What HR needs to know about upcoming laws for engaging casual workers


With new rules for engaging casual workers due to come into effect in August, a legal expert outlines how HR can prepare.

The Fair Work Amendment (Closing Loopholes No 2) Bill was recently passed, making significant changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act). Among these changes is a new definition of ‘casual employee’ which will come into effect on 26 August 2024. 

Previously, under section 15A of the FW Act, the definition of casual employment was if:

  1. An offer of employment by the employer is made on the basis of no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work.
  2. The person accepts the offer.  
  3. The person is an employee as a result of the acceptance. 

The new definition of casual employment considers the practical reality of the relationship, as opposed to merely the terms in the employment contract (as was previously the case). Broadly put, the new definition encompasses an absence of a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, and in circumstances where the employee is entitled to a casual loading or specific rate of casual pay under an industrial instrument. 

There are a broad range of considerations to determine whether there is an absence of firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, including the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the employment relationship, and whether: 

  • There is an inability of the employer to elect to offer work, or an inability of the employee to accept or reject work.
  • It is reasonably likely there will be future availability of continuing work.
  • There are full-time or part-time employees performing the same kind of work.
  • There is a regular pattern of work for the employee.
  • These amendments acknowledge a firm advance can take a range of different forms, including in an employment contract, but importantly, through a mutual understanding or reasonable expectation.

New pathways for casual workers to convert to permanent employment

The changes also include a new pathway for employees to change to permanent employment status, previously known as casual conversion. The new pathway replaces the existing right to casual conversion. 

If an employee has been employed for six months (12 months in a small business), they can choose to change their employment status to permanent. There must be a specific event which clearly shows the transition, and it’s now up to the employee to initiate the shift to employment. 

The upside is that the onus is no longer on the employer to review and offer casual conversion.

“The new definition of casual employment considers the practical reality of the relationship, as opposed to merely the terms in the employment contract.”  

Akin to requests for flexible work arrangements, casuals can write to their employer to notify them that they’d like to change their employment status, and employers are required to respond within 21 days. 

An employer may refuse a notification on any one of the following grounds:

  • They believe the employee has been correctly classified as a casual employee, e.g. they aren’t working on a systematic basis.
  • There are fair and reasonable operational grounds for not accepting the notification, such as if substantial changes would be required to the way work in the business is organised to allow the employee to convert. 
  • A change of employment status to full-time or part-time would not comply with a recruitment or selection process required by law, such as the Public Service Act 1999, which outlines that casuals cannot convert without a competitive selection process.

Avoidance penalties to be aware of

The changes will also introduce new anti-avoidance provisions to prevent employers from improperly engaging casual workers. This means employers must not: 

  • Dismiss or threaten to dismiss an employee with the plan to then re-engage them as casual. 
  • Make false statements to persuade an individual to enter a casual employment contract, such as telling them they will be financially better off.
  • Misrepresent employment as casual.

Breaching these provisions can attract civil penalties. The maximum payable under the FW Act increased by 500 per cent for both standard civil contraventions and serious contraventions from 27 February 2024. Companies can now face fines of $469,500, or $4,695,000 for serious contraventions.

Implications for employers engaging casual workers

HR professionals should get across these changes and update their casual conversion processes and procedures to ensure a smooth transition and compliance with the new regime.  Factors to consider include: 

  • While not having a firm advance commitment to continuing work is a consideration in determining whether an employee is casual, employers should still consider any conduct on their behalf which could suggest the employee is not a casual (e.g. while a contract says there will not be commitment, sending a text to the casual promising to give them a specific shift every week).
  • Ensuring casuals are paid a casual rate or casual loading where they would otherwise be entitled to one under an industrial instrument.
  • Being aware that casuals can now request conversion to permanency, and considering what grounds (if any) an employer has to reject such a request.

Fay Calderone is an Employment Partner at Hall and Wilcox. 

A version of this article was first published in the June 2024 edition of HRM Magazine.


Take your employment law knowledge to the next level with AHRI’s new Advanced HR Law short course.


 

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Chloe
Chloe
9 days ago

These changes emphasise that employees may like to become permanent and this would give them the opportunity to do so, however, what happens when employees want to remain casual when the relationship changes to one with a firm advance commitment? Particularly now that employers don’t have to offer conversion…. will employers be able to terminate without risk of unfair dismissal?

Michelle
Michelle
7 days ago

What do they mean by ‘specific event’? – ‘There must be a specific event which clearly shows the transition…’

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What HR needs to know about upcoming laws for engaging casual workers


With new rules for engaging casual workers due to come into effect in August, a legal expert outlines how HR can prepare.

The Fair Work Amendment (Closing Loopholes No 2) Bill was recently passed, making significant changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act). Among these changes is a new definition of ‘casual employee’ which will come into effect on 26 August 2024. 

Previously, under section 15A of the FW Act, the definition of casual employment was if:

  1. An offer of employment by the employer is made on the basis of no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work.
  2. The person accepts the offer.  
  3. The person is an employee as a result of the acceptance. 

The new definition of casual employment considers the practical reality of the relationship, as opposed to merely the terms in the employment contract (as was previously the case). Broadly put, the new definition encompasses an absence of a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, and in circumstances where the employee is entitled to a casual loading or specific rate of casual pay under an industrial instrument. 

There are a broad range of considerations to determine whether there is an absence of firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, including the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the employment relationship, and whether: 

  • There is an inability of the employer to elect to offer work, or an inability of the employee to accept or reject work.
  • It is reasonably likely there will be future availability of continuing work.
  • There are full-time or part-time employees performing the same kind of work.
  • There is a regular pattern of work for the employee.
  • These amendments acknowledge a firm advance can take a range of different forms, including in an employment contract, but importantly, through a mutual understanding or reasonable expectation.

New pathways for casual workers to convert to permanent employment

The changes also include a new pathway for employees to change to permanent employment status, previously known as casual conversion. The new pathway replaces the existing right to casual conversion. 

If an employee has been employed for six months (12 months in a small business), they can choose to change their employment status to permanent. There must be a specific event which clearly shows the transition, and it’s now up to the employee to initiate the shift to employment. 

The upside is that the onus is no longer on the employer to review and offer casual conversion.

“The new definition of casual employment considers the practical reality of the relationship, as opposed to merely the terms in the employment contract.”  

Akin to requests for flexible work arrangements, casuals can write to their employer to notify them that they’d like to change their employment status, and employers are required to respond within 21 days. 

An employer may refuse a notification on any one of the following grounds:

  • They believe the employee has been correctly classified as a casual employee, e.g. they aren’t working on a systematic basis.
  • There are fair and reasonable operational grounds for not accepting the notification, such as if substantial changes would be required to the way work in the business is organised to allow the employee to convert. 
  • A change of employment status to full-time or part-time would not comply with a recruitment or selection process required by law, such as the Public Service Act 1999, which outlines that casuals cannot convert without a competitive selection process.

Avoidance penalties to be aware of

The changes will also introduce new anti-avoidance provisions to prevent employers from improperly engaging casual workers. This means employers must not: 

  • Dismiss or threaten to dismiss an employee with the plan to then re-engage them as casual. 
  • Make false statements to persuade an individual to enter a casual employment contract, such as telling them they will be financially better off.
  • Misrepresent employment as casual.

Breaching these provisions can attract civil penalties. The maximum payable under the FW Act increased by 500 per cent for both standard civil contraventions and serious contraventions from 27 February 2024. Companies can now face fines of $469,500, or $4,695,000 for serious contraventions.

Implications for employers engaging casual workers

HR professionals should get across these changes and update their casual conversion processes and procedures to ensure a smooth transition and compliance with the new regime.  Factors to consider include: 

  • While not having a firm advance commitment to continuing work is a consideration in determining whether an employee is casual, employers should still consider any conduct on their behalf which could suggest the employee is not a casual (e.g. while a contract says there will not be commitment, sending a text to the casual promising to give them a specific shift every week).
  • Ensuring casuals are paid a casual rate or casual loading where they would otherwise be entitled to one under an industrial instrument.
  • Being aware that casuals can now request conversion to permanency, and considering what grounds (if any) an employer has to reject such a request.

Fay Calderone is an Employment Partner at Hall and Wilcox. 

A version of this article was first published in the June 2024 edition of HRM Magazine.


Take your employment law knowledge to the next level with AHRI’s new Advanced HR Law short course.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chloe
Chloe
9 days ago

These changes emphasise that employees may like to become permanent and this would give them the opportunity to do so, however, what happens when employees want to remain casual when the relationship changes to one with a firm advance commitment? Particularly now that employers don’t have to offer conversion…. will employers be able to terminate without risk of unfair dismissal?

Michelle
Michelle
7 days ago

What do they mean by ‘specific event’? – ‘There must be a specific event which clearly shows the transition…’

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.
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