Workplace & Employment
On 20 May 2020, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia handed down its decision in WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato. The case centres around labour hire firm WorkPac, which employed Robert Rossato as a mine worker at two Queensland mines owned by Glencore. Mr Rossato was a casual employee, on rolling contracts, over a three-and-a-half-year period. As a casual, he was paid an extra 25 percent loading on top of his wage — which is the usual practice to make up for not being given benefits such as annual leave. The Full Federal Court dismissed WorkPac’s application for a declaration that Mr Rossato was a casual employee, instead finding that Mr Rossato was a permanent employee. It was found that because Mr Rossato's employment was "regular, certain, continuing, constant and predictable", and he was given rostered shifts well in advance, he was eligible to entitlements that full time employees receive under the National Employment Standards (NES) in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and the relevant Enterprise Agreement: being paid annual leave, paid personal/carer’s leave, paid compassionate leave, and payment for public holidays. This is an important decision for employers who engage casuals, whether directly or as a host employer. Pending any intervention by the Federal Government or appeal to the High Court, employers should now carefully review their casual employment arrangements, update the terms of their casual contracts, and revisit their arrangements with labour hire companies and their workers. In particular: • Employers should review their casual arrangements with a view to determining whether some other form of engagement is more appropriate – including part time and fixed term arrangements. • Assuming casual engagement is still appropriate, specific attention should be given to the employee’s written contract to ensure that the casual loading is a separately identifiable amount that is stated to be paid as a result of the employee not being entitled to NES or other entitlements peculiar to permanent employment. We also suggest a statement to the effect that if the employment is subsequently determined not to be casual employment, the employer is entitled to repayment of the casual loading. • Regular reviews of casual arrangements should be conducted – at least once every 12 months – to assess the likelihood of the employment being a “firm advance commitment” of employment. We can assist you if you have any questions about how the Workpac v Rossato decision may impact the work arrangements in your own organisation or more generally in relation to how you are employing or engaging your workforce.
24 Jun 2020
Workplace & Employment
Q: Some mid-career employees have been working for 10 years without a formal employment contract. I've had no problem without an employment contract, but should I still have a written employment contract? (Male in his 40s working in the HR department of a Japanese company) A: Employment contracts do not necessarily have to be reduced in writing. Oral employment contracts have legal effect. Even if specific terms of employment contract have not been discussed, there is in principle an employment relationship if an employee actually works for an employer. It goes without saying that wages, working hours, annual leave and superannuation, etc. must meet the minimum labour standards set by law, even if no detailed employment conditions are negotiated. However, labour standards set by law are complex. Employers may inadvertently violate minimum labour standards if they do not ensure that minimum employment standards are well covered in the employment contract. Fair Work Ombudsman may impose a fine in case of violation of the standards. Also, even if employees are employed under conditions that exceed the minimum labour standards, it is necessary to confirm and reduce in writing that both parties understand the details of the terms. When an annual salary is presented (as opposed to hourly wages), there could be a disagreement between the parties about what their wage covers. For example, an employer may understand that the salary includes reasonable overtime work, while an employee understood that overtime works are billable separately. In this case, the employer is legally required to notify the employee in writing that the overtime payment is included in the salary. Another common issue is that in the absence of a contract, an uncertainty arises whether a notice is required to terminate an employment contract. Generally, if an employment contract states that a notice of dismissal should be given before certain weeks (except for unfair and illegal dismissal), an employee must be informed of the termination before that period. However, in the absence of a written agreement, the notice of termination must be a reasonable period. The reasonable period is determined case-by-case. If you hire a position that involves creativity, you need to make sure who owns the intellectual property that arises as your employees perform their duties. In addition, it will be disadvantageous for employers if an employment contract fails to incorporate confidentiality obligations and non-competition obligations after termination. Especially for mid-career employees or employees in senior management positions, if above terms are not stipulated in their employment contract, it can lead to major legal issues later. Though it may be difficult to ask an employee to sign an employment contract suddenly, it is recommended that a written employment contract is presented to employees at their promotion.
04 Jul 2019
Q: I have been living in Australia for almost 20 years. I have been married to my husband for five years but have hardly any contact with him. I had considered starting procedures for divorce and marriage property distribution because our relationship had collapsed. However, I was recently informed that he was given six months to live due to final stage lung cancer. He has never written a will that would leave an inheritance to me. What would be my rights to the marriage property if he dies? And do I have any right to receive inheritance? A: Divorce and distribution of marital property in Australia are subject to the Family Law Act. If a marriage property proceeding has commenced pursuant to section 79(8) of the Act, even if one of them dies in the middle, it shall be continued by the executor or the estate administrator as the agent of the deceased. Importantly, the lawsuit must be initiated while the spouse is alive. If the proceeding has not begun before your husband dies, your right to claim for sharing marital property has expired. Therefore, if you choose the marriage property distribution method, you need to start legal action immediately. If your marriage distribution proceeding cannot begin before your husband dies, your rights will become the right as an inheritance. In this regard, if your husband wrote a will that would leave you with no property or only an inadequate inheritance, you would still be granted a family provision (similar to a Japanese claim for retention). The amount of inheritance under family provision is at the discretion of the court in light of your situation and other factors. The most important factor is whether you are dependent on your husband or have relied on him. On the other hand, in the case of seeking marriage property distribution, the family court is mainly concerned with the situation during the past marriage period. For example, the court takes into account how much each couple has contributed to decide the marriage property to be distributed. The contributions of a full-time housewife, such as childcare and housework, is of course an important factor to be considered.
15 Jun 2019
Thursday, 13 June 2019 – Rise of the boutique law firm Doing business with international partners – whether it be an entity operating on Australian soil or a local brand venturing offshore – can be fraught with difficulty. Between establishing a fresh customer base, navigating new laws, regulations and corporate governance, creating effective relationships and becoming nuanced with cultural mores (perhaps the trickiest of all), the business of doing business has the potential to bring an enterprise undone. For instance, exchanging a business card using one hand rather than two can be seen as a sign of disrespect in some cultures. Who would necessarily know? With Australians increasingly undertaking business across the world and with Asian powerhouses such as Japan, Korea and China, navigating the behind-the-scenes landscape, as well as providing direct services and advice, has become all important. Business owners and operators need to focus on what they do best, so employing people who specialise in troubleshooting make-or-break sensitive legal, technical and cultural matters is a vital and strategic move. Sydney’s H & H Lawyers offers this official and unofficial role in its capacity as a firm on the path to being Australia’s biggest ‘‘Asian’’ law firm. H & H Lawyers’ services include commercial and corporate advisory, acquisitions, dispute resolution, employment law, corporate migration and intellectual property. “Our bilingual lawyers have been inundated with work representing multinational corporations and government agencies from Japan, Korea and China that want to expand their businesses into Australia,” says Principal Ken Hong. “We have also been very busy acting for local clients with Japanese, Korean or Chinese backgrounds, or that have transactions with their counterparts in those three countries. “Demand for our services has escalated, so we are rapidly expanding to meet the demand.’’ Fellow Principal Yukio Hayashi says a vital aspect of the firm’s work includes “bridging fundamental cultural differences”. “This cross-cultural dexterity is not necessarily part of our brief, but it’s what we offer as well, as it is so essential,’’ he says. “Our team not only speaks the languages, but also intimately understands the cultural nuances of Asia. This saves our clients so much time in getting straight to the actual issues and resolutions. Without the right knowledge of culture, a lot of key messages can be lost in translation, particularly legal concepts, leading to a frustrating experience for all. “We had one situation recently in which there was an investment in an Australian business by a Japanese company. There were excellent managers and staff in situ, but the incoming management from Japan had their way of doing things that did not rest well with the Australian team, and vice versa.” “This friction was no one’s fault, but we made it our job to navigate the cultural minefield. We were able to get each side to see things from the other’s perspective and that made all the difference.” Hong and Hayashi say that by going this extra mile, the law firm can resolve difficulties and help international-facing businesses to thrive. “The importance of Australia’s trade relationships with Korea, China and Japan need no further explanation,’’ says Hong. “They are our top three trading partners. We look forward to continuing with our work and contributing to Australia’s successful trade relationships with those three countries.” Says Hayashi: “Our firm is well placed and equipped to help clients have a more fruitful, efficient and enjoyable experience in doing business.’’
13 Jun 2019
Commercial & Corporate
Q: I bought a pair of jeans, but I couldn't wear them because the zipper broke after wearing it twice. When I asked for a return, the store clerk told me, "The jean was an on-sale item, and we do not accept returns." How can I deal with this matter? A: In Australia, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) guarantees consumers various rights. The scope of ACL is very wide, and it can be applied not only to products but also to services. Section 54 of the ACL states, so to speak, that goods are of acceptable quality—that is, they are safe, durable and free from defects, are acceptable in appearance and finish and do what they are ordinarily expected to do. In this sense, the seller has to refund, replace or repair these jeans because clothes that break after being worn twice would not be "reasonably durable". Section 54 of the ACL determines "reasonable quality" for a product by taking into account various factors such as general use, price, labelling, etc. For example, a $5 t-shirt naturally has a lower degree of "reasonable quality" than that of a $50 t-shirt. In other words, the $5 t-shirt being discoloured after several times of washing will not fall under a consumer guarantee claim. If a home appliance such as a refrigerator breaks after one year of normal use, it will not be considered "reasonably durable". Products such as home appliances often come with a manufacturer's warranty for a fixed period (for example a one-year warranty). However, although this manufacturer's warranty expires, the consumer's right could continue if section 54 applies. In addition, ACL requires manufacturers to incorporate into a warranty the term that "this manufacturer's warranty does not limit the consumer's ACL rights". Furthermore, even if the purchased goods are goods on sale, used goods or goods purchased on the Internet, despite a difference in the degree of guarantee, section 54 of ACL still applies. Situations in which the ACL consumer guarantee does not apply include a purchase of goods without receipts or proof of purchase, a purchase between private individuals without receipt (e.g. garage sales) or at auctions or with goods used unusually. Additionally, there may be cases in which consumers want to return a product just because they changed their mind without any problem with quality. In such cases, ACL does not apply. Accordingly, for the current case, if the store does not accept the return of the jeans, it is recommended that you first tell the store manager that you will consult with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or Fair Trading. If they still deny responding, we encourage you to contact these agencies.
06 Jun 2019
Wills & Estate
Q:Recently, my mother passed away. Her will stated that, in addition to part of the mother's deposit, the house she owned would be handed over to me, but the condition of the inheritance was that I would "be baptised and become a Christian". During her life, my mother was a devout Christian, but I am not interested in any religion. Are these bequest conditions legally binding? A: In short, it is likely that such conditions of inheritance will be legally acceptable. In particular, if the will specifies how the inheritance will be treated in the case that you do not satisfy the conditions, it will be more likely that such conditions are legally binding. Therefore, you need to examine your mother's will in detail. In principle, "freedom of will" is recognised in Australia so that a testator can freely decide who and how his or her estate will be inherited. Generally, if the conditions of an inheritance are 1) clear, 2) achievable, and 3) not contrary to public policy, the condition of the inheritance is considered valid. There is a case held in 2014 before the NSW Supreme Court in 2014, Carolyn Margaret Hicken v Robyn Patricia Carroll & Ors (No2), in which the court discussed the validity of a condition that an heir needs to be baptized by the Catholic Church within three months of the death of his father. The heir of course claimed that the above conditions were invalid. In particular, he argued that the condition was "inconsistent with public policy" because "it is religious discrimination, which creates discord within the family and also infringes universal human rights and freedom concepts". In response, the court ruled that "the condition does not force the heir to change his or her religion, and they are not contrary to public policy". In other words, the heir had the choice of converting and receiving an inheritance or keeping his or her own religion. In addition, it was held that the condition was clear and achievable. One of the major factors that led to such a decision was that the will specified who would inherit if the heir failed to meet the condition. In the current matter, it will be determined that the mother's inheritance conditions do not oblige her child to be converted. However, even if he or she is unable to fulfil the conditions, and thereby the estate is to be inherited by others, it does not mean that the child cannot inherit anything. According to the Family Provision regime stipulated in the Succession Act 2006 (NSW), regardless of the content of the will, children of the deceased can claim inheritance rights for a part of heritage. Further details about the inheritance claim on Family Provision will be explained in the later article.
26 Apr 2019