Its Spring! Although it’s still brisk and blustery out there – in the weather and many of our clients’ businesses – with some ongoing workplace issues this year being ensuring the correct classification of workers as either employees or independent contractors, permanent or casual engagement, and new developments in domestic violence leave entitlements and casual conversion rights.
Sue, Author at MDC Legal
By Joanna Knoth, Senior Associate and Gemma Little, Lawyer
An employee is not be entitled to be paid for any “reasonable additional hours” they work. However, an employee may be entitled to be paid overtime, penalty rates or other allowances for time worked outside of or in addition to their ordinary hours of work if they are covered by an award or enterprise agreement.
By Conor Fahey, Lawyer
Can a refusal to accept a pay cut result in a genuine redundancy? employers will need to ensure that before enacting any redundancy, there are genuine operational reasons underpinning the decision beyond mere reduction in salaries.
By Mark Cox, Director and Miette Xamon, Law Clerk
Class action lawsuit. It’s a term you’ve heard enough on the news and one that you never want to be at the receiving end of as an employer. An employee class action lawsuit, sometimes called a class action settlement, is a legal proceeding allowing the claims of many individuals against the same defendant or defendants (generally an employer), arising out of the same, similar or related circumstances, to be conducted by a single representative or representatives.
With the flexibility of information technology, working from home is easier than ever, and more popular for many, being associated with greater overall job satisfaction. The benefits may be better work-life balance, more time spent with family and friends, and better management of parental and carer responsibilities. 16.4% of Australians now work some of their usual work hours from home, with the highest percentage being women aged 35-44, particularly in professional or management roles.
Now that the festive season is over, employers can focus on the year ahead. What New Year’s resolutions are you making for your business?
Below are some practical New Year’s resolutions that may minimise your employment law risks.
The New Year presents a great opportunity to critically review your organisation’s workplace relations infrastructure and arrangements, to ensure that these are working to sufficiently protect the organisation’s interests.
Misconduct in the workplace can be a tricky matter for employers to deal with, which is often made more difficult due to Christmas shut downs and staff annual leave. There are 5 steps that an employer should consider when investigating misconduct and deciding to take disciplinary action to mitigate the risk that an employee (either the person alleged to have engaged in misconduct, or the person on the receiving end of that conduct) will mount legal claims.
As the year draws to a close, employers may choose to give employees bonuses, gift cards or something similar, usually as a way of recognising the past year’s work and achievements. While this practice is often positive in that it can increase morale and motivation, employers should ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place to prevent well-meaning gifts from becoming gremlins.
Some employees may see the Christmas period as an opportunity to focus more on festive season activities and less on work. Employees may spend excessive time away from the office, having lunch or Christmas shopping. Other employees may spend excessive time online, shopping for Christmas presents or planning Christmas activities, or excessive time decorating the office. These types of behaviours can be difficult for employers to manage, without appearing Grinch-like and while still ensuring staff morale remains positive over the busy Christmas period.
As we whiz through the festive season towards Christmas, employers should be mindful of any workplace conduct that may constitute direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of an employee’s religion.
Annual leave over the Christmas period can be difficult to manage. For some employers, the Christmas period may be a period of slow trade. For others, it may be the busiest time of the year, requiring all hands on deck.
As we rapidly approach the end of the year, the office Christmas party can be cause for concern for many employers. There are two key issues that employers should turn their mind to when planning their staff Christmas party.
In the recent decision of Joshua Klooger v Foodora Australia Pty Ltd  FWC 6836, the Fair Work Commission held that a Foodora rider who was engaged as an independent contractor was in fact an employee and, therefore, eligible to bring an unfair dismissal claim.
An employee who was suspended indefinitely without pay after her employer decided that she had breached the conditions of her visa was unfairly dismissed, according to the Fair Work Commission in Devi v Doutta Galla Aged Services Limited  FWC 4142.
An interview provides an employer with an opportunity to get to know prospective employees and assess their suitability for employment. Often, there are many questions an employer wants to ask a prospective employee – however care should be taken to avoid questions which can later be relied on by the interviewee to mount legal claims.
What can an employer do if an employee makes vexatious or baseless complaints in the pursuit of some ulterior purpose?
The Fair Work Commission has refused an application for an extension of time to file an unfair dismissal application, following a detailed examination of a travelling employee’s social media activities and text messages which demonstrated that he was not incapacitated by depression and grief following his dismissal.
WorkPac Pty Ltd v Skene  FCAFC 131
The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia has rejected WorkPac’s argument that the “industrial meaning” of the term “casual employee” has been incorporated into the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (the Act) for the purpose of the National Employment Standards (NES).
Instead, the Court held the essence of the casual employment relationship is the “absence of a firm advance commitment as to the duration of the employee’s employment or the days (or hours) the employee will work”.
Whether an employee is a “casual employee” should be determined by looking at indicia of casual employment, the conduct of the parties and the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the relationship.
Fair Work Ombudsman audit
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recently conducted an audit of businesses throughout the eastern states of Australia which found that found that 72% of the businesses had breached workplace laws. The audit resulted in the recovery of $471,904 for 616 workers across the 234 businesses audited. The most common breach was an underpayment of hourly rates, followed by non-existent or inadequate employment records.
“72% of businesses had breached workplace laws”
The winter months often bring an increase in employees’ use of personal leave, primarily due to illness. An employee’s brief and temporary absence, whether due to illness or even injury, supported by adequate medical evidence, can usually be managed by the employer without issue.
However, difficulty and uncertainty arise where an employee takes extended personal leave with medical evidence that has little or no detail on the illness or injury suffered, or which offers no foreseeable return to work date. An employee’s extended absence can pose significant issues for the management and operation of a business. Navigating this situation can become increasingly complex if an employee has taken personal leave in response to a disciplinary or performance management process.
In the employment law space, there has been growing debate on whether all Australian employees should have a minimum entitlement to take either paid or unpaid domestic violence leave. The debate was reinvigorated in March, when, as part of the four-yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission introduced 5 days’ unpaid domestic violence leave for all award-covered employees.
It is a common misconception amongst employers that a senior position title and high income can exclude an employee from being covered by a modern award. Not so. Instead, employers must look to the principle purpose of the position the employee was performing to assess whether it is covered by the classifications of roles covered by the award.
LinkedIn is one example of how new technologies and social media “disruptors” are intercepting with the workplace in ways that challenge our traditional notions of employment rights and obligations.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work Regulations 2009, Australian employers are required to keep records in relation to each of their employees
A maximum term contract is a contract which automatically ends at the expiry of a specified period while giving either party the right to terminate prior to the specified expiry by giving notice. This can be contrasted with a fixed term contract, which is also for a specified period but which does not make provision for early termination.
HRD Australia recently reported that the success rate of Australian employers in unfair dismissal cases has dropped below 40% for the first time – while these remain the claim of choice for employees, with an unfair dismissal claim lodged every three and a half minutes in Australia.1
We expect hot topics for workplaces will include managing poor performance and bullying and stress claims, avoiding award or NES breach claims (and the risk of huge new penalties) or discrimination claims.
When organising your office party this year, there are a few things to be mindful of. Your duty of care as an employer extends to the actions of your employees at a work-sponsored event, even if it held off-site or outside of office hours.
Ensuring a safe, fun and professional event requires ensuring responsible behaviour compliant with occupational health and safety standards and avoiding employees experiencing sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or other inappropriate treatment.
In a recent decision of the Federal Circuit Court an external accountant who advised a business on its employee arrangements was held liable under the accessorial provisions of the Fair Work Act. This decision is a red flag to external advisors who are closely involved with HR, payroll and employee entitlements of employer businesses.
Around 45% of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. Therefore, it is very likely that from time to time an employer will need to performance manage an employee who is experiencing a mental illness.
A well drafted employment contract, complemented by a professionally prepared Employee Handbook and Management Guide, provides a solid foundation for a positive employment relationship, and minimises the risk of legal claims.
How “discretionary” are discretionary bonuses? Recent lessons from Crowe Horwath (Aust) Pty Ltd v Loone  VSC 163
On 23 February 2017 the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) handed down a significant decision following a review of weekend and public holiday penalty rates across the following six modern awards
In perhaps the most interesting development to date since the commencement of the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) anti-bullying powers, Commissioner Hampton, the Panel Head of the FWC’s anti-bullying jurisdiction, has issued an interim order to restrain an employer from dismissing an employee for alleged misconduct until the tribunal determines the employee’s anti-bullying application.
Qantas has succeeded in its appeal to undo the unfair dismissal finding for a flight attendant who stole alcohol and lied during the investigation. The FWC Full bench overturned the ruling of unfair dismissal in Qantas Airways Limited v David Dawson  FWCFB 41, finding that Deputy President Lawrence had failed to take into account the Qantas employee’s dishonesty during the investigation into allegations of theft.
Formal written warnings and structured performance improvement plans are not an essential requirement to prove that a dismissal, based on poor performance, is fair.
Sticking to what you know when obtaining new employment may backfire when a client-specific restraint that protects an employer’s legitimate interest is likely to be enforceable and valid. It may be appropriate to widen the job search, and seek legal advice on your options.
In the recent decision of Devil Dog Pty Ltd v Cook  WASC 27, the Supreme Court of Western Australia granted an interim injunction to prevent a former employee from competing with his former employer’s business. The decision is a timely reminder on the importance of carefully drafting and considering restraint of trade clauses in commercial agreements.
Employment law covers a broad range of complex legal issues affected by layers of common law and statute across state and federal jurisdictions. These legal issues begin in business set up or acquisition stage, with transmission of business, recruitment of new employees, establishing suitable contracts, and complying with awards and National Employment Standards – establishing the employment relationship.
A female hotel employee in Queensland has been awarded $313,000 in damages for sexual harassment and assault she was subjected to in her bed by the hotel caretaker. The case rings a warning to employers that they need to take reasonable steps to prevent employees engaging in or being exposed to such conduct.
The relationship between employer and employee is subject to a multitude of Australian state and federal laws and is key to the success of any business. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face a number of challenges when managing their employees. Many businesses lack a dedicated human resources department, leaving HR responsibilities to busy owners or senior managers.
If employees are inappropriately classified as casuals, they may be able to bring claims against their employer for breaches of Modern Awards or the Fair Work Act 2009. They may also be able to claim that their employer has misrepresented their workplace rights. In these circumstances, employees will be entitled to seek compensation as well as penalties of up to $54,000 against the employer for each breach or misrepresentation.
In the recent case of Joseph Roussety v Castricum Brothers Pty Ltd the Supreme Court of Victoria was called upon to consider an employee’s negligence claim for overwork causing psychiatric injury. This case serves as a salient reminder that an employer owes a duty to take reasonable care to avoid any foreseeable risk of injury arising from an employee’s circumstances of employment. In particular, it warns of the dangers of cost cutting without having regard to the effect on existing employees.