A recent case of the Federal Circuit and Family Court serves as a reminder to employers that pre-shift tasks that an employee is required to perform in order to be ready to commence work at the beginning of their shift, could be considered ‘work’ for which employees must be paid.
After clocking on but before the official start of paid working hours, workers at Aldi’s Distribution Centre were required to complete various tasks necessary to enable them to commence work at the beginning of their shift.
The tasks included completing pre-operational checks on stock pickers, collecting various tools to enable them to perform their role and some administration tasks.
The union claimed that these tasks amounted to work and that the relevant time should therefore be paid.
Because the activities were ‘solely to the benefit of the employer’ with ‘no personal benefit to the employee’, the Court determined that this was work requiring payment.
The company did not expressly direct the workers to undertake these pre-shift tasks, but the Court accepted there was a ‘clear implied direction’ that employees had to arrive early to perform these duties otherwise they would face disciplinary action.
Aldi submitted that the pre-shift tasks had always been performed prior to the commencement of shifts and were therefore not paid. However, the Court held that any ‘custom and practice’ in relation to pre-shift tasks did not change the fact that the activities were work for the purposes of the Fair Work Act.
Lesson for employers
It is not unusual that certain tasks need to be completed before work officially starts. For example, an employee may need to unlock the door to the shop, turn on the lights and make sure the store is tidy before customers come in. However, employers should not assume that tasks completed before officially starting a shift, or after finishing one, are not part of ‘work’ and are not paid time.
Any duties that are entirely for the benefit of the employer are likely to be considered ‘work’ for which employees must be paid.
Employers should review any tasks which need to be performed before a shift commences and if necessary, consider whether employees should be paid for the pre-shift tasks they are performing.