Changes to casual employment status under Fair Work Act
A recent Full Federal Court decision in WorkPac Pty Ltd v Skene  FCAFC 131 will have a significant impact on casual employment.
The Court decided that a worker who was supplied through a labour hire company as a casual truck driver to a mine in Queensland was not in fact a casual employee under the Fair Work Act. As a result, the employee was held to be a permanent full-time employee entitled to annual leave and a payment in lieu of notice when his employment ended.
The decision makes it important to revisit and consider the way in which employers classify and treat employees as “casual” when the employee works set, fixed hours, and there is a significant degree of certainty about their ongoing work.
The employer argued that the Fair Work Act entitles employees to minimum periods of paid leave, or money in lieu (as casual loading). Therefore, an employee who receives money in lieu (casual loading) is excluded from an entitlement to paid leave. Further, the basis for designating an employee as a “casual employee” comes from the relevant industrial instrument (Award or Enterprise Agreement) that
Of course, the Federal Court is not bound by Fair Work Commission decisions, so what the Federal Court decided it was to determine; was: did Parliament intend the expression “casual employee” as used in the legislation to take on its ordinary, legal sense, or; was it intended to be used in a specialised non-legal sense common in federal industrial instruments?
The essence of casual employment from the NES is:
This means if the employment relationship includes a firm commitment to ongoing work for particular hours on a regular and certain basis the employment
cannot be said to be casual employment (irrespective of what the parties may elect to call the employment relationship). Whether an employee is a casual
employee will be determined on the nature of the relationship itself and not what the parties elect to call it.
Having decided that the employee was not a casual employee (even though the parties called it casual and the employer paid casual loading) the Court had
to decide if the employee was entitled to paid annual leave even though the employee was paid casual loading.
To do this, the Court reiterated the fact that the NES overrides the parties’ designation of the employment. This meant that if an employee meets the definition
of a full or part time employee, they are not required to be paid a casual loading. Yet, if despite the employee not being entitled to casual loading,
the employer paid casual loading (even as a mistake) it does not override the obligation for paid leave and other full-time / part-time employee entitlements.
So, in this case, despite having paid casual loading throughout the term of the employment, the employee was also entitled to be paid the value of his
accrued but untaken annual leave entitlement and also a payment in lieu of notice upon termination of employment. You are at risk of your “casual employees”
who are paid leave loading nevertheless potentially being entitled to be paid untaken annual leave and receive payment in lieu of notice upon termination
of employment, if they -
- Have been given a firm commitment to ongoing employment
- Work regular, certain and predictable work patterns; and
- The reason you call them “casual employees” is because of an award or an employment contract, rather than because of the nature of the employment relationship you have with them.
It is strongly recommended that you ask yourself those questions in relation to each “casual employee”. This will help you determine whether you are at risk of paying leave loading and later, ending up having to pay out untaken annual leave and pay lieu in notice upon termination of employment. If you conclude you are at such risk, you should seriously consider taking steps to formalise the employment as part-time or full-time.
Contact one of McKays employment lawyers to ensure
your business is meeting its obligations to your casual workforce.