It’s that time again where retailers are preparing for the busiest time of the year – the Christmas holidays – by boosting their casual workforce. But a workplace lawyer has warned retailers that if they decide to retain their casual staff for a longer-term they may be exposed to unfair dismissal claims.

Lisa Berton, partner at Kemp Strang Lawyers, said that under the Fair Work Act, an employee in a business with over 15 staff qualifies for unfair dismissal protection after a period of at least six months.

“While temporary and casual employees are important for meeting seasonal demand, employers must remember that these staff still have workplace rights, particularly if their employment extends beyond the peak summer season,” she said.

“If the person is employed in a regular and systematic way for at least six months and has a reasonable expectation of continuing employment, this makes them eligible to bring an unfair dismissal claim.

“Moreover, the six months of employment need not be consecutive. It can be made up by combining separate periods of casual, part-time and full-time employment.”

Berton also added that employers, particularly in small to medium businesses, often confused the notions of ‘casual’ and ‘part-time’ work.

“The key aspect of part-time work, which distinguishes it from casual, is the prearranged regularity of the hours.  Part-time employees have designated days and hours, as a permanent arrangement.  Casual employees may also work regular hours each week, but the hours may be fewer than those of part-time employees, who often have a minimum as well as a maximum limit on hours per week,” she said.

“Ultimately, part-time employees are classed as permanent employees, while casual employees are not.”