By Alex Millman and Troy Wild, NRA Legal
Since the Fair Work Act appeared on the scene in 2009, the legal environment around employment law has shifted dramatically.
Any person can be represented before the Fair Work Commission by a person acting as a ‘paid agent’. Whilst this is nothing new, the employee advocacy industry exploiting this exception has altered dramatically in the digital age.
The nature of legal representation used to be such that it was something that generally only employers could afford to maintain for the length of a court case. This was usually because of old-fashioned processes – specifically, filing and serving official documents, or attending conferences and hearings, in person.
The new technology of the digital age means that a niche industry has developed providing affordable representation to employees, taking full advantage of the ability to appear at a conference or hearing by telephone, and filing official documents with a simple email.
This ‘digital advocacy’ now allows an advocate in Melbourne to represent an employee based in Brisbane from the comfort of their own office, with no travel time or costs to worry about. It also means that these businesses can market nationally rather than to a limited local market.
By providing an affordable service, these employee advocacy businesses are becoming prolific, relying on a high caseload to make up for their lower fees.
Ultimately, this rise of affordable employee advocacy means that employers can no longer rest on the old belief that their employees, current or former, do not have the resources to sue.
For example, in the past, a casual employee may have lacked the resources or access to professional representation, and would have either represented themselves or let a matter fall by the wayside. In Cameron v Wunderdogs Pty Ltd, a casual employee who worked an average of 27.9 hours per week prior to dismissal, and had not had paid work since, was able to obtain a paid agent to represent her all the way to a final hearing before a Commissioner. With affordable representation readily available, the employee was able to fully pursue the matter and win compensation.
In this new environment, businesses need to more diligent than ever with their compliance and risk management. With advocates being given increasing freedoms in other tribunals and even some Courts, the ability of employees to bring claims backed by professional representation should not be underestimated.
To talk more about how NRA can assist, call 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245) to speak with one of our workplace advisors.