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Employment laws you may be breaking

Despite an employer’s best intentions, it can be surprisingly easy to accidently breach some of the laws and regulations that govern employment relationships in Australia.

However, disobeying the law can carry severe penalties. Violating Australia’s key employment legislation, the Fair Work Act 2009, can expose a business to penalties or up to $54,000 and up to $10,800 for individuals.

Here are three common practices that many businesses may be unwittingly carrying out that can land them in hot water:

Using unpaid interns to carry out productive work
Internships are an attractive option for students and jobseekers wanting to gain experience and get a ‘foot in the door’ to certain industries. However, if your business has hired an intern who is not part of a school program or tertiary degree but is performing productive work for your business, you may have unwittingly employed them.

If this is the case, unless the business pays and treats the intern like an employee, it is at risk of breaching the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act, on top of minimum award conditions.

Failing to consult employees about proposed changes to the workplace
Around 60 per cent of Australian workers have their minimum employment conditions underpinned by modern awards. Modern awards require employers to consult with the employees when major changes are going to be made that are likely to impact employees.

Failure to consult, or consult adequately, with employees of this change can be a breach of the relevant award.

Not providing allowances owing under an award
Along with minimum wages and overtime, many awards entitle employees to allowances. Some employers have been found to pay over the minimum award rate of pay and then rely on the greater payment to cover allowances.

However, the Fair Work Commission has stated that unless a written employment agreement specifies that an over-award payment will be made to cover those specific minimum entitlements, award entitlements will be payable on top of the higher rate of pay the employer gives to the employee.

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