Hiring Staff for Your Small Business: Australian Employment Regulations

The single most important task that you must absolutely get right when hiring staff for your small business is to ensure that the employment arrangements are compliant with Australian employment regulations — no use moaning as the rules are not negotiable and failure to comply will result in heavy financial penalties.

The two regulatory instruments that you must get to know intimately are the National Employment Standards (NES) and the modern awards applicable to your small business.

The ten standards of the NES set the minimum requirements for employment arrangements. These range from hours of work and flexible work requests, to the amount of notice you must provide an employee to end the employment.

There is some flexibility in the NES to accommodate the vagaries and uncertainties of business life that are well worth knowing. For example, the NES provides flexibility to arrange ordinary hours of work for your staff by allowing averaging of the weekly hours of employment over multiple weeks so that you can match your staff needs with fluctuations in demand or seasonal variations in business. You can also roster staff to work more than an average of 38 hours per week if the additional hours are considered reasonable.

Modern awards provide the daily information that you need to know, such as the minimum wages. The modern awards are organised along industry and occupational lines and include penalty rates for working weekends, evenings, public holidays and shift work, casual loadings, overtime, junior and apprenticeship wages.

You can’t pick and choose which award applies to your small business. The introductory clauses of modern awards describe the industry and/or occupations that are covered and the schedules provide detailed descriptions of the job classifications to which the minimum wages and conditions apply. If your small business operates in the industry and your staff jobs are described in the classifications, then you must comply with that modern award.

The best way to ensure that you comply with the NES and modern awards is to document the terms and conditions of employment in a written contract or letter of offer of employment. If you create a template and a checklist then all you need to do is review the terms and conditions against the most current versions of the applicable modern award and the NES every time that you employ staff. Then fill in the blanks and tick off the list of actions on your checklist as you complete the task.

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