General Protections Claims

What are General Protections?

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act) provides protection to persons in the workplace such as employees, prospective employees, independent contractors and even employers from adverse action being taken against them in the workplace.

 

The general protection provisions of the Act protect a person from receiving negative treatment within the workplace because that individual has a workplace right, proposes to exercise, or has exercised a workplace right. These are known as workplace rights.

Workplace Rights

Examples of workplace rights include:

  • An employee making a complaint or enquiry in relation to their employment such as their pay, or raising bullying or harassment complaints;
  • An employee being a member of a Union;
  • Rights or benefits under:
    • the Act, such as leave entitlements, family responsibilities;
    • modern awards or enterprise agreements, such as rates of pay, penalties and overtime;
    • long service leave legislation, workers compensation legislation health and safety legislation and anti-discrimination laws.

 

The workplace right protections extend to:

  • coercing someone not to exercise a workplace right. For example, telling an employee that the job will only continue to be available if they agree to a rate of pay below the rate set by the applicable Modern Award
  • placing undue influence or undue pressure on an employee relating to the National Employment Standards, to enter or terminate an individual flexibility arrangement, accept a guarantee of annual earnings or matters concerning deductions from pay.

Other General Protections Rights

In addition to protections concerning workplace rights, the Act also protects persons from:

  • adverse action based on discriminatory grounds, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin;
  • dismissal because of an absence for illness or injury that is less than 3 months or a combined period of absences of less than 3 months in a 12-month period;
  • protections for union members, or not being a union member, and industrial activity; and
  • sham independent contracting arrangements.

 

There are a number of exceptions and defences under the Act even when adverse action is taken because of these protected rights. However, they are often difficult and hard to defend.

What is Adverse Action?

Adverse action taken against employees ranges from actual or threatened dismissal, injury in employment, altering the position of the employee to the employee’s prejudice, or discriminating between the employee and other employees of the employer. This can include:

  • Demoting an employee or altering their position to their detriment,
  • Pay reduction,
  • Removal of duties,
  • Increase of workload,
  • Performance management,
  • Disciplinary processes, including issuing a warning.

 

It is unlawful for an employer, or prospective employer, to take adverse action against an individual because the individual exercised a workplace right. For example, issuing a warning to an employee because they raised an inquiry about their pay. However, the laws do not prevent warnings because the employee engaged in misconduct.

 

Reverse onus and multiple reasons

Further, the Act provides a reverse onus of proof. This means that once an employee makes an allegation that they have been dismissed because they was on personal leave, it is upon the employer to provide evidence that this allegation was not the reason for dismissal, but because the employee was not performing or engaged in misconduct.

 

Of course, the employer’s position is strengthened if there are supporting documents of previous warnings. If, however the employee was dismissed in part because of performance but also in part because of their absence on account of sick leave, then the conduct is caught by the Act.

What should SME owners know about General Protections?

While some actions may appear to be lawful such as dismissal or issuing a disciplinary warning, it is the reason behind the adverse action that determines whether it is lawful or unlawful.

For employers, general protection claims are highly significant as they: Are widely open to interpretation;

The burden of proof falls on the employer to prove that the reason for the adverse action was not because of the alleged general protection;

Compensation awarded against an employer for unlawful adverse action are uncapped. Compensation extends to loss of past and future income and compensation for hurt feelings or any assessed psychological injury that may have arisen from the adverse action;

Individual directors and others involved in the conduct can also be held personally liable;

Penalties can be awarded of up to $63,000 against a company and $12,600 against individuals such as directors and others involved in the conduct and paid to the employee;

Legal costs are not normally recoverable, even when the employer successfully defends the claim

Who is Employsure Law and how can we help?

Employsure Law is the partner law firm for Australia’s leading workplace relations consultancy company, Employsure. It provides litigation workplace law services to Employsure clients.

 

Employsure Law understands how the small business sector works and offers business owners high quality, cost-effective, practical legal advice and representation. Business owners can take comfort knowing that they are supported by an expert legal team if they are facing claims or litigation.

In its first year of operation, it was Employment Law Specialist Firm of the Year and its Head of Legal was a finalist for 2019 Workplace Relations Partner of the Year.

 

The dedicated legal team will support Employsure clients with advice and, if need be, representation in all aspects of claims or litigation.

Benefits of using Employsure Law

Access to a dedicated legal team who will help you through all stages of your claim.

Competitive or fixed fee services for Employsure clients.

A fast, personalised service.

Contact us today

Call us to speak with a member of our team for immediate assistance or send us an enquiry.

 

Not an Employsure client? That’s ok, we will first refer you to Employsure for an initial discussion.