Employment conditions and protections

Your minimum rights and protections at work

What this chapter covers

In general, employers and employees are free to decide what the terms and conditions of the employment relationship will be. However, there are also some key minimum rights and protections that the law says form part of all employment relationships.

This chapter explains your minimum rights and protections in the following areas:

  • Your pay – including minimum wage rights, overtime pay, equal pay, and when and how wages are paid
  • Hours, shifts and breaks – including the standard working week, zero-hour contracts and availability clauses, when your shifts can be cancelled, and rights to rest breaks and meal breaks
  • Holidays and annual leave – your rights to a certain number of weeks of annual holidays (often called “annual leave”), and to public holidays like Christmas and Anzac Day (sometimes called “statutory” holidays)
  • Sick leave and other short-term leave, including bereavement leave when someone close to you has died, and family violence leave while you’re dealing with the effects of the violence
  • Parental leave – including the different types of parental leave, how much paid parental leave you can get, and how your job’s protected while you’re away
  • Flexible working – the law about flexible working arrangements (including both when and where your work), and special short-term flexibility for family violence victims
  • Health and safety at work – your employer’s legal responsibilities and what you can do if there’s a health and safety problem
  • Protections for “whistle-blowers” – how you’re protected if you give out information about serious wrongdoing by your employer.
Tougher enforcement measures against employers

On 1 April 2016, tougher enforcement measures were introduced against employers who breach workers’ minimum rights in areas like minimum wages, holidays, rest/meal breaks, and breastfeeding facilities. Individual employers can now be given penalties of up to $50,000 (increased from $10,000), while for companies the maximum penalty is now either $100,000 or three times the gain they made out of the breach, whichever is more (an increase from $20,000). Some less serious breaches by employers still carry the old levels of penalties.

The higher penalties also apply to employers who don’t keep copies of individual employment agreements or who don’t keep the required wages/time records and holiday/leave records. In those cases, labour inspectors also have the option of issuing an infringement notice carrying a $1,000 fine (these are like a speeding ticket: the employer can simply pay the fine or they can go to court to challenge the notice, but regardless of whether they pay it first off or get found guilty in court, they don’t get a criminal record).

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