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Salary update - What Should I pay staff?

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2012 86 (04) LIJ, p.72

As trainees start their legal careers employers need to be aware of employment obligations.

A common question at this time of year with trainees starting and the legal year back in full swing is: what should I pay my staff? This article aims to address frequently asked questions about minimum wages, annualised salaries and award/non-award coverage for those practising and working in the legal profession.

Is there a minimum rate of pay for legal practitioners?

Lawyers’ salaries are guided by the federal minimum wage, currently $15.51 per hour plus superannuation. However, market trends and industry standards drive the trend for lawyers to be paid above market rate.

Although salary surveys do not provide a definitive minimum/maximum amount of pay, they do provide guidance on market trends and average wages within the legal profession.

For a greater understanding of the average fair salary for a lawyer, refer to the salary surveys on the LIV website: http://tinyurl.com/7y7vaxa.

Who is covered under the Legal Services Award 2010?

The award1 applies to all employees engaged in the business of legal support services and covers all legal administrative and clerical staff, including payroll and accounts personnel and paralegals. The award also extends to law graduates (level 5) and law clerks (level 6).

The award does not cover employees in community legal centres, Aboriginal legal services, or an employer whose primary activity is not within the legal services industry.

Schedule B of the award refers to classifications representing characteristics, generic skills and core skills of administrative and clerical staff.

When determining the most appropriate classification for staff, employers should look for the classification that most closely matches the skill level of the staff member and the day-to-day tasks the role requires.

Part 14 of the award aligns the classification with the minimum wages. The minimum wages are based on a 38-hour working week.

What should I pay law students?

Unless otherwise arranged through a university or TAFE, law students conducting administrative or paralegal work with the firm should be classified under Schedule B of the award which makes them part of the same pay structure as all other administrative and clerical staff in the firm.

Can I annualise salaries?

An employer may pay an employee an annual salary to take into account any or all of the following provisions: minimum wages; allowances; overtime and penalty rates; and annual leave loading.

Where an annual salary is paid, an employee must be informed in writing of the provisions of the annualised salary and the entitlements that have been bundled into the salary package.

In annualising a salary, an employer must ensure that the staff member is better off overall and that the annual salary is no less than the amount the employee would have received under the Legal Services Award 2010 for the work performed over the year for which the salary is paid.

How does the NES apply to my staff?

The National Employment Standards (NES)set out 10 minimum workplace entitlements that from 1 January 2010 apply to all employers and employees in the national workplace relations system (note only certain entitlements apply to casual employees and rates outlined below apply to full-time employees with pro rata entitlements for part-time employees).

1. Maximum weekly hours of work – 38 hours per week, plus reasonable additional hours.

2. Right to request flexible working arrangements – allows parents or carers of a child under school age or of a child under 18 with a disability the right to request a change in working arrangements to assist with the child’s care.

3. Parental leave and related entitlements – up to 12 months unpaid leave for every employee, plus a right to request an additional 12 months unpaid leave, plus other forms of maternity, paternity and adoption related leave.

4. Annual leave – four weeks paid leave per year, plus an additional week for certain shift workers.

5. Personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave – 10 days paid personal/carer’s leave, two days unpaid carer’s leave as required, and two days compassionate leave (unpaid for casuals) per occasion.

6. Community service leave – unpaid leave for voluntary emergency activities and leave for jury service, with an entitlement to be paid for up to 10 days for jury service.

7. Long service leave (LSL) – a transitional entitlement for certain employees who had certain LSL entitlements before 1 January 2010 pending the development of a uniform national LSL standard.

8. Public holidays – paid days off on recognised public holidays, except where reasonably expected to work.

9. Notice of termination and redundancy pay – up to four weeks notice of termination (five weeks if the employee is over 45 and has at least two years of continuous service) and up to 16 weeks redundancy pay, both based on length of service. The following table2 outlines the notice period an employer must provide under the NES, when terminating the employment of a permanent employee.

Period of Continuous Service

Notice Period

Not more than 1 year

1 week

More than 1 year, but not more than 3 years

2 weeks

More than 3 years, but not more than 5 years

3 weeks

More than 5 years

4 weeks

The relevant notice period increases by 1 week if the employee is over 45 years old and has completed at least 2 years continuous service with the employer.

There are specific unfair dismissal arrangements that apply to small businesses. An employer is a small business employer if they have fewer than 15 full-time equivalent employees. Small businesses should refer to the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code3 before terminating an employee. All other queries about termination can be addressed through the LIV’s members only human resources information line (03) 9607 9548 or through the Fair Work Australia information line 13 13 94.

10. Provision of a Fair Work Information Statement – employers must provide this statement to all new employees. It contains information about the NES, modern awards, agreement-making, the right to freedom of association, termination of employment, individual flexibility arrangements, rights of entry, transfer of business and the respective roles of Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In summary, the introduction of the Legal Services Award 2010, and more specifically the changes to minimum wages, has implications for all firms irrespective of their size or function. It is important that firms comply with all conditions of employment, and clarify any uncertainty.

The HR members only information line (03) 9607 9548 is a complimentary service where a qualified HR practitioner can provide guidance on employment matters. Fair Work Australia has an employer/employee information line (13 13 94) where you can speak with an industrial relations specialist. It is recommended that you download the comprehensive award from the Fair Work Australia website www.fairwork.gov.au to assist with compliance.


Disclaimer: This information has been provided by the LIV’s Human Resources department. It is of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, however the LIV assumes no responsibility for errors, omissions or subsequent variations, or in relation to anyone acting in reliance on the information provided. Please note that the information was correct at the time of printing; however it is strongly recommended that you obtain a copy of the Fair Work Act 2008 or refer to www.workplace.gov.au for more information before using the above information.

1. Available at www.fairwork.gov.au.

2. www.fairwork.gov.au/Termination-of-employment/Pages/Notice-periods.aspx?role=employees.

3. www.fairwork.gov.au/Termination-of-employment/Pages/Small-Business-Fair-Dismissal-code.aspx?role=employees.

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