10 Employment Lessons From the Land Down Under

Besides being famous actors, what else do Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth all have in common? They all have roots in Australia. While employers may want to track the next movie these actors are starring in, it’s even more important to be aware of the following key and unique employment laws when managing a workforce in Australia.

1. Employment Contracts

Known for its vast, wide open spaces, Australia is also fairly wide open when it comes to employment relationships. For instance, there is no requirement that employment contracts be in writing, and there is no statutory obligation on employers to provide employees with a written statement of their terms and conditions of employment. Employment contracts in the Land Down Under may be open ended, for a specified period of time, or for the completion of a specified task or project, and may be for full-time or part-time work.

2. Hours of Work

The statutory maximum number of hours a full-time employee can work is 38 hours. However, an employer can request that employees work additional hours so long as they are reasonable. An employee may refuse to work the additional hours if the request is unreasonable.

3. Background Checks

Employers in Australia must obtain consent from job applicants when collecting information about them from third parties, such as reference checks.

In addition, an employer may ask about a candidate’s medical status during the recruiting process if the information is relevant to the proper and safe performance of the role. In all other circumstances, such questions may expose an employer to allegations of disability discrimination.

4. Parental Leave and Pregnancy

Like most every developed country, Australia goes well beyond the US when it comes to parental leave. For instance, the Federal Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme provides for eligible employees to receive a state benefit, known as Parental Leave Pay, during up to 18 weeks of leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. The scheme does not provide an entitlement to leave, but does provide for pay during leave taken based on a law – notably unpaid parental leave.

Pregnant employees who have at least 12 months’ continuous service are entitled to take up to 12 months of parental leave, generally starting up to six weeks before the expected date of birth (they may receive a state benefit during up to 18 weeks of the leave).

After an employee exhausts the 12-month entitlement to unpaid parental leave, the employee may request a further period of leave, of up to 12 months, immediately following the end of the initial entitlement. The employer may refuse such a request only on reasonable business grounds.

 5. Paid Sick Leave

Employees are generally entitled to 10 days’ paid sick leave each year and are protected from dismissal if they are absent from work because of illness or injury for up to three months.

6. Community Service Leave

Employees engaged in community service related to managing emergencies or disasters are entitled to take unpaid leave to perform the service. This leave also extends to employees who are required to attend jury duty.

7. Training

Australian employment law does not require equal opportunity training. However, if an employer fails to provide adequate training on unlawful behavior, such as sexual harassment, an employer could be found vicariously liable for such unlawful behavior by its employees.

8. Notice Period

Employees are generally entitled to a statutory minimum notice of termination of their employment by the employer. The notice period depends on their length of service. For instance, an employee with more than five years’ continuous service is entitled to the basic minimum notice of four weeks.

9. Bullying

In Australia, workers receive protection from workplace bullying, which is defined as unreasonable behavior that creates a risk to health and safety. The term workers includes:

  • Employees;
  • Contractors;
  • Subcontractors;
  • Apprentices and trainees; and
  • Students gaining work experience or volunteers.

If a worker experiences bullying, he or she can seek workers’ compensation on grounds of having sustained a “workplace injury” during the course of employment.

10. Flexible Work Arrangements

In certain circumstances, employees who meet length of service requirements are generally entitled to request flexible working arrangements to attend to certain caregiving responsibilities or in other circumstances, such as where they are aged 55 or older. The flexible work arrangement could be a change of hours, pattern of work or work location. Employers can only deny the request based on reasonable business grounds.

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