As well as the health and safety reforms, further changes to employment law are ahead. The Employment Standards Legislation Bill was passed on 11 March, and is set to come into force on 1 April. The Bill brings a raft of changes to employment law, amending various pieces of legislation affecting employment relations and employment standards. We summarise the main changes below.
Enforcement of Employment Standards
Record Keeping The Bill introduces positive obligations on employers to keep adequate records to demonstrate compliance with minimum employment standards, such as paying the minimum wage, providing leave entitlements and providing a written employment agreement. There is no prescribed format for records, as long as the employer can show compliance with the law.
Sanctions for breaches of employment standards From 1 April, the financial penalties for breaches of employment standards (such as failing to pay the minimum wage) will increase significantly. Where an employer is guilty of a breach, they may be liable for a fine of:
- $50,000 for an individual, or
- $100,000 or three times the financial gain from the breach (whichever is the greater amount) for a company.
Banning Orders Employers who breach minimum standards will be publicly named and shamed. Serious or repeat offenders may be banned from being an employer (in a personal capacity or as an officer of a company) for up to 10 years.
Prohibiting Unfair Practices
Following a last minute change to the Bill, from 1 April employers will no longer be able to use ‘zero hour contracts’, where employees are not guaranteed hours of work but are required to be available for work.
Employers will be required to guarantee a minimum number of hours for all employees. As well, employers will only be able to require employees to be available for additional work where they have a genuine reason for needing employees to be available, and employees who are required to be available will be entitled to reasonable compensation for their time.
The amended legislation will also provide protection to shift workers where shifts are cancelled at short notice or during their shift, and will prevent employers placing unreasonable restrictions on secondary employment.
Changes to Parental Leave
Amendments to the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 expand entitlement to paid parental leave to all employees, including casual, fixed term, seasonal and temporary employees, and to employees who have recently changed jobs.
The amendments introduce a new concept, primary carer, to extend parental leave entitlements to all those who assume primary, non-temporary responsibility for raising a child, rather than just biological and formal adoptive parents. This recognises that in some circumstances care of a new born child will fall to a person other than the birth parents, such as a grandparent or other family member.
New parents will be able to do up to 40 hours paid work during their paid parental leave period, in order to keep in touch with their workplace and attend training. These ‘keeping-in-touch hours’ can be used at any time during the paid parental leave period, except during the first 28 days of a newborn child’s life.
Increase to Minimum Wage
From 1 April 2016, the minimum wage will increase by 50 cents/hour to $15.25/hour. The starting out and training wage will increase from $11.80 to $12.20/hour. Employers will need to ensure they have increased any employees’ wages or salary accordingly.
Employers should also be mindful that any salaried employees should not be working hours that would result in an hourly rate of less than the minimum wage.
Disclaimer: All the information published in the Employment Bulletin is true and accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or Simpson Western for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of this firm. Articles in the Employment Bulletin may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.