A Beginner's Guide to Australian Employment Law: What You Need to Know

Are you an employer in Australia and feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of employment law? In this post, we'll provide a beginner's guide to Australian employment law and cover the essential information you need to know.

March 15, 2023
What is Australian employment law?

Australian employment law refers to the body of laws and regulations that govern the employer-employee relationship. These laws cover a wide range of topics, including minimum wages, working conditions, leave entitlements, discrimination, and termination of employment.

Key Australian employment law concepts

National Employment Standards (NES):

The National Employment Standards (NES) are 10 minimum employment entitlements that apply to all employees in Australia. These entitlements include maximum weekly hours of work, requests for flexible working arrangements, parental leave and related entitlements, annual leave, personal/carer's leave and compassionate leave, community service leave, long service leave, public holidays, notice of termination and redundancy pay. It's important for employers to understand these minimum standards and ensure they are meeting their obligations under the NES.

Modern Awards:

Modern awards are industry-specific instruments that set out the minimum pay rates and conditions of employment for employees in a particular industry or occupation. Employers must ensure that they are paying their employees at least the minimum rate of pay set out in the relevant modern award. Modern awards also set out other conditions of employment, such as hours of work, leave entitlements, and penalty rates.

Enterprise Agreements:

Enterprise agreements are agreements negotiated between employers and employees (or their representatives) that set out terms and conditions of employment. Enterprise agreements must meet or exceed the minimum standards set out in the NES. They can also provide for flexible working arrangements, dispute resolution procedures, and other matters relevant to the workplace. Employers and employees can negotiate their own enterprise agreement, or they can use a model agreement developed by the Fair Work Commission.

Unfair Dismissal:

The Fair Work Act 2009 sets out provisions for unfair dismissal. Employees who have been employed for at least 6 months (or 12 months for a small business) may be eligible to make a claim for unfair dismissal if they believe that they have been unfairly dismissed. Unfair dismissal claims are heard by the Fair Work Commission, which will consider a range of factors including the reason for the dismissal, the employee's length of service, and the size and resources of the employer.


Employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of a protected attribute, such as race, sex, age, or disability. Discrimination can occur in a range of ways, including in the recruitment process, during employment, and in termination of employment. Employers must take steps to prevent discrimination, including providing equal opportunities for all employees, making reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, and implementing anti-discrimination policies and training programs.

How to stay compliant with Australian employment law

To ensure compliance with Australian employment law, employers should:

  1. Familiarise themselves with the NES, modern awards, and other relevant legislation and regulations.
  2. Keep accurate records of employee pay rates, hours worked, and leave entitlements.
  3. Have clear and well-documented policies and procedures in place to address issues such as anti-discrimination, harassment, and termination of employment.
  4. Seek legal advice when necessary.
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