Australia: Unfair Dismissal Under The Fair Work Act 2009

Last Updated: 9 July 2009

Article by Sarah Ralph and Andre Didenkowski

What do you need to know?

With the Fair Work Bill receiving Royal Assent on 7 April 2009, the Federal Government has followed through on its election promise to do away with 'Workchoices'.

The Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act), including the unfair dismissal provisions, came into operation on 1 July 2009. The provisions dealing with Modern Awards and the commencement of the National Employment Standards will come into effect on 1 January 2010.

The Act makes significant changes to the ways in which claims for unfair dismissal will be made. This article will discuss some of the most significant changes to the ways in which unfair dismissal claims will be made.

When must proceedings be commenced?

From 1 July 2009, an employee who makes a claim for unfair dismissal must do so within 14 days of the date of dismissal. According to the Government the shortened time period for making a claim is designed to resolve issues between employees and employers quickly with a view to maintaining the employment relationship.

Who can make a claim?

To be protected from unfair dismissal, the Act provides that an employee must:

  • Be employed for the minimum employment period (6 months or 12 months if a small business); and
  • Either:
  • Be covered by a Modern Award,
  • Have an Enterprise Agreement covering the employment of the person, or
  • Earn less than the high income threshold.

The Act retains exclusions for employees who are employed for a specified period or task; employed under a training arrangement; or demoted without significant reduction in duties or remuneration.

Who will hear applications?

Fair Work Australia (FWA) is the new industrial umpire.

Until the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (the AIRC) is completely phased out at the end of 2009, the AIRC and FWA will operate in tandem. It is envisaged that any claims made before 1 July 2009 will remain with the AIRC and all claims lodged after 1 July 2009 will be heard by FWA. Appeals from AIRC decisions will be heard by FWA.


Small business

The Act changes the position of small business employers. A small business is now defined as a business that employs less than 15 employees.

Note that the transitional arrangements for the Act provide that until 1 January 2011, the small business cut off will be determined as 15 full time equivalent employees. A straight head count will be used after that.

Minimum period of employment

The Act does away with the distinction between probationary periods and qualifying periods. The Act provides that an employee must have been employed for at least six months (the minimum period of employment) to be entitled to make a claim for unfair dismissal code.

The minimum period of employment is extended to 12 months for a small business employee.

Initial matters

The Act will require FWA to consider four initial matters before making a determination on the merits of the claim. They are:

  1. Was the application brought in time;
  2. Was the employee protected from unfair dismissal;
  3. If the employee was a small business employee, was the dismissal consistent with the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code; and
  4. Was the dismissal the result of a genuine redundancy.

The Substantive Application

The Act gives FWA the discretion to hold a conference in relation to an unfair dismissal claim or refer it to a hearing.

Importantly the Act provides that FWA is not required to hold a hearing to exercise its powers. This means that FWA may make orders about a claim from a conference. This is a significant change.

The Act also gives FWA the discretion to hold hearings on only certain parts of a matter – the matter may be heard in conference except for one single issue, for example whether or not an employee was properly informed of a policy that was breached.

The Regulations to be made under the Act are yet to be released and it is expected that either the Regulations or the rules of FWA will provide more clarity on the procedure for conferences and hearings.

Genuine Operational Reasons v Genuine Redundancy

The Act provides that a dismissal will not have been unfair if the dismissal was a case of genuine redundancy.

The Act extends employer obligations in this regard when compared to the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

The decision must have been made that an employer no longer required the employee's job to be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of the employer's enterprise and the employer must have complied with any consultation obligations set out in a Modern Award or Enterprise Agreement.

This is narrower than the current exemption (introduced as part of Workchoices) which refers to a "genuine operational reason or a reason that includes a genuine operational reason".

Further, a dismissal will not have been a case of genuine redundancy if it would have been reasonable in all the circumstances to:

  • Redeploy the employee within the employer's enterprise, or
  • Redeploy the employee within an enterprise of an associated entity of the employer.

This is significant as employers conducting a redundancy process will now have a positive obligation to consider options for redeployment.


The Act retains the notion that the primary remedy in any claim will be reinstatement and compensation will only be ordered where reinstatement is inappropriate.

A failure to comply with an order made by FWA will be a breach of the Act and a remedy can be sought under the Act's civil remedy provision.

What do the changes mean for Employers?

  • The biggest issue will be the shortened time frame for unfair dismissal applications. It is also likely that employers will find themselves before FWA in a conference quite quickly,
  • Given the fact that the process may be sped up, HR Managers should either obtain advice before terminating an employee in contentious circumstances, or undertake a 'health check' of the process before the decision to terminate is made,
  • As decisions may be made in conference, we recommend employer's seek advice on the employee's claim prior to attending conferences.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.