Minimum engagement periods (not be confused with minimum employment periods which relate to unfair dismissal), are the periods defined to be the minimum amount of time an employee can work per shift and are found in most modern awards and enterprise agreements.

What does this mean?

If the applicable award or agreement contains a minimum engagement period, you must roster and pay your employees for at least that length of time per shift. For many industries, this means you are unable to roster an employee on for only an hour’s work. Or that if you do, you will have to pay for the entire minimum engagement period despite only receiving a lesser period of actual work from the employee.

In another example, if you send an employee home before the minimum engagement period ends, you will still have to pay the remainder of the period. An exception to this is where the employee themselves ask to leave early, such as if a casual is sick and leaves an hour and a half into their shift. In this case, you’ve satisfied your obligation to provide them with the minimum engagement period, but by their own choice they decided to leave early. You would only pay this employee for actual time worked.

Why do minimum engagement periods exist?

Minimum engagement periods are intended to protect employees by ensuring that the time worked is worth the travel time and costs, as well as the inconvenience of going to work. You probably wouldn’t want to spend half an hour each way travelling to a job which sends you home after 20 minutes, and your employees don’t want to either.

Minimum engagement periods usually only apply to casual and part-time employees. It is generally assumed that a full-time employee will naturally work shifts longer than the minimum engagement period.

Are all minimum engagement periods the same?

No. Each industrial instrument has different clauses relating to minimum engagement periods. Most however, are 2 or 3 hours.
Some awards contain some unusual minimum engagement period provisions:

  • Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award: the minimum engagement period is usually 4 hours, except for a casual employee engaged solely to transport school children to and from school which is 2 hours.
  • Cleaning Services Award: the minimum engagement period in this award is based upon the square metres the employee is engaged to clean (for example, a cleaning which the employer is contracted to clean of 2000-5000 sqm bears a minimum engagement period of 3 hours).
  • Fitness Industry Award: casuals have a minimum engagement period of 3 hours, unless they are a level 2, 3, 3A, 4 or 4A instructor or trainer, or a student undertaking practical work experience, in which case the minimum engagement period is 1 hour.

What should I do?

It is vital that you are aware of any minimum engagement periods under the award or agreement applicable to your employees so you may avoid an inadvertent breach of such an instrument.

If you roster your employees for less than the minimum engagement period, you should alter your rosters immediately to cater for the minimum, and make back-payments accordingly.

For more information about minimum engagement periods, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you would like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.