Australian employers will need to be on their toes more than ever this year, as a host of changes to Workplace Law and Modern Awards are bedded down. They include:

Casual Conversion

From 1 October 2018 ‘regular’ casual employers assumed the right to request conversion to full-time or part-time roles. This right only applies to casuals who, in the previous 12 months, have worked a regular pattern of hours that could segue into a permanent position without significant adjustment. Employers can refuse on the basis that the casual’s position is likely to be terminated in the next 12 months, or their hours significantly reduced or changed over that same period. Refusal must be explained in writing to the employee within 21 days. Employers must also make casual employees aware of this right within the first 12 months of their employment.

Termination Payments

On 1 December 2016, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) shifted the goal posts on termination payments in a bid to make them mandatory and more consistent across all 122 Modern Awards. At the time, 86 of those Awards did not include any express provision for payment of wages and other entitlements on termination. The FWC has since gone on to create its own model payment for each Award, although time frames for payment can differ between industries. For Awards without a termination payment provision, this model payment system came into effect on 1 November 2018. The base time period for payment is within seven days of termination. Employers should be aware that if there is a dispute over the amount owed, they can approach the FWC for a deferral. If they do not do so, and fail to pay within the prescribed time frame, penalties could apply.

Flexible Work

This has now been included as a model term across all 122 Modern Awards. From 1 December 2018, employers have been obliged to have a conversation with any employee who approaches them about flexible work hours. Any refusal must be explained in writing. The challenge for employers is consistent application. The wholesale right of every employee to request flexible hours needs to be considered against the business’ capacity to accommodate a flurry of requests. If some are granted, but others knocked back, when there is no discernible difference, employers could be exposed to a costly discrimination claim. Employers therefore need to protect themselves by creating a policy around flexible working hours, setting out the standardised parameters around the organisation’s capacity to accommodate flexible hours.

It is important for employers to be fully aware of these changes, mainly because they require a lot of positive action, rather than reactive compliance. If an employer fails to discharge their duties under these new provisions, they could be exposed to significant claims.

Accustomed to the ever-changing jungle of workplace law, our experts are ready to guide you through all the new obligations to best ensure your business is perfectly placed to enter this new phase.