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The National Employment Standards

Overview of 10 National Employment Standards

The National Employment Standards under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) are ten legislated minimum standards. The National Employment Standards replace the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard.

What are the 10 National Employment Standards?

1. Maximum Weekly Hours

The National Employment Standards provide maximum working hours of 38 hours per week for full-time employees. For employees who are not full-time employees (part-time or casual employees), weekly hours must not exceed the lesser of the employee’s ordinary hours or 38 hours.

Calculating an employee’s ordinary hours of work will depend on whether a modern award or an enterprise agreement applies to that employee:

1. Where a modern award or an enterprise agreement applies to an employee the ordinary hours of work for that employee will be those hours set out in the modern award or enterprise agreement.

2. Where a modern award or an enterprise agreement does not apply to an employee the ordinary hours of work for an award/agreement free employee are the hours agreed to between the employee and his or her employer.

3. If no such agreement is reached, ordinary hours of work will be the employee’s usual weekly hours of work. Regulations may be made to specify the usual weekly hours of work for an award/agreement free employee who is not a full-time employee and who does not have usual weekly hours of work.

An employee can be required or requested to work reasonable additional hours. There are a number of factors that must be considered in determining whether additional hours are reasonable, including:

- any risk to employee health and safety from working the additional hours;

- the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities;

- the needs of the workplace or enterprise in which the employee is employed;

- notice given by the employer of any request or requirement to work the additional hours;

- notice given by employee of his or her intention to refuse to work additional hours;

- whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates or other compensation for working additional hours;

- patterns of work in the industry; and

- nature of employee’s role and level of responsibility.

- An employee may refuse to work the additional hours if they are not reasonable.

The National Employment Standards allow modern awards and enterprise agreements to provide for the averaging of hours. This does not undercut the weekly hours guarantee, but is relevant in considering if additional hours are reasonable. Employers and award/agreement free employees may also agree on the averaging of hours over a maximum period of 26 weeks [ss 62-64].

2. Requests for Flexible Working Arrangements

The National Employment Standards give employees the right to request a change to working arrangements if they have 12 months continuous service and are parents of, or have responsibility for the care of, a child under school age, or a disabled child under 18. Flexible work can also be requested where the employee is experiencing violence from a family member or is supporting an immediate family member who is experiencing family violence. Further if the employee has a disability or is over 55 years old they are also able to request flexible working arrangements [ss 65(1), (1A), (1B)].

The request must be in writing and detail the change sought and reasons for the change. A written response must be received from the employer within 21 days and state whether the employer grants or refuses the request.

A request may only be refused on reasonable business grounds , the refusal must be in writing within 21 days of receiving the request and and include reasons [ss 65(4)-(6)]. The National Employment Standards does not provide a complete definition as to what constitutes reasonable business grounds, but provides examples which include that is would be too costly, or that there is no ability to adapt other employees' work arrangements to accommodate this [s 65(5A)].

These provisions are not intended to displace State and Territory laws that provide employee entitlements in relation to flexible work arrangements if they are more beneficial to employees [ss 65-66].

3. Parental Leave and Related Entitlements

The National Employment Standards provide access to up to 24 months unpaid leave in relation to the birth of a child or the placement for adoption of a child under 16. This entitlement extends to same sex couples.

The employee taking leave must have completed 12 months of continuous service before qualifying for this entitlement.

Each member of an employee couple may each take up to 12 months leave. An employee who has taken 12 months of unpaid parental leave may request an extension for a further period of up to 12 months. The available extension period will be reduced by any parental leave or special maternity leave taken by the employee’s partner. A request for extension may only be refused on reasonable business grounds.

Leave cannot be taken concurrently; other than a period of up to 3 weeks around the time of birth or adoption [ss 67-79].

A casual employed on a regular and systematic basis over at least a 12-month period prior to the expected date of birth who has a reasonable expectation of continuing regular employment is also entitled to unpaid parental leave.

The Fair Work Ombudsman and Services Australia have information available about the Australian Government Parental Leave Pay (PLP) system [links open in a new window].

4. Annual Leave

The National Employment Standards provide 4 weeks paid annual leave for each year of service. A shift worker (as defined by a modern award or enterprise agreement or, in the case of an award/agreement free employee, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)) is entitled to 5 weeks annual leave.

Modern awards and enterprise agreements may include provisions dealing with cashing out of annual leave. Employers and award/agreement free employees may also agree to cash out. An agreement to cash out annual leave must be in writing and the payment must be for the full amount that the employee would have been paid if the employee had taken the leave. The employee must retain a balance of 4 weeks annual leave after the cash out.

Awards and agreements can also include provisions about taking or directing the taking of annual leave [ss 86-94].

5. Personal/ Carer's Leave and Compassionate Leave, and unpaid Family and Domestic Violence Leave

Under the National Employment Standards, employees (other than casual employees) are entitled to 10 days paid personal/ carer’s leave.

All employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion (this entitlement applies to casual employees and other employees who have exhausted their paid leave entitlement).

Employees are also entitled to 2 days of paid compassionate leave per occasion (for casual employees, this is an unpaid entitlement).

Carer’s leave and compassionate leave entitlements may be taken in relation to a member of the employee’s household or ‘immediate family’ (this includes extended and blended families, de facto partners, step-relationships and adoptive relationships).

When taking personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave, employees must:

- provide notice to their employer as soon as is reasonably practicable (which may be a time after the leave has started);

- state the period, or expected period, of the absence if required by the employer—provide evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person of their entitlement to take the relevant kind of leave. Modern awards and enterprise agreements may include further rules relating to evidence requirements, such as the provision of medical certificates.

Modern awards and enterprise agreements may allow for the cashing out of personal leave, provided certain conditions are met to ensure employees are protected (that is, the employee must retain a balance of 15 days paid leave after the cash out). An award/agreement free employee is not able to cash out personal/carer’s leave [ss 95-106].


To be protected from unlawful dismissal due to temporary absence due to illness [s 352 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)], a medical certificate should be provided to the employer within 24 hours or as is reasonable in the circumstances [see regulation 3.01 Fair Work Regulations 2009 (Cth)]. It is always advisable to provide a medical certificate to your employer if absent due to illness as soon as possible.

All workers, full-time, part-time, or casual, are entitled to 5 days of unpaid Family and Domestic Violence Leave per year. See further the Fair Work Ombudsman.

6. Community Service Leave

The National Employment Standards provides a paid entitlement for employees required to attend jury service and unpaid leave for those who engage in a voluntary emergency management activity.

An employee is entitled to be paid by their employer for a period of up to 10 days while they are absent from work during a period of jury service. An employer may require the employee to obtain payments to which they are eligible from the applicable State/Territory or Commonwealth body; these payments will reduce the amount payable to the employee.

These provisions are not intended to displace State and Territory laws that provide employee entitlements in relation to engaging in eligible community service activities, if they are more beneficial to employees [ss 108-112].

7. Long Service Leave

The Federal government will work with the States and Territories to develop a uniform minimum long service leave standard. The National Employment Standards provide transitional arrangements while the new national standard is being developed.

Existing agreement entitlements continue to apply in South Australia [the Long Service Leave Act 1987 (SA)].

If an agreement is terminated, the National Employment Standards entitlement to Long Service Leave (the entitlement in the relevant pre-modernised award or, in some cases, pre-commencement multi-State agreement) or State/Territory legislation will apply in any future agreement.

There is limited scope to discount Long Service Leave where a pre-commencement agreement specifically excluded Long Service Leave [s 113].

8. Public Holidays

The public holidays National Employment Standard allows employees to be absent from work on specified public holidays and to be paid for the hours they would normally work.

Public holidays may be substituted by agreement between an employer and an award/agreement free employee or if permitted under the terms in a modern award/enterprise agreement.

An employer may request an employee to work on a public holiday if the request is reasonable. The request may be refused if it is unreasonable or the employee’s refusal is reasonable. The National Employment Standard provides a non-exhaustive list of factors to be taken into account when determining the reasonableness of a request or refusal [ss 114-116].

9. Notice of Termination and Redundancy Pay

An employer must provide an employee with written notice of the day of termination of employment [ss117-118].

An employer must provide notice of termination or payment in lieu of that notice. The required period of notice is set out in a table in the National Employment Standards.

An employee who has worked continuously for one year or more, whose position is made redundant (as defined in the National Employment Standards) is entitled to a payment based on years of continuous service with an employer. Businesses with less than 15 employees are exempt from this National Employment Standard [ss 119-121].

Exclusions apply including:

- an employee employed for a specified period of time, for a specified task, or for the duration of a specified season;

- an employee whose employment is terminated because of serious misconduct;

- a casual employee;

- in some situations where the employer has found suitable alternative employment for the employee;

- where there is an industry-specific scheme for redundancy in the modern award;

- an employee (other than an apprentice) to whom a training arrangement applies and whose employment is for a specified period of time or is, for any reason, limited to the duration of the training arrangement; [ see generally ss 120-123].

10. Fair Work Information Statement

The National Employment Standards require employers to give each new employee a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement containing information on key elements of the new system. Key elements include the roles of the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman, the National Employment Standards, modern awards, agreement making and freedom of association. The Fair Work Information Statement must also contain information on individual flexibility arrangements, employee records and privacy and termination of employment.

An employer must give each new employee a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement (to be published and available from the Fair Work Ombudsman) prior to or as soon as practicable after commencement of employment [ss 124-125].

The National Employment Standards apply for employees not covered by awards or enterprise agreements

The National Employment Standards operate even if an employee is not covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement. The national minimum wage also applies to those employees.

The Miscellaneous Award 2010 is the modern award which provides minimum entitlements for employees who are not covered by another (industry or occupation-based) modern award and who are performing work of a similar nature to that which has historically been regulated by award [ see].

The National Employment Standards  :  Last Revised: Fri Jul 10th 2020
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.