Unpaid work case study


Do friends sometimes help out on your farm? This case study covers what you need to be aware of as an employer and what your responsibilities are under law.

Meet Geoff and Dianne

Geoff and Dianne run a 350 cow dairy farm at Leongatha in Gippsland. They employ Steve as a relief milker to work weekends and occasionally at other times.

Recently Steve has been asking a friend, Justin, to help out on Saturday nights so that he can finish early and go out with his girlfriend.

Geoff and Dianne have contacted Kathy their farm adviser for information as they are concerned about the legal implications of this arrangement.

Unpaid work under the Fair Work Laws

Unpaid work is not permitted unless it is for the purpose of demonstrating whether the person has the required skills or if it is a part of an official work experience or internship scheme.

Kathy warns that if Geoff and Diane permit the arrangement to continue, it is quite likely that Justin would be found to be an employee and be entitled to the protection of the Fair Work laws, entitled to be paid the award rate of pay and other minimum entitlements.

Justin has 6 years to make a claim for non-payment of wages and the Fair Work Act provides significant penalties for breaches of the Act.


Geoff and Diane do not know whether Justin has the required skills to undertake the farm duties. Assessment of skill level and the requirement for further training should be addressed at the formal job interview.

Geoff and Diane are keenly aware of the consequences for animal health and the financial cost of unskilled workers milking cows.

No induction process?

Induction is an essential first step when an employee commences work.

Induction involves introducing the employee to the business and the role the employee is to undertake. Workplace policies and procedures should be introduced and standard working conditions explained at an induction.

Importantly, Workplace Health and Safety policies and procedures should be drawn to the attention of the employee and the employer should be clear that the employee understands them.

Kathy reminds Geoff and Diane that all new employees must be given a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement and that there are penalties for failure to do so.

Download: induction checklist and Fair Work Information Statement

Work Health and Safety laws

Work Health and Safety laws will apply to Justin while he is on the farm just like they apply to any visitor. If Justin is working on the farm then the obligations which apply to other workers would also apply to him. Part of this is ensuring that Justin has had a comprehensive induction.

What happens if Justin gets injured while at the farm?

Kathy warns that workers’ compensation laws only apply to “workers” and the WorkCover insurance premium is calculated on remuneration.

The workers’ compensation laws define workers as individuals who perform work ‘at the employer’s direction, instruction or request’ or to other individuals who the legislation deems to be workers.

People who work on a voluntary basis are not deemed to be ‘workers’ for the purpose of the workers’ compensation laws.

Kathy advises that as Justin is working on the farm without any direction, instruction or request from Geoff and Diane his injury would not be covered by workers’ compensation.

Public Liability

Geoff and Diane’s public liability insurance may cover Justin’s injury but Kathy warns that it is likely that the insurer will want to see evidence of proper induction and training having taken place.

Geoff and Diane agree with Kathy that Steve be counselled that it is not appropriate for him to bring friends to help him with his work in the dairy.

Read more about unpaid work at Fair Work Ombudsman