Practice Areas

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  • Labour and Employment Law

    Labour and Employment Law Definition

    Australian labour and employment law is complex by international standards. Australian workers arguably enjoy more statutory protections than employees in many other jurisdictions and, as a result, the employer/employee relationship in Australia is a source of considerable legal complexity and risk.

    This area of law regulates the minimum terms and conditions of employment for all employees. These entitlements, which include minimum rates of pay, maximum hours of work, and leave entitlements, are derived from Federal and State legislation, individual contracts of employment, and collective industrial instruments such as awards and enterprise agreements. Significant penalties apply for failing to comply with these minimum standards.

    Extensive legislative and common law obligations regulate the conduct of individuals and employers at work. This includes anti-discrimination laws (both Federal and State), laws relating to the management of injured workers, and laws preventing unfair dismissal and other adverse treatment at work. Lawyers practising in this area are also skilled in performance management and disciplinary processes.

    Australia also has strict laws regarding interaction between employee organisations (unions) and employers. These laws cover the right of unions to enter a workplace, the ability to take industrial action (for example, strikes or lock outs) and the negotiation of industrial agreements. Australian industrial tribunals have various powers under which they can hear and resolve industrial disputes.

    There are risks particular to managerial and executive employees. These include compliance with corporations laws (for example, provisions relating to executive remuneration and termination payments) as well as increased scope for litigation in connection with termination of employment. Typical causes of action (which are not exclusive to executives but more commonly applied by them) include claims of misleading or deceptive conduct during recruitment, claims for notice and/or redundancy pay and alleged breaches of binding company policies.

    Lawyers who practise in the field of labour and employment law regularly advise on the employment aspects of commercial arrangements, such as business acquisitions and sales and the establishment of contractor or labour hire arrangements. Similarly, lawyers frequently prepare and advise on contractual clauses seeking to protect an employer's confidential information or to restrain the post-employment activities of employees (particularly executives) to prevent damage to the employer's business interests (for example, from the poaching of clients or employees or from the executive working in direct competition).

    Last, but certainly not least, employers and employees have extensive obligations concerning the safety of persons in the workplace. These obligations arise both at common law and under specific State legislation. An employer, and in some cases individuals (company officers, managers, and employees), who fail to comply with a statutory obligation can be subject to criminal prosecution.

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