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There seem to have been an endless stream of employment/workplace issues and changes in the last 6-12 months, all exacerbated by low unemployment levels, inflation and cost of living pressures. All of these have put more and more pressure on those running businesses.

Whilst in some instances those in the agricultural related businesses are not as severely impacted, particularly where they are more family type businesses and don’t rely as heavily on other employees, the workplace and employment issues will inevitably have an impact- for example, the cost of fertiliser and seeds, or the cost of farm machinery.

The latest in the long list of recent changes is the ‘right to disconnect’ from work.

On 8 February 2023 the Senate passed the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing the Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. This portion of the amendments provides employees with protections from being ‘punished’ for refusing to take work calls or answer work emails outside of their usual working hours, unless the refusal is unreasonable. The Fair Work Commission has the ability to deal with any issues that arise in relation to any allegedly unreasonable out-of-hours contact.

In terms of what is unreasonable, there are a number of factors which need to be considered, including the reason for the contact, the extent to which the employee is compensated and the nature of the employee’s role and level of responsibility. Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules as to the precise circumstances when the contact and refusal by the employee will be considered reasonable or unreasonable.

In the context of farming operations and those in the agricultural industry more broadly, it will be interesting to see how this plays out, where the hours of work can vary quite dramatically based on the time of year. This makes it even more important to ensure that suitable employment contracts are in place, so as to ensure you don’t get caught out by an employee suggesting that they have been punished for not taking a call or answering emails.

This article was published in the February 2024 edition of The Stock Journal.