The meaning of common workplace words and phrases

Analysis

The meaning of common workplace words and phrases

Employers often have difficulty interpreting common words and phrases which that awards and enterprise agreements and employment legislation.

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Employers often have difficulty interpreting common words and phrases which that awards and enterprise agreements and employment legislation.

Sometimes, these words and phrases may not mean what they say or, conversely, mean exactly what they say but are still confusing.

Industrial relations consultant Paul Munro comments on the interpretation of the industrial courts and tribunals of common words, phrases and entitlements which have, at some point, been the source of ambiguity or industrial disputation.

Periods of time

Most industrial instruments and employment legislation refer to periods of time with respect to either the length of service, an amount of leave, or a period of qualification for an employment entitlement.

They may make reference to a day, week, month or year. In the absence of a specific definition to the contrary, such periods of time refer to a 'calendar' period of time.

'Day'

A ‘day’ generally means a 24 hour period commencing from the normal starting time. In the case of notice of termination of employment, and calculating a period of notice, it is usual to disregard the day on which notice is given or (what amounts to the same thing) the day on which the termination occurs.

However, if notice is given prior to the employee's normal starting time, that day could count as part of the notice period.

'Week'

A ‘week’ generally means the calendar week, ie any period of seven consecutive days. This does not mean a ‘working week’ which is normally five days for full-time employees.

This is particularly important when notice of termination is given by either party. For example, reference to four weeks' notice of termination means twenty-eight consecutive days notice must be given.

'Month'

A ‘month’ generally means the period from a point in one month to the same point in the succeeding month.

Where there is no corresponding point of time in the next succeeding month the period expires at the end of such subsequent month. A month does not mean four weeks unless otherwise specified.

'Year'

A ‘year’ generally means the period from a point in one year to the same point in the next succeeding year.

Common phrases

’Actual rate of pay’

This phrase means the total rate of pay, including any over-award payment, actually received by an employee in a particular classification under an award or agreement.

'Directed as'

A common provision in awards and agreements is the phrase ‘where at the employer's direction the employee is required…’

The correct interpretation of this phrase is that the employer initiates the direction to require an employee to perform certain work. The provision would not operate where an employee performs work the employer is unaware of at their own volition.

'Employment'

This generally means that an employee will continue to accrue benefits while employed under a contract of employment.

The term is particularly important when calculating employment entitlements where an employee has not been working.

For example, an employee continues to accrue benefits while absent on leave without pay where the relevant entitlement applies for each ‘year of employment.’

'Continuous service'

This phrase means service given in accordance with a contract of employment and without interruption. Breaks in service may affect entitlements to leave and other provisions, such as notice of termination and redundancy payments.

Generally service will be deemed to be, or treated as, continuous, even in cases of authorised absences such as annual leave, long service leave and sick leave.

However, some leave, although authorised, may not count as time worked for the purposes of the industrial instrument or employment legislation, such as parental leave, leave without pay, etc.

Distance measures

In specifying areas in which certain entitlements are payable or defining areas to which special conditions apply, many industrial instruments make use of the expression such as ‘within 50 kilometres of the GPO’.

Doubt often arises as to whether this refers to 50km in a straight line or 50km by road. Industrial courts have held that such an expression refers to 50km in a straight line or 50km of radius.

Common words

'May'

A common provision in industrial instruments is the phrase ‘Notwithstanding any other provision, the ordinary hours of work may be worked up to 10 hours on any particular day….’

This word ('may') has been interpreted to mean that while the employer has a discretion to exercise the power, it is not mandatory to exercise such power.

'Shall'

Another common provision in industrial instruments and employment legislation is the phrase ‘weekly employees shall be entitled to…’

When used to impose a duty, 'shall'  is a word that has been interpreted to mean that the duty must be performed.

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