beauty Industry Award
Horse and Greyhound Training Award
Hospitality Industry (General) Award
Live Performance Award
Mannequins and Models Award
Marine Tourism and Charter Vessels Award
Professional Diving Industry (Recreational) Award
Racing Clubs Events Award
Racing Industry Ground Maintenance Award
Registered and Licensed Clubs Award
Restaurant Industry Award
Sporting Organisations Award
Travelling Shows Award
Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award
Wine Industry Award
To learn more about the Fair Work Commission’s wage increase or to speak to one of our Workplace Relations specialists, contact Enterprise Legal today.
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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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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.
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:
Yes, employees will not be entitled to access paid pandemic leave if:
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.
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
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.
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.
The recent decision in Broadlex Services Pty Ltd v United Workers’ Union  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:
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.
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:
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  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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
We can all be forgiven for thinking that employee bonuses are and always will be, subject to the complete discretion of the employer, but what if you were told that that isn’t always the case?
The recent decision in Subasic v Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd  ACTSC 2 has continued to chip away at the ‘absolute discretion’ defence and confirmed that an employment contract that states a bonus is “in the absolute discretion” of the employer, doesn’t mean the employer has the unlimited power to change how the bonus is paid or withhold payment and in fact, such a decision will be a costly one.
Melinda Subasic was employed by Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd and her contract of employment included the payment of an incentive scheme that was “subject to change or cancellation at [the employer’s] discretion”.
Subasic’s performance was of such a high standard that she generated a significantly large incentive payment of $446,250.39 under the incentive scheme and when it came time to pay up, Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd sought to implement a cap that would limit the amount that she would be paid to just $136,500.00. Understandably, the employee sued.
The Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory found that by changing the incentive scheme, Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd breached the employment contract.
It also held that the discretion to change or amend the scheme was to be exercised “honestly and conformably with the purposes of the contract”, which was not evident in this case.
The Court also found that the employer was not permitted to decide arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably that it need not pay an incentive payment where the set objectives had been satisfied.
Quite simply, Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd did not have the discretion to simply impose new terms and decide to withhold the incentive after it was validly earnt.
The employee was awarded $309,750.39 plus interest in the sum of $61,568.19 and Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd was ordered to pay costs.
The decision in Subasic v Hewlett Packard Australia Pty Ltd  ACTSC 2 is a worthwhile reminder to employers that ‘absolute discretion’ isn’t actually absolute and employers should plan ahead and tread carefully when implementing and managing employee incentive schemes.
It is also a worthwhile reminder that withholding employee incentives is a dangerous option as businesses look at ways to reduce costs in the wake of COVID-19 and it is vital to get sound legal advice before taking steps that could cost your business far more in the long run.
If you would like to know more or you would like to speak to one of our Workplace Relations specialists, contact Enterprise Legal today for a free introductory consult:
After the year that has been, it is understandable that a lot of workplaces will be gleefully looking forward to kicking back a few bubbles and toasting to end of 2020.
But it is important to sing the tale of fateful Christmas parties past and remind employers and employees that the laws of reasonable management action, workplace health and safety and misconduct continue to apply and will land both employers and employees on the naughty list if the elves fall off their shelves.
On a not so merry Christmas, the Dandenong ALDI Store and Distribution Centre held their annual Christmas Party in a private function room at the Brownstone Micro Brewery, with all costs, including alcohol paid for by ALDI.
At the event, Warehouse Operator, Mr Sione Vai, consumed a significant amount of alcohol and had also had pre-drinks before attending the event. He was subsequently cut off by the bar staff and managers and in a drunken state, threw a glass of beer in the direction of his colleagues, narrowly missing them and smashing on the wall behind them.
Mr Vai was later dismissed for his conduct and brought an application in the Fair Work Commission alleging that he had been unfairly dismissed.
Mr Vai’s claim was unsuccessful on the grounds that:
Whilst it is appreciated that it can be difficult for employers to predict all facets of employee behaviour at work sponsored Christmas events, under occupational health and safety laws employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees during work related activities, including Christmas parties.
As such, it is vital that in the lead-up to Christmas, employers take steps to implement effective strategies to prevent unwanted incidents and to ensure the safety of employees at work endorsed Christmas functions.
This may include:
We hope you all have a safe and merry festive season and you all take steps to ensure neither your employees or your business end up on the Fair Work Commission or Workplace Health and Safety Regulator’s naughty list.
...but if you do, always remember that the experienced team at Enterprise Legal are here to help!
Casual employment has been a hotly contested topic for quite some time, particularly following the controversial decision in WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato (‘Rossato’), which was handed down on 20 May 2020.
In a nutshell, the decisions of Workpac Pty Ltd v Skene  FCAFC 131 and Workpac Pty Ltd v Rossato  FCAFC 84 found that casual employees who work regular, consistent hours with a firm advance commitment to work, may be owed leave and other entitlements such as redundancy pay even where they have received a 25% casual loading (double dipping drama).
There will be no easing of casual employment controversy in 2021 as the Rossato decision is off to the High Court and further, the Australian Government recently introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Job and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 (the Bill) to Parliament.
If the Bill passes Parliament, it will bring about various changes to casual employment, including certainty to employees and employers regarding the rights and obligations of both parties and the definition of a casual employee is proposed to be amended to where an offer of employment is made on the basis that the employer makes no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work.
Relevant factors to whether there is a firm advanced commitment to work include: the ability to accept or reject work; whether the employee will work only as required; and whether a casual loading is paid;
Relevant factors to whether there is a firm advanced commitment to work include:
assessed at the time the engagement is entered into.
If the Bill is successful and in good news for employers, employers will also have the ability to set off any claim for annual leave, personal leave and redundancy pay against the 25% casual loading in an attempt to reduce the potential for “double dipping”.
The laws are currently proposed to work retrospectively, however, there are no guarantees that this will be held to be valid. The Bill also proposes a number of changes to provisions regarding casual conversion, flexible work directions and enterprise agreements – important but less controversial topics.
It is recommended that employers continue to stay up to date with the developments in the casual employment sphere and be prepared for changes in the future. At this stage, the Bill is only proposed and may change before coming into force.
For advice and support with managing your casual workforce, contact our Workplace Relations team at Enterprise Legal today for a complimentary introductory consultation: