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Are Your Staff Truly Casual Employees?

We’ve been reminded recently how important it is to employ people on the correct contract.  Here’s a story to learn from:

A dairy farm had employed the wife of a Farm Manager on a casual contract as a calf rearer. She stayed on that casual contract for over 18 months and carried out a wide range of farm duties in addition to calf rearing, including milking’s, farm maintenance and moving stock.

During that time she worked nearly every week, and normally work 4-5 days of a week, although her hours each day, and start and finish times did alter each week.

She raised a personal grievance with the employer, stating that she had been employed on the wrong contract and should be on a permanent part-time employment agreement instead.

This grievance cost the Employer around $12,000.

The key issues that contributed to the pay-out were;

  • the length of time she had been employed
  • the types of duties she carried out (more than a calf rearer’s normal duties)
  • the regular pattern and amount of hours she worked
  • she regularly attended team meetings and was scheduled into any gaps in the roster at each meeting

Another case in 2019 resulted in a Canterbury Pub paying out $30,000 to workers because they had a number of permanent part time workers who were incorrectly on causal contracts.

In short, getting this wrong can be very costly for your business.

The dairy industry is renowned for employing relatives of permanent staff on casual employment agreements for long periods of time that can later “morph” into increased or alternative duties that weren’t originally agreed.

Key questions to ask yourself to avoid facing a similar problem are:

  • are your casual employees on a roster?
  • do they work regular hours?
  • can they refuse to work if you ask them to?
  • has the type of work they are doing changed over time?
  • have they been employed for longer than six months?
  • do they have to let you know if they are not available to work?
  • do they have a reasonable expectation of future work from you?
  • Is the person (who could be a relative) who engages them (e.g. Farm Manager), communicating expectations of regular work?

If the answer is YES to any of these questions then your team member may not be a casual employees.  Each case is slightly different, so if you are unsure talk to us and we will help you navigate your way through this potentially tricky area of employment.