Your rights and obligations under Australian Employment law

Whether you are moving to Canberra as an employee or employer, your future employment relationships are likely to be at the forefront of your mind. In 2009, significant changes were made to Australia’s industrial relations law which will affect those relationships. Given strong penalties are awarded for non-compliance, it is important that you are familiar with your rights and obligations under Australian employment law.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. National Employment Standards

With very few exceptions, workplaces in Australia are governed by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Therefore, it is likely your future employment in Australia will be subject to the National Employment Standards (NES) contained in that Act. Covering areas from maximum working hours to leave, these 10 entitlements represent a minimum standard that no employment contract can fall below.  Failure to comply with these standards can leave contractual terms voidable and result in considerable penalties being awarded against the employer.

2. Wages

Pay is central to every employment relationship and Australia has a famously generous national minimum wage – $17.70 per hour in 2017. But this is not the end of the story. Under the 2009 changes, the wages received by many employees are determined by industry awards. These set base pay rates for an industry according to the nature of work undertaken and frequently exceed the national minimum. Award rates are updated regularly (every six months in some industries), so it is essential to regularly check the applicable award.

3. Unfair Dismissal

Employers should be cautious of, and employees familiar with, the right of a recently dismissed employee to make an application to the Fair Work Commission arguing that their dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. If the Commission agrees, employers may be required to reinstate the employee or pay them compensation. What constitutes a harsh, unjust or unreasonable dismissal will depend on the circumstances. Employers can also be found liable under these rules if they handle a dismissal in an improper manner, even if there is a valid underlying reason for the dismissal.

4. Adverse Action

In keeping with Australia’s strong stance against discrimination, Australian employees are protected from the “adverse actions” of their employer if those actions were taken due to certain protected attributes possessed by the employee. In other words, an employer is liable for discrimination on the basis of a protected attribute – including gender, sexuality, disability and race – even when those actions would otherwise be legal (for example, terminating employment contracts). As with unfair dismissal, employers may face severe penalties from the Fair Work Commission for breaching these protections.

5. Jurisdiction

Due to Australia’s federal structure, many employment relationships attract obligations under Commonwealth (or federal) legislation as well as state/territory statutes. In many instances, these obligations are concurrent. Under Australian industrial law, rights and obligations can even arise for employment contracts executed overseas. Employers (and their employees) should be aware of these jurisdictional traps.

John Wilson is the managing legal director at Bradley Allen Love Lawyers and an accredited specialist in industrial relations and employment law. He thanks Robert Allen for his help in preparing this article.