Consult an Employment Lawyer For Issues Regarding Flexible Work Hours

Two brothers worked as painters for a hospital. For eight years, they enjoyed a flexible work arrangement where they reported for work from 6:30 am until 2:30 pm. This work arrangement left them time to pick up their young children from school and bring them home.

The hospital is one of the busiest hospitals in its district and to boost their operational efficiency and to correct a $8.2 million deficit, the hospital administration gave the painters one year’s notice before ordering them to revert to the regular working hours of 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. The hospital administration urged the painters to make alternate arrangements for their children as after the twelve-month period as no further extensions would be granted.The scheme to revert to ordinary work hours was part of the “whole of hospital approach” to improving hospital services. The hospital had a long-standing policy of allowing flexible work arrangements that were mutually beneficial for both the hospital and the employees. Also, the brothers were classified as employed under the Public Health Service Employees Skilled Trades Award that provided that their ordinary hours of work be for eight hours daily, Monday to Friday between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. Thus, the order to work from 7:00 am- 3:30 pm was allowed under the award.

Near the end of the twelve-month notice period, the brothers asked for a review of their flexible work arrangement. The brothers argued that the request for flexible work hours were a small accommodation which would not impose undue hardship on the hospital, but if their request for flexible working hours was not accommodated, it would impose hardship on their family as they could not afford after-school child care.

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The Union to which the painters belonged then wrote to the hospital on behalf of the painters, notifying them that they had lodged a dispute concerning the issue of the painters’ working hours with the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales. The Union asked the Commission for orders to allow the painters to continue working under the flexible work arrangement until their children finished primary school sometime at the end of the school year 2018-2019. The Union argued that forcing the painters to work until 3:30 pm instead of 2:30 pm amounted to discrimination against them as family carers and prevented them achieving and maintaining a work/life balance. Further, the painters had low income and the cost of childcare would put financial pressure on their families. Also, the painters had enjoyed flexible work hours for years without any negative impact on their productivity, efficiency, or work safety.

On the other hand, the hospital argued that it had the right to exercise prerogatives to manage its operations. The return to ordinary hours would improve supervision, communication, and coordination within the entire Engineering Department. Also, the hospital did not act unjustly or unfairly by giving the painters twelve months to make alternate arrangements before imposing the order for them to return to their ordinary work hours.

The Commission found that by requiring the painters to report during ordinary work hours, it was implementing a more efficient and accountable management of maintenance tasks. The hospital extensively consulted with the Union prior to implementing the return to ordinary working hours and there was no award impediment to the change in work hours. The Union was unable to show that the hospital’s requirement to return to ordinary working hours would be unfair, unjust, or unreasonable. The Union’s application was dismissed and the painters were ordered to report for work at 7 am until 3:30 pm beginning January 2017

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Unlawful termination lawyers answer the question

A certified public accountant worked as an employed professional under an employment agreement. The CPA received around$115,000 in annual income. As a professional, he did not perform work within a specified number of hours a day but worked to achieve the billable hours under his contract.

The CPA produced the employment agreement where it stated that office hours at the company were from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm. However, the same employment agreement provided that the hours of work were flexible and that the CPA may be called to perform work outside the normal office hours.

It was clear that there was no agreement between the CPA and the employer that he would be paid overtime for all the effort performed beyond the normal work hours or that he was to be allowed “time off in lieu” of the hours worked outside the normal work hours.

The CPA first asked for “time off in lieu” at least one year prior to resigning from his employment. Two years after he resigned, he brought this claim for payment of a sum of money equivalent to the “time off in lieu”. The court found that there was no basis for the claim and dismissed it.

From the facts of this case, it can be gleaned that for employed professionals whose employment agreements provide for flexible work hours, there is a need for a separate agreement providing for payment of overtime pay or payment of “time off in lieu” of effort performed beyond the normal hours. Without an agreement for overtime pay or “time off in lieu” then a claim for payment for effort performed beyond normal working hours does not have any basis.

The ruling would have been different had the employee not been a professional and had his employment agreement not provided for flexible working hours. Generally, employer may request employees to work overtime when the overtime effort is reasonable. Overtime work must not pose a risk to the health and safety of the employee and must not encroach on their family responsibilities. The employee must receive payment for overtime at a higher rate than work performed during normal working hours. Also, the employee must be given enough notice before requiring them to work overtime. An employee can refuse to work overtime if the request is unreasonable.

When an employer terminates the employment of a worker for his or her refusal to work overtime, the employee may make an application for unlawful termination or for an adverse action. The employee can claim that consequent to exercising his or her workplace right to refuse to effort overtime, he or she was dismissed from employment. The burden of proving that the request for overtime work was not “unreasonable” rests on the employer. Thus, employers should exercise care and caution in requiring their employees to render overtime work.

To overcome the burden of proving that the request for overtime work is reasonable, the employer must provide evidence that there is a relevant business need for the requirement to effort overtime and the employer must make enquiries on the personal circumstance of their employees to ensure that they will not be prejudiced by a request for overtime work.

Employment Legal Advice: FWC Rules No Redundancy Exists if Due Only to Salary Cut

A pay cut rejected by workers does not equate to a valid redundancy, the Fair Work Commission recently ruled.

In Mr Leon Mallard; Mr Steven Bolton; Mr Bernard Stonehouse; Mr Jason Wood v Parabellum International Pty Ltd T/A Parabellum International [2017] FWC 2531 (15 May 2017), the Fair Work Commission ruled that jobs of four workers, all of whom worked in emergency services, were not genuinely rendered rendundant on the basis of a pay cut

The four emergency service workers were employed by Parabellum, which supplies the services to Chevron. Due to a reduction in contract prices by Chevron, Parabellum faced significant financial challenges and attempted to reduce costs specifically the salaries of the workforce.

In the termination letters, Parabellum informed the workers that their jobs were made redundant, yet previously offered the same job for a reduced salary. Seeing as the workers rejected the job offer with lower pay, their employment was terminated.

The Fair Work Commission reviewed Section 389 of the Fair Work Act, which defined what a genuine redundancy is. Deputy President Bull stated that a genuine redundancy is “not restricted to whether an employee’s job is no longer required”.

Parabellum urged the Commission to take a wide interpretation of the provision, alleging that the “person’s job” includes all contractual arrangements the employer and employee entered into by contract, which includes employee remuneration. Parabellum contended that when the pay in an employee’s job is varied, and the role is no longer required to be performed at the original salary, then the job is no longer required to be performed by anyone, regardless if the duties and responsibilities are the same as those in the original job.

The Fair Work Commission examined relevant case law, specifically the definition of Bray CJ in R v Industrial Commission of South Australia; Ex parte Adelaide Milk Supply Co-Op Ltd (1977) 16 SASR 6, where redundancy was defined as the situation when “the employer no longer desires to have it performed by anyone.” Reference was also made to the definition of the word “job”, and it was noted that many of the definitions focused on the tasks, work, results, of a job, and none of them referenced the importance of the salary as an essential part of the definition of a job.

The “person’s job to be performed” under the Fair Work Act are, per Deputy President Bull, “the functions, duties and responsibilities associated with the job”. Remuneration then would be “the value placed on performing the job by the employer”, and variations in salaries “does not equate to the employer no longer requiring ‘the job’ to be performed”.

Therefore, a redundant job is one where the functions, duties and responsibilities of the job are determined by the employer as superfluous to the current needs. However, as the Commission noted, when Parabellum hired others to do the job at the lower pay, and even offered the same job at the lower salary to the four workers, then the jobs were not genuinely redundant.

Lessons for Employees – Seek Proper Employment Legal Advice

Knowing your rights is key to understanding how employment law works for you. Employees should, as in this case, ascertain the nature of the proposed redundancy, and logically, if the same work is required by the employer, then it is not a real redundancy.

Contact us for employment legal advice in Perth, Western Australia.

Clinic Needed Better Unfair Dismissal Lawyers, Lost Two Cases in the FWC

An abortion clinic was found to have unfairly dismissed two of its employees, a mother and daughter duo, after failing to properly investigate allegations of fraudulent recording of time worked and bullying.

In Mrs Nicole Webb v The Trustee for SWC Unit Trust T/A Salisbury Day Surgery [2017] FWC 2573 (26 May 2017) and Ms Lauren Webb v The Trustee for SWC Unit Trust T/A Salisbury Day Surgery [2017] FWC 2572 (26 May 2017), the Fair Work Commission noted that the clinic could not justify accusations of bullying and fraud by the practice manager and receptionist.

The clinic’s director accused the practice manager of having threatened the dismissal of two nurses for having let patients unattended, some of which were unconscious. He also accused the duo of having taken excessive cigarette breaks and long lunch breaks which were not accurately reflected in their time sheets.

Commissioner Spencer stated in the decision that the clinic director failed to properly investigate the allegations as well as endeavour to resolve the situation before the dismissals were effected.

With regard to the allegations of fraud, the clinic director alleged that fraud was committed where the employees stated they did not take lunch breaks but were actually seen eating lunch and chatting for periods “well in excess of 30 minutes”. Allegations by other employees accused the applicant of leaving the clinic to go shopping, while the time sheets reflected that she was in the office at the time.

Finally, the clinic director alleged that the duo took excessive cigarette breaks, justifying it by stating that he had counted 18 cigarette butts in the bin a day after he had emptied it, and with an average of 10 minutes per cigarette, the two employees spent 180 minutes or three hours smoking in one day

Commissioner Spencer stated that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure time sheets and records were accurate, citing Sections 535 and 536 of the Act that “employers have certain obligations with respect to time and wages record keeping”. Hence, by the clinic failing to audit the timesheets over a long period of time, Commissioner Spencer noted that the failure “seems to be an admission of culpability by the [clinic].”

With regard to the bullying charges, the Commission noted that the employees were not given ample time and opportunity to face the allegations. They were informed of the charge one day, and three days later were told to hand in their keys to the clinic. The clinic director, faced with the investigation with Fair Work Australia lodged by the nurses, was quoted to have said that “he cannot afford to have himself or his business go down this track”.

Ruling on the allegations, Commissioner Spencer noted that the inaccuracies of the timesheets were in fact a valid reason for dismissal of the employees. However, the “significant procedural

deficiencies” on the part of the clinic undermined the ground for dismissal and resulted in unfair dismissal.

Also, the fact that the clinic director failed to present full records in support of the reasons for dismissal to the employees took away the employees’ opportunity to have support persons present and affording them a “reasonable period to respond to the full documentation and to consider the allegations in a proximate way to the dates of alleged conduct”.

The Commission ordered compensation of $4,500 to one employee equivalent to four weeks’ worth of wages, but didn’t order the same for the other employee as she was able to secure alternative employment immediately.

Lessons for Employees

It is important to note here that the Commission noted there were valid grounds for dismissal. The inaccuracies in the timesheets were indeed enough for the clinic to terminate the employment. Always be accurate when you log in and log out of work with your records and timesheets. On that basis alone, the employment could have been terminated, if not for the procedural technicalities that the clinic director failed to abide with, again clearly needing better unfair dismissal lawyers, in Perth, Western AustraliaAnchor.

The Advantages of Lodging a General Protections Claim – A Guide by Adverse Action Lawyers, Perth

If an employee has had their employment terminated, an employee can commence various claims arising from the dismissal, including a general protections claim (also known as an adverse action claim), an unfair dismissal claim, or a discrimination claim.

Question

This article explores the advantages of commencing a general protections claim over an unfair dismissal claim.

Section 725 of the Fair Work Act 2009 specifies that a person must not commence, among other things, a general protections claim and an unfair dismissal claim at the same time. This forces a dismissed employee to choose one or the other.

We often advise dismissed employees who have the option of making both claims. If you are faced with the choice of commencing both an unfair dismissal claim and general protections claim, which one do you choose?Generally speaking, it is more advantageous to commence a general protections claim for the reasons mentioned below.

No Compensation Cap

A general protections claim does not have a limit on the amount of money that a person can receive if successful in their claim.

While an unfair dismissal claim does have a maximum compensation cap of six months’ salary or wages, provided the amount is no more than 50% of the high-income threshold (which from1 July 2016 is $138,900); therefore the maximum compensation in unfair dismissal claims is $69,450.

Generally, the losses that an employee suffers arising from dismissal include lost income during periods of unemployment, lost income arising from missing out on future promotion opportunities, and losses arising from accepting an alternative lower-paying position found after dismissal. Under the unfair dismissal system, a dismissed employee often misses out on recovering all these losses.

Under the general protections system, a dismissed employee can recover their entire lost income losses without it generally being reduced. Statistically, damages for general protections claims are higher than for unfair dismissal claims.

No Onerous Prerequisites

Unfair dismissal laws have certain qualifying provisions which must occur before the dismissed employee has a right to lodge an unfair dismissal claim.

The first such prerequisite includes a minimum period of service, which is either six months or 12 months, depending on how many employees a business has.

The second prerequisite is that the employee cannot earn more than the high-income threshold(which from 1 July 2016 is $138,900) unless the employeeis covered by modern award or enterprise bargaining agreement.

Thirdly, independent contractors do not have the right to lodge an unfair dismissal claim, whereas independent contractors do have the right to lodge a general protections complaint.

Fourthly, casual employees do not have the right to lodge an unfair dismissal claim unless they worked on a regular and systematic basis,whereas casual employees do have the right to lodgea general protections claim, irrespective of whether they worked on a regular and systematic basis or not.

The above restrictions do not apply to general protections complaints and, therefore, the general protections system is open to more people than the unfair dismissal system.

You Can Recover Penalties

Under the unfair dismissal system, a successful employee is only entitled to compensation at the above capped amount, and also to reinstatement in limited circumstances.

Under the general protections provisions, a successful litigant is entitled to compensation as well as the ability to have civil penalties imposed against the business. A civil penalty is a further payment that the business is required to pay as a penalty for their breach of the general protections laws.

The current maximum penalties are $54,000 for corporationsand$10,800 for individuals. This penaltiesapply for each breach.

This penalty is usually paid to the person who succeeds in the claim. There are no such penalties available in the unfair dismissal system.

You Can Claim Damages for Distress, Anxiety and Depression

Under the unfair dismissal system, a successful litigant cannot recover compensation for their hurt feelings, anxiety, humiliation, or depression which arose from the dismissal. Under the general protections system, a successful litigant can recover these types of damages.

We often see employees experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress because of the manner in which they were dismissed.

The Reversal of the Onus of Proof

Under the unfair dismissal laws, an employee has the responsibility of proving their case. The employee has the ‘burden of the proof’.

Under the general protections laws, provided the person commencing the claim raises some preliminaryfacts to support their claim, the business has the burden of proving that they did not breach the general protections laws. Therefore, the responsibility of proving the case rests on the business and not on the person commencing the claim. This is an advantage in litigation because if the business is not able to discharge their burden of proof, the person commencing the claim will be successful.

Please contact our general protections claims lawyers if you have any questions about this article.

Some Tips When Dismissing an Employee from a Termination of Employment Lawyer

In Australia, if an employee is terminated unlawfully, then the business can be exposed to various types of claims including unfair dismissal, general protections, or discrimination claims. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the procedures are followed correctly when dismissing an employee.

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Valid Reason

An employer must have a valid reason to dismiss an employee. An employee should be notified of the reason for their dismissal before their employment is terminated.

It is best practice to either sit down with the employee and advise the employee of the reason, or send written correspondence to the employee setting out the reasons before the dismissal occurs.

An often relied on reason for termination is redundancy. Redundancy occurs when the employee’s position is no longer required to be performed by anyone. Redundancy is about removing the position and not about removing the employee. The business must also ensure that the redundancy is a genuine redundancy and not a sham redundancy. The business must also ensure that they consult with the employee beforehand and also look for alternative work that the employee may be suited to perform before terminating the employee for redundancy.

Another reason is dismissal for poor performance. Before an employee is dismissed for this reason, an employee must be given a reasonable opportunity to improve. This often means that the employee should be put on a performance improvement plan, and the employee must be advised on what they are doing wrong and how to improve it. A business should not act with too much haste in terminating an employee who is performing poorly.

However, if the employee has been with the business for less than six months, then the employee is not covered by unfair dismissal laws, and their employment can be terminated without giving the employee a proper opportunity to improve. This often is applicable in cases where the employee is on probation. However, if the business is relying on this type of dismissal, it is important to ensure that this dismissal only relates to performance and it does not relate to any other issue which may be unlawful. For example, it is unlawful to terminate an employee because they have made a complaint regarding their employment (which is known as exercising your workplace right).

Another common reason for termination is misconduct. Misconduct can take various forms and can be further classified into serious misconduct or regular misconduct. Serious misconduct is usually an act that is done intentionally, and is often more than just a mere error of judgment. It is misconduct of such a serious nature that it would be unreasonable to continue the employment relationship. Serious misconduct includes things such as stealing from the employer, swearing at the employer, or assaulting the staff.

Regular misconduct includes other wrongdoing by the employee.

Serious misconduct allows the employee to be terminated without notice. In the case of regular misconduct, the employee must be given notice before they are terminated.

Opportunity to Respond

The employee must be given an opportunity to respond before they are dismissed. This is usually done by having a meeting with the employee and giving all the proposed reasons the business intends to rely on to terminate their employment. In other words, give the employee an opportunity to have their say. This can be done at a meeting, or alternatively, this can be done after the meeting, where the employee puts in a written response addressing the proposed reasons.

The business should not make the definitive decision to terminate the employee before they have given the employee a chance to respond.

Document Everything

It is important that the business documents everything. The reason for this is that if the matter proceeds to a hearing, then it can be difficult to establish what was said if it is not in writing. After each important meeting, it is good practice to send a summary of what occurred at that meeting to the employee.

Support Person

If the employee requests a support person, then the business must allow that support person to be present at the meeting. It should also be noted that the support person is not an advocate of the employee but simply attends for moral support. The support person is not authorised to speak on the employee’s behalf.

Navigating the Laws on Unfair Dismissal

The laws on unfair dismissal can be complicated and difficult to navigate. The purpose of this article is to provide some information to help the readers navigate this often complicated system.

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No Double Applications

When an employee is terminated, they have the right to lodge many different types of applications, including an unfair dismissal application, general protections application, and even a discrimination application in the Human Rights Commission.

Sections 725 and 734 of the Fair Work Act 2009 specify that an employee can only make one such application if they are dismissed.

If an employee makes two applications, then only one will be permitted to remain active and the others will be dismissed because it contravenes this rule. The policy consideration behind this rule is to minimise the number of claims that the Commission and the courts hear regarding issues involving termination of employment. This rule forces an employee to make a decision on which application they are to commence. Sometimes this decision is difficult, because an employee may, for example, have the right to file both an unfair dismissal claim anda general protections claim.

Cost Orders

The unfair dismissal laws specify that, generally, a party to an unfair dismissal application will have to carry their own legal costs. In most instances, this will be the case. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule which anyone commencing such an application should be aware of.

The Fair Work Act 2009 is the primary legislation which governs the law on unfair dismissal.

Sections 400A and 611 of the Act sets out the circumstances in which legal costs can be ordered to be paid by one of the parties to the proceedings. These sectionsspecify that the Commission can order a party to pay the costs incurred by the other party if such costs arose because of an “unreasonable act or omission” in connection with the unfair dismissal application.

What counts as an unreasonable act may include things such as rejecting a reasonable settlement offer in circumstances where the offer is close to or equal to what a party may obtain if they are successful at trial. In unfair dismissal claims, an employee is entitled to a maximum of six months’ wages or salary, or 50% of the annual high-income threshold, less allowable deductions such as payments made in lieu of notice to the employee.

For example, if the employee is offered six months’ salary less the four weeks’ notice which was paid to the employee in lieu upon termination, this would represent a very generous offer. This would represent the maximum the employee would be entitled to if the employee were successful at the hearing. Therefore, if the employee rejects such an offer, it is likely that the employee would need to pay the employer’s legal costs because a rejection of this offer would clearly fall within the meaning of unreasonable act as specified in the legislation.

Alternatively, if an employee has lodges claim that would be unlikely to succeed at trial and the employee rejects a reasonable offer made by the employer, then if it can be shown that the employee’s case had no reasonable prospect of success at the time that the offer was rejected, then that would also amount to an unreasonable act which will entitle the employer to obtain legal costs if the matter proceeded to hearing.

Costs can also be obtained against a party if they commence legal proceedings which have no basis and are doomed to fail.

The decision on whether or not a case has no reasonable prospect of success must be determined objectively at the time of filing the proceedings. The law specifies that such a conclusion  should only be reached with extreme caution.

Reaching such a finding is generally difficult in practice. A common example where such a finding would be made would be if the employee and the employer reached a settlement agreement under which the employee agreed to release the employer from all claims, including the unfair dismissal claim. If the employee continues with the unfair dismissal claim, then the employee would be running a case that has no reasonable prospect of success (because of the settlement agreement). In this situation, the employee is at risk of having costs ordered against them.