Understanding the New Employee Definition Under the Fair Work Act

The Fair Work Act is changing. From 26 August 2024, there will be new definitions for “employee” and “employer.” This guide will help you understand these changes and what they mean for your business.

Key Changes in the Fair Work Act

New Definitions: The terms “employee” and “employer” now have new meanings. It’s not just about what is written in the contract. Instead, it’s about the real substance of the working relationship.

Comprehensive Evaluation: You must look at the entire relationship between the parties. This includes the contract terms and how they are applied in real life.

Total Relationship Assessment: It’s insufficient to refer to a written contract. You need to consider the practical reality and true nature of the relationship.

Assessing Employee vs. Independent Contractor Status

Complex Assessment: Determining if someone is an employee or an independent contractor is complex. You must consider both the contract and the relationship’s overall nature.

Key Factors: These include how work is done, who controls the work, and the consistency of service. Each case is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

No Strict Rules: There are no strict rules for the weighting of each factor. No single factor is decisive.

Terms of the Engagement Document

Written Contracts: Review your current contracts. Check if the terms indicate your worker is a contractor or an employee.

Labeling: Simply labeling someone as an independent contractor in the contract does not determine their status.

Real Substance: The phrase “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” applies here. The real substance of the relationship matters more than the label.

Factors Indicating Employment vs. Contractor Relationship

Factor Indicates Employment Indicates Contractor
Remuneration & Tax Paid by time/salary, income tax deducted Paid per job/service, invoices issued, GST paid
Obligation & Delegation Cannot work for others, cannot delegate work Can work for others, can subcontract/delegate work
Equipment Company provides tools Worker provides own tools
Hours of Work Set hours in the contract Selects own hours
Leave Entitled to paid leave No paid leave
Disciplinary Action Company can suspend/dismiss Contract terminated for breach
Commercial Risk Company liable for faulty work Worker liable for faulty work
Direction & Control Company controls work details Worker controls own work

Practical Performance of the Contract

Day-to-Day Activities: Even if a contract labels someone as a contractor, their daily activities might suggest they are an employee.

Control and Supervision: Look at who controls the work, who the worker reports to, and if they follow company instructions.

Consistency of Service: Regular hours and expectations of attendance may indicate employment. Conversely, services performed on an ‘as needed’ basis might indicate a contractor.

Presentation: Does the worker present as part of your company or as their own business? This includes uniforms, business cards, and how they advertise their services.

Weighing Up the Factors

Balancing Act: To determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, balance all the factors. The goal is to see if the relationship reflects that of an employee/employer or a contractor.

Entrepreneurial Independence: Consider if the worker is an entrepreneur who owns and operates their own business. Do they represent their own business in their work?

Guiding Questions: If the answer to these questions is yes, the worker is likely an independent contractor. If no, they are likely an employee.

Potential Risks and Next Steps

Misclassification Risks: If you misclassify workers, they might claim backpay for entitlements. Reckless or knowing misclassification can lead to penalties for sham contracting.

Backpay Claims: Misclassified employees may claim backpay for leave, overtime, and superannuation since 27 February 2024.

Penalties: There are penalties under the Fair Work Act for engaging in sham contracting.

Need Help? If you need assistance, Fresh HR Insights is here to help.

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