Employment

Could you be a shadow director?

Shadow directors

The term ‘director’ is defined in s.9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Act) to mean:

(a)          a person who:

(i)            is appointed to the position of a director; or

(ii)           is appointed to the position of an alternate director and is acting in that capacity;

regardless of the name that is given to their position; and

(b)          unless the contrary intention appears, a person who is not validly appointed as a director if:

(i)            they act in the position of a director; or

(ii)           the directors of the company or body are accustomed to act in accordance with the person’s instructions or wishes.

That is, (a) refers to directors notified to ASIC and (b) covers those who are de facto directors or shadow directors.

Consequently, a person who has not been validly appointed as a director of a company (and whose details are not therefore recorded in ASIC’s registers) may nonetheless be deemed a director of that company if they have influence to the extent that the directors of the company are accustomed to acting in accordance with the person’s instructions or wishes or if they act as if they are a director.

Indicators of being a shadow director

Examples of being a de facto or shadow director can include:

  • having independent authority to negotiate and manage executive matters on behalf of the company (like negotiation of important contracts or the managing employment)
  • promotion of the person to the public as having power to bind the company.
  • having unfettered control of the company’s bank accounts
  • being involved in setting up the company

Subparagraph (b)(ii) does not generally apply to advice given by the person in the proper performance of functions attaching to the person’s professional capacity (such as an external accountant, lawyer or professional adviser), but can include employees and spouses of directors (who may own assets as part of a risk minimization/asset protection strategy implemented by their director spouse).

Those that sit on so called “advisory boards” should pay particular attention to the way in which they carry out their roles and the way in which the company follows (or questions or considers) their recommendations or suggestions.

Consequences

A shadow director will be required to comply with director duties under the Act and can become liable for things like insolvent trading under section 588G.

If you are determined to be a shadow director, penalties can include:

  • a fine of up to $200,000, imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both;
  • personal liability for any loss or damage incurred; and
  • permanent or temporary orders prohibiting you from taking part in the management of a company.

How to help prevent being a shadow director

Steps that can be taken to help minimize the risk of being deemed a director of a company or the consequences of it include:

  • documenting the authorities of key personnel, including limits on authorities, autonomy and decision making (including in employment contracts, workplace policies etc)
  • putting in place robust internal procedures for decision making and approvals
  • ensuring ASIC registers are accurate and up to date
  • limiting advice provided to that which is within your professional qualifications
  • advisors, key staff and ‘advisory boards’ presenting any advice as a recommendation for a company’s consideration, rather than being a direction or instruction to the company or its board
  • otherwise, properly documenting communications
  • consider appropriate insurances

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to any business related or company matters, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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New laws for casual employees

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act) has been amended with effect from 27 March 2021 in relation to casual employees.

Here are the 4 practical steps that most employers should take to help ensure compliance with the Act and prevent disputes from arising with their casual employees:

1.            Casual Employment Information Statement

The Fair Work Ombudsman has now made available a new Casual Employment Information Statement (CEIS). Both new and existing casual employees must be given a CEIS.

From 27 March 2021, all employers must give every new casual employee a CEIS before, or as soon as possible after, they commence their employment.

Small business employers (those with less than 15 employees) must give their existing casual employees (those employed before 27 March 2021) a copy of the CEIS as soon as possible after 27 March 2021.   All other employers must give their existing casual employees a copy of the CEIS as soon as possible after 27 September 2021.

Note that the CEIS does not replace the Fair Work Information Statement (FWIS). The FWIS is still required to be provided to every new employee (casual employees should receive both the FWIS and the new CEIS).

2.            Update casual employment contracts

The Act now includes a definition of ‘casual’ employee. Under the new definition, a person is a casual employee if they accept a job offer from an employer knowing that there is no firm advance commitment to ongoing work with an agreed pattern of work.

With retrospective effect, the question of whether an employee is a casual is now assessed based on what was agreed when the employment was offered and accepted, not on the pattern of hours later worked or some other subsequent conduct occurring during the course of their employment.

Employment contracts for casuals, if they don’t already, should:

  • state that the employment is casual;
  • specify that the employer can elect to offer work and that the employee can elect to accept or reject it; and
  • confirm that there is no guarantee of ongoing or regular work and that the employee will only work as required.

3.            Specify the casual loading in employment contracts and payroll documentation

The changes to the Act also remove the ability (which arose from several recent cases such as Workpac v Rossato) for employees to “double-dip” and receive entitlements as permanent staff as well as retaining the casual loading already paid to them (in lieu of such other entitlements).

The amounts actually paid to the employee as casual loading operate as a reduction to, or are set off against, of any amount that may later be determined to be payable by the employer for permanent employee entitlements.

Casual employment contracts thus should:

  • clarify that the employee is paid a casual loading (usually 25%) and that the loading is paid on the basis that the employee is not entitled to relevant permanent employment entitlements such as annual leave, paid personal leave, redundancy pay and the like; and
  • identify the dollar amount of the loading from the base hourly rate where possible.

Further, payroll documentation (including payslips) should separately identify the dollar value of the casual loading paid in each pay period.

4.            Identify eligibility for casual conversions

Once employed as a casual, an employee will continue to be a casual until they either:

a)       become a permanent employee through:

(i)            casual conversion, or

(ii)           are offered (and accept the offer of) full-time or part-time employment, or

b)      stop being employed by the employer.

Although many employers had pre-existing casual conversion obligations in relevant Modern Awards or enterprise agreements, these casual conversion provisions are now included in the National Employment Standards (NES), which means that now employers that were not historically subject to such conversion obligations are subject to the casual conversion pathway regime. Small business employers (with fewer than 15 employees) are not subject to these rules.

The new provisions require employers to offer permanent employment to any casual employee who has:

  • been employed for 12 months; and
  • worked a regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis for at least the last 6 months of that period; and
  • the employee could continue working those hours as a permanent employee without significant change.

An employer need not make an offer of casual conversion if there are “reasonable grounds” not to, based on facts that are known or reasonably foreseeable (such as where the employee’s position will cease to exist within 12 months, the hours of work that employee is required to perform in the following 12 months will be significantly reduced or the employee’s availability cannot accommodate the significant change in the employees’ hours/days required to be worked).

During the 6-month transition period ending 27 September 2021 and from then on, employers should identify any employees that may meet the criteria for conversion and make an offer of casual conversion to an eligible employee within 21 days of the employee attaining 12 months of employment. There is a form and process relating to the offer (and its acceptance).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Do you have any Unclaimed Money?

In New South Wales, any unclaimed money is generally held by the Revenue NSW.

Unclaimed money is generally any amount in excess of $100 held for at least 6 years without any activity on an account. This may be because the owner moved, changed their name or simply forgot about it.

Types of unclaimed money held by Revenue NSW include dividends, unpresented cheques, distributions, sale proceeds, commissions, royalties and the like.

Generally, enterprises that operate in NSW and hold unclaimed money as at 30 June in any year must submit the money to Revenue NSW by 31 October of that year, after having made reasonable attempts to contact the rightful owner and return the money to them.

Other thresholds and timeframes apply to specific industries such as real estate agents, law firms and trustee companies that operate trust accounts.

You can search for money held by Revenue NSW here.

Unpaid wages

Sometimes an employer owes wages to an employee who has left their business or where wages have found to be underpaid following a workplace audit.

Where the employee can’t be contacted, the unpaid wages are generally held by the Fair Work Ombudsman and can be searched for here.

Superannuation

Superannuation funds that cannot locate beneficiaries of superannuation monies place the details on the Superannuation Lost Members Register, which can be searched through the MyGov portal via Australian Taxation Office’s website here.

Banks and life insurers

Banks, credit unions and life insurance companies also have unclaimed money issues where a bank account is inactive (has no deposits or withdrawals) for 7 years or where the proceeds of a life insurance policy is unclaimed for 7 years after the policy matures.

Where they can’t locate an owner of funds held, they must lodge their unclaimed monies with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission.

Unclaimed money received by ASIC is transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Revenue Fund and it is available to be claimed at any time by the rightful owner and there is no time limit on claims. ASIC’s unclaimed money search is located at ASIC’s MoneySmart website here.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to unclaimed money or any business related legal issues, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Unpaid interns

Typically, unpaid internships offer a taste of what is usually involved in a job or industry, as well as the chance to network and to add practical experience to their resume.

Many businesses however seek to avoid paying lawful entitlements to employees by labelling them an “intern” or calling it a “vocational placement” or similar. In law firms (yes, they do it too), it’s a “law clerk”.

The fact is that if they are performing productive work for your business, they are an employee and are therefore legally entitled to be paid.

Before engaging an unpaid intern, business owners need to genuinely consider if the placement is providing them with work experience, a career opportunity and take steps to avoid the arrangement being considered exploitation. That is, are they really an unpaid employee?

To determine whether the arrangement is ‘employment’ ask yourself these questions about the proposed intern:

  1. Will they have actual responsibilities (as opposed to just observing)?
  2. Will their workload be similar to a paid employee?
  3. Will the intern replace a paid employee?
  4. Will the intern have administration duties?
  5. Will the intern collect coffee orders?
  6. Does your business rely on interns for ongoing duties?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, they are assisting your business, not learning, so it is likely that your unpaid interns will actually be employees and hence entitled to minimum Award rates.

Even if you will genuinely have unpaid interns at your workplace, they should have a contract (although not an employment contract) covering that fact and requiring them to maintain standards such as confidentiality, returning company property at the completion of the placement etc.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Is your business using the correct form of Fair Work Information Statement?

On 13 August 2020, the High Court of Australia handed down a decision about the method of accruing and taking paid personal/carer’s leave under the National Employment Standards.

The case was Mondolez Australia Pty Ltd v AMWU, which overturned a decision made by the Full Federal Court in August 2019 that could have resulted in significant claims for backpay and contraventions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as its effect included that part-time employees are entitled to 10 days’ paid personal leave per year (the same as a full time employee), regardless of the number of days actually worked.

The High Court found that the entitlement to 10 days of personal/carer’s leave is calculated based on an employee’s hours worked, not days when interpreting s.96(1) of the Act such that a ‘day’ refers to a notional day, consisting of 1/10th of an employee’s ordinary hours of work in a 2 week period. Accordingly, 10 days of personal leave can be calculated as 1/26 of an employee’s ordinary hours of work in a year.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has updated the form of Fair Work Information Statement (FWIS) as a result.

Employees need to ensure they provide the correct form of FWIS to all new employees. Is your business using the correct form of Fair Work Information Statement?

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au to discuss your needs.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

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Coronavirus: Remote witnessing of legal documents

On 22 April 2020, the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW) came into effect.

The effect of the Regulation is that the signing of legal documents in New South Wales such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Agreements, Appointments of Enduring Guardians, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations can be witnessed by audio visual link, rather than having to be physically present, as is normally the case – that is the law (during the COVID-19 pandemic) now allows the remote witnessing of legal documents.

Some documents have other additional requirements, like Wills which require 2 witnesses, not just one, as is provided for in s.6(1)(c) of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).

Audio visual link includes Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, HouseParty, FaceTime and the like.

The witness must sign the document either:

  1. by signing a counterpart of the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document; or
  2. if the signatory scans and sends a copy of the signed document electronically, the witness may countersign the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document.

The witness must endorse the document, or the copy of the document, with a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signing and that the document was witnessed in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017.

All copies of the document should be stored together so they can be read as the one document.

The Regulations do not change what documents may or may not be executed electronically in NSW – only how documents may be witnessed and attested.  The Regulations also do not affect the laws or requirements of any other jurisdiction, including the Commonwealth (such as company execution of documents under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Under the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW), the Regulation were to operate for a maximum period of 6 months from 22 April 2020 however, on 18 September 2020, the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (COVID-19) Regulation 2020 came into effect such that, among other things, the operation of the electronic witnessing regulations was extended to 31 December 2021.

Similar regulations are in place in the other States and Territories, such as Queensland’s Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020 (Qld).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus, if you had previously held off arranging documents such as for your estate planning due to not wanting to attend our office physically due to social distancing concerns or if you need to discuss how to best to arrange signing of documents under the Regulation, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Coronavirus: JobKeeper subsidy

Further to our COVID-19 blogs on employee standdowns and negotiating changes to commercial leases but in this post, the Government on 30 March 2020 announced a $130 billion JobKeeper payment system to help keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the significant economic impact caused by the Coronavirus. Those workers that are covered by the scheme will receive a fortnightly payment of $1,500 (before tax) through their employer. Employers are to pay their employees and then get reimbursed by the Government later.

The payment is intended to ensure that eligible employers remain connected to their workforce so that businesses are in a position to restart quickly when the pandemic is over.

To get the payments, employers must be eligible and the employees must be eligible.

If your business has been significantly impacted by the Coronavirus (generally able to show a 30% decline in turnover in the relevant month or quarter relative to a year earlier), the business will be able to access a wages subsidy for a maximum of 6 months to assist you to continue paying its employees.

Eligible employees are those who:

  • are currently employed by the eligible employer (including those stood down or re-hired);
  • were employed by the employer at 1 March 2020;
  • are full-time, part-time or a casual employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months as at 01 March 2020;
  • are at least 16 years of age;
  • are an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder; and
  • are not in receipt of a JobKeeper Payment from another employer.

To register your business’s interest in the JobKeeper system, visit the Australian Taxation Office’s dedicated page.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus or if you need to discuss how to best deal with employment issues, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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Coronavirus: Employees and standdowns

Many businesses are struggling at present with the turndown in sales that are a consequence of the Government’s social distancing rules to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. Those businesses are seeking to minimise costs so as to be able to survive until the Coronavirus heath crisis ends, which appears to be at least 6 months away.

The 2 biggest expenses in business are generally rent and employee/payroll. In another blog post, we discuss how lessors and lessees can negotiate mutually beneficial but generally temporary changes to their commercial leases but in this post, we discuss employee issues.

Options for employers

It is always an option for employers and employees to agree on things such as:

  • working remotely;
  • reduced hours;
  • reduced pay; or
  • taking leave (either accrued or in advance).

Where a business is unable to agree with their staff as to such matters, or if the business needs to significantly and quickly reduce costs or go into hibernation and not just change the way it goes about its business, the first point of reference in relation to the employer/employee relationship is the Employment Contract, followed by any relevant Award. If an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement or EBA applies, then that is the place to look.

Casuals and those on probation are unfortunately the first to be let go as employers seek to minimise costs. This article assumes full time or part time employment.

Often, employment contracts have provisions that allow for the standing down of employees where there is not enough work to keep them engaged.

Assuming there is such a right, then if there is work they can do (even if not their normal role), they can be redeployed but if not, the standdown option generally would be available.

Standdowns are periods where the employment relationship is still in place but there is no payment made by the employer.

So as to keep paying employees at such a time when a standdown is warranted, a business could for example give notice of a requirement to take any accrued annual leave and possibly accrued long service leave. Taking leave in advance is also an option but it does not assist the business as it is still incurring the wage costs and the employees are then in debt to their employer for leave taken but not yet earned.

A benefit to the business of paying out leave entitlements is that this also reduces the businesses’ leave liability in its books (and the benefit to the employee is still getting paid). Note that the payment of leave loading (if leave loading is required by any Award or agreement) is also required when leave is being taken. There is generally no such payment of loading if leave is taken in advance).

Employment contracts or Awards may provided for a period of notice for a standdown but in the absence of that, reasonable notice should suffice.

Where it is not covered in any other document, s.524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) can apply. It provides:

(1)  An employer may … stand down an employee during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed because of one of the following circumstances:

 …

(c)  a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.

Where an employer simply faces a reduction in trade volumes or where it is merely uneconomical to continue to employ staff, it can be a grey area as to whether this is considered a “stoppage” of work for the purposes of the legislation however, where an industry has been shut down as a result of a ministerial direction or public health orders, it will generally be uncontested.

Whilst on stand down:

  • annual leave, personal leave and long service continue to accrue;
  • employees can access personal and carer’s leave (provided they comply with notice and evidence requirements); and
  • employees must be paid for public holidays where it would ordinarily fall on a day they have been stood down.

The main thing to note is that on a standdown, the employees are not being terminated or made redundant – the role is still there, just they can’t be usefully engaged. It may be that termination or redundancy is still an option but it is generally a last resort.

NOTE: Since this blogpost, the Government has announced the JobKeeper subsidy.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus or if you need to discuss how to best deal with employment issues in light of the current health crisis, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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COVID-19: McKillop Legal remains open for business

McKillop Legal remains open for business and is fully operational despite the significant and unprecedented challenges facing our families, the Australian economy and our way of life as a result of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

We remain open for business and available to provide advice either by telephone, email or other services (and, if necessary, in person, abiding by the Government’s social distancing guidelines).

Our staff all have the ability to work remotely from home or in other places using our secure technology infrastructure and systems.

If you or your business has any legal issue it requires assistance with, whether relating to your rights or responsibilities relating to business, shutdowns or employment in relation to the pandemic or in relation to other matters, please call or email us and we will be in touch promptly.

Take care.

Are you hiring an Employee or a Contractor?

Are you hiring an employee or a contractor? This is an important question often overlooked by business owners.

What is the difference between an employee and a contractor?

The difference between an employee and an independent contractor is based on many different factors. No single factor determines whether someone is an employee or a contractor. Instead, the Courts will look at each case and make a decision based on the totality of the relationship between the parties when determining the status of an engagement.

There are some common factors that may contribute to determining whether a person is an ‘employee’ or an ‘independent contractor’ (or ‘contractor’ or ‘sub-contractor‘):

Employees

Employees generally:

  • do not operate independently of the business engaging them
  • are directed in how and when to perform their work
  • cannot delegate their work to someone else or pay someone else to do it
  • are paid per hour, project or a commission
  • are provided with all tools and equipment required to perform their work or gets an allowance to provide these things
  • take no commercial risks – the business is responsible for the work performed or fixing any issues with it
  • have an expectation of continuing work (except casuals)
  • are generally not employed by other businesses at the same time (at least for most full time employees)

Contractors

Contractors on the other hand:

  • do operate independently of the business engaging them
  • have freedom as to how and when to perform work, subject to the terms of the arrangement
  • may delegate or further subcontract out their work, subject to the terms of the agreement (Services Agreement or Contractor Agreement etc)
  • are paid for a result or outcome, even if this is on an hourly rate basis, a commission arrangement or per project
  • supply most of their own tools and equipment
  • are liable for the work performed and are liable to remedy or pay the costs of fixing any defects
  • are responsible for their own employees and sub-contractors
  • are usually engaged for a specific task or purpose
  • may accept or seek work from other businesses

Other differences in their rights and the obligations or the employer or principal include:

  • Independent contractors issue invoices (or tax invoices if registered for GST) whereas employees are paid regularly (weekly, fortnightly or monthly).
  • Employees are entitled to the benefit of the rights under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) and any relevant Award or industrial agreement (including for things such as leave, overtime etc) as well as having the compulsory superannuation contribution paid to their superannuation fund.
  • Employees have tax withheld and paid on their behalf to the Australian Taxation Office where as an independent contractor will pay their own tax to the ATO (and GST if registered for GST).

What if you get it wrong?

If you pay someone as a contractor when they are really an employee, the employee may miss out on important benefits such as leave entitlements and superannuation. Although you may have paid the agreed rates or price and any applicable GST, the employee may be able to pursue the business that engaged them for those unpaid entitlements and the employer may be prosecuted. Also, if the “contractor” doesn’t pay tax, the employer may be liable for the tax that ought to have been withheld.

Many businesses that deliberately arrange in “sham contracting” (where a person ought to be an employee but they are engaged and remunerated as a contractor) are penalized by the Fair Work Ombudsman under the FW Act.

Another unexpected consequence can be that where those engaged as independent contractors are not actually independent at all (for example where they do not provide services to any other businesses) or are really employees can be the issue of payroll tax payable to Revenue NSW under Payroll Tax Act 2007 (NSW). Contractors can be deemed employees for the purpose of payroll tax if they don’t offer their services to the general public, working only for one business.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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