Length of service for casual employees
In Shortland v Smiths Snackfood (2010) FWAFB 5709 a Full Bench of Fair Work Australia dealt with the issue of how to calculate length of service service for casual employees for the purpose of unfair dismissal jurisdiction and so forth.;
“As a matter of the common law of employment, and in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, each occasion that a casual employee works is viewed as a separate engagement pursuant to a separate contract of employment. Casual employees may be engaged from week to week, day to day, shift to shift, hour to hour or for any other agreed short period. In this sense no casual employee has a continuous period of employment beyond any single engagement. Moreover, it is common for a casual employee to transition between a period in which their engagements with a particular employer are intermittent and a period in which their engagements are regular and systematic and vice versa. It is against that background that s.384 must be construed.
The criteria in s.384(2)(a) make it clear that s.384 does not proceed on the basis that a casual employee’s period of employment for the purposes of the unfair dismissal remedy starts and ends with each engagement as understood in the common law of employment.
Moreover, it is more than tolerably clear that s.384 is concerned with how an employee’s period of employment is calculated for the purposes of s.382(a). S.384(2) draws a distinction between a period of service and a period of employment. It also draws a distinction between a period of continuous service and a period of service: a period of continuous service can be made up of a series of periods of service, some of which count towards the period of continuous service (ie. where the conditions in s.384(2)(a)(i) and (ii) are met) and some of which do not (ie. where one of the conditions in s.384(2)(a)(i) or (ii) is not met). It is clear from the language of s.384(2) that an employee may have series of contiguous periods of service with an employer that may count towards a single period of employment with that employer. Any given period of service in such a contiguous series of periods of service will count towards the employee’s period of employment only if the requirements in s.384(2)(a)(i) and (ii) are met. Section 384(2) is concerned only with determining which periods of service in such a contiguous series count toward the employee’s period of employment with the employer for the purposes of s.382(a).
Continuous service by a casual employee who has an established sequence of engagements with an employer is broken only when the employer or the employee make it clear to the other party, by words or actions that there will be no further engagements. The gaps between individual engagements in a sequence of engagements should not be seen as interrupting the employee’s period of continuous employment within the meaning of s.384. In particular, a period of continuous service within the meaning of s.384(1) is not to be seen as broken by a period of ‘leave’ or an absence due to illness or injury.”