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As one of the world’s most developed economies, Australia is an attractive destination for international companies looking to expand their operations or source new talent. In addition to a population of over 25 million people, a highly educated and English-speaking workforce, and a burgeoning technology sector, Australia also offers a friendly business environment and a variety of enterprise-oriented tax incentives.

But while the country has a reputation for being a great place to expand and operate in, it still takes time and effort to navigate the complex regulatory environment and maintain payroll compliance. Even small regulatory changes can have a large impact on your ability to operate and manage your business, so it’s critical to stay informed and up to date with the latest requirements.

To this end, we’ve put together a list of the most important requirements, regulations, and standards affecting hiring and employer obligations in Australia.

We’ll update this list as new requirements are announced, alternatively there are other reputable data sources, including this Australia guide with comparative infographics enabling you to see how your payroll tax will compare with other countries.

1. Working hours

The maximum weekly working hours required for full-time employees in Australia are outlined in Australia's National Employment Standards (NES). The NES establish a range of minimal entitlements for employees in Australia, including required working hours, parental and long service leave requirements, and termination protections. These standards apply to all Australian employees, regardless of any alternative contracts or internal agreements.

When it comes to working hours, the NES stipulate a maximum of 38 hours of required weekly work for full-time employees. Under the NES, an employee is free to refuse a request to work additional hours beyond this limit if the request is deemed unreasonable.

If an employer and employee reach a mutual arrangement, the 38-hour weekly work limit can be averaged across a 26-week period. This system enables employees to work overtime as required. Of course, they are then free to deduct the excess hours from subsequent working weeks.

2. Overtime payments

Employer responsibilities for overtime payment are governed by a range of agreements, including industrial awards from the national Fair Work Commission and registered agreements between employee and employer. Employees who aren't covered by an industrial award or registered agreement do not receive statutory rights to overtime pay.

The threshold for overtime is usually defined as working more than 38 hours per week or more than 10 hours in a day. Weekend work or work performed on a public holiday is typically subject to additional overtime and/or penalty rates.

Award industries in Australia can include everything from dry cleaning and laundry services to oil refining and manufacturing. The overtime conditions specified by an industrial award outline the minimum rate of pay for overtime hours — a registered agreement may exceed this rate but cannot be less.

A full list of industry awards can be found here. Additional occupation-specific awards may be active at the state and territory level.

3. Requests for flexible working arrangements

According to the NES, Australian employees can request a range of flexible working arrangements based on time with their employer (at least 12 months), age, personal disability, parental responsibilities, or extenuating family circumstances. Employees working in an award industry may be subject to additional rights when requesting a flexible working arrangement.

A flexible work arrangement can encompass several different requests, including changing work location, shifting to remote work, changing clock on/off times, or implementing a job-sharing system.

Employers are entitled to refuse a flexible work arrangement request. However, this refusal must be justified on reasonable business grounds, the terms of which are laid out under the Fair Work Act 2009 (e.g., excessive productivity losses or implementation costs).

4. Community service leave

Another standard outlined in the NES is the provision of community service leave. This leave is made available to employees in order to accommodate voluntary emergency management activities (unpaid) or jury duty (paid).

5. Long service leave

The NES also stipulates long service leave entitlements for full-time and casual employees who have been with the same employer for a prolonged period of time. The threshold for long service leave eligibility differs between different states and territories but is usually between 7 and 10 years. If an employee is terminated with unused long service leave, the accrued sum is typically paid out in a lump sum.

The Bottom Line

Hiring in Australia is a challenge for businesses of all sizes, but the opportunities for expansion for those willing and able to adapt are plentiful.

Ultimately, hiring in Australia requires an understanding of the cultural norms, government regulations, and legal systems underwriting the employer-employee relationship. To avoid falling afoul of local regulatory regimes, employers should make every effort to ensure their hiring policies and payroll structures are up-to-date and in compliance with current requirements.

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