Month in Review | October 2021

In the News

  • Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have announced that they will be rolling out mandatory vaccination policies. While Woolworths and Aldi’s plans apply to all staff across Australia, Coles will only require workers in NSW, Victoria and the ACT to get vaccinated.
  • The Federal Court has found the former operator of a Canberra massage business breached workplace laws by underpaying their staff and threatening to have their families in the Philippines killed if they complained.
  • SafeWork NSW has filed charges against Qantas in the District Court over alleged discriminatory conduct. SafeWork alleges Qantas stood down a worker after he raised concerns about their cleaning practices at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The worker, an OHS representative, had been speaking to his colleagues about the risk of exposure when working on planes coming from China. Qantas has said that the worker was stood down for the duration of an investigation into his compliance with their “Standards of Conduct” policy.
  • The Supreme Court of NSW has criticised the minority judgment of a Commissioner for referring to vaccine mandates as tantamount to ‘segregation’. The case before the Fair Work Commission was in relation to flu vaccinations.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has commenced proceedings against the Commonwealth Bank, claiming that the Bank has made false or misleading statements to certain employees. FWO alleges that CBA told these employees that they would be better off on its enterprise agreement and individual pay deals than they would be on either industry minimums or collectively negotiated rates, when this was not the case.
  • Woolworths will be compensating its salaried staff, who were reportedly underpaid in the early 2010s, with a flat $2500 each plus superannuation, as it no longer has timesheets to verify how much individual employee’s should get.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered more than $300,000 of underpayments for underpaid employees of security businesses at quarantine hotels in Sydney and Melbourne. One of the security companies that has gone into liquidation continues to owe $900,000 to Sydney-based employees.

In the Courts

  • A former flight attendant claimed that she was constructively dismissed by Qantas for refusing to wear a face mask at work. The Fair Work Commission (FWC) held that she had not been dismissed but rather, she had chosen to resign. The FWC dismissed her general protections application and found that Qantas’ mask mandate was a lawful and reasonable direction.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) brought an underpayment claim on behalf of four delivery drivers who it believed to be employees and not independent contractors, as was claimed by Avert Logistics who had engaged them. The drivers used Avert’s vehicles, wore uniforms, and had to seek Avert’s permission to take leave. Judge Jarrett of the Federal Circuit and Family Court held that while the FWO’s submissions had ‘considerable merit’, the written agreements which set out that the drivers were independent contractors, outweighed other factors.
  • In an unfair dismissal application, an applicant alleged that her redundancy was not genuine, but a ruse to remove her from the company, after she had divorced the CEO of the company. The Fair Work Commission held that the dismissal was not genuine and that it was unreasonable because there was no valid basis for the dismissal. The Applicant was ordered compensation of $27,068.65, plus superannuation.
  • The NSW Supreme Court dismissed proceedings against the NSW Health Minister. A number of workers in health, aged care, construction and education claimed that the health orders made under section 7(2) of the Public Health Act 2010 NSW were invalid. The Plaintiffs raised a number of challenges against the Health Orders, such as an alleged interference with the right to bodily autonomy, which were all ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.
  • A cleaner submitted her general protections claim late, because her husband, who she relied on to help her, had been unwell with common COVID-19 vaccination side effects. The Fair Work Commission granted her an extension of time and found that the circumstances were exceptional.
  • An employee of Yarra Trams, of over 31 years, was advised that his employment would be terminated due to a workplace incident that he was involved in. The employee asked Yarra Trams if he could resign instead, and they agreed. The following day, the employee sought legal advice and lodged an unfair dismissal claim. Yarra Trams objected on the grounds that the employee had not been dismissed. The Commission held that the employee was not forced to resign, and the resignation had not been given in the heat of the moment, or in a state of stress. The employee’s application was dismissed.
  • The Fair Work Commission has held that a construction company’s dismissal of its receptionist, while she was on sick leave, was not an unfair dismissal. The Commission found that the company had been ‘exceptionally flexible’ with the full-time receptionist’s requests to work fewer hours due to her need to look after her grandson, and that the receptionist had similarly done her best to complete her hours, but the arrangement was ultimately ‘untenable’.