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Changes to Employee Rights

Effective from 1 July 2013, the Fair Work Act 2009 has been amended to include a number of ‘family-friendly’ provisions. As a result of those amendments, a number of employee rights have changed.
The main amendments to the Act, which commenced on 1 July 2013, are:

  • More employees now have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Eligible employees include parents of school age or younger children, employees who are carers, employees who have a disability, employees who are over 55 and employees who have experienced domestic violence (or are caring for someone who has). The Act has been amended to include a list of reasons why an employer might refuse the request.
  • Pregnant employees have the right to be transferred to a safe job. If no safe job exists, the employee is entitled to unpaid leave. This right previously only applied to pregnant employees with 12 months’ service so more employees will be entitled to transfer. However, employees were previously entitled to paid leave if no safe job is available. That entitlement is now to unpaid leave.
  • Pregnant employees who suffer a pregnancy-related illness, or who suffer a miscarriage, can take unpaid special maternity leave.
  • A couple employed by the same employer can now take 8 weeks joint parental leave. This leave can be taken at any time within the first 12 months of the birth or adoption of a child. Previously the entitlement was 3 weeks and needed to be taken after the birth or adoption.

Other amendments, which commence on 1 January 2014, include:

  • A requirement that employers must “genuinely” consult with employees about changes to their regular rosters and working hours. Employers must give employees information about the change, invite employees to respond and then consider the employees views.
  • Allowing a worker who has allegedly been bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that the bullying stop. This change creates a new path for employees, who previously would have had to rely on anti-discrimination legislation and workers compensation claims. The Fair Work Commission must start dealing with the matter within 14 days.
  • Reducing the time limit for unlawful termination applications to 21 days from 60 days. This change brings those applications in line with the time limits for general protections dismissal and unfair dismissal applications, which are already 21 days.

Most of the changes are clearly aimed at giving workers some certainty that their family responsibilities will be respected at work, which we can all agree is a good thing. Of course, any increase in employee entitlements necessarily imposes a burden on employers, which can be difficult to bear; particularly for small businesses and especially at a time where much of the economy is struggling.

If you would like to discuss employee entitlements, or employment law in general, please don’t hesitate to contact Fishburn Watson O’Brien’s employment lawyer Jay Clowes on 6650 7016.

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