Resolving disputes with our help

Workplace disputes are common and happen in lots of workplaces. Disputes happen when two or more people disagree about something and they can’t resolve the problem. These people are called parties to the dispute.

Our role in resolving disputes

The Fair Work Ombudsman is an independent statutory agency created by the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act). We have a number of functions, which include:

  • providing education, assistance and advice to promote harmonious, productive and cooperative workplaces
  • monitoring compliance with the FW Act and related instruments (such as awards and enterprise agreements)
  • inquiring into or investigating potential breaches of the FW Act or related instruments
  • enforcing the FW Act or related instruments by starting proceedings in a Court
  • referring matters to other relevant authorities where appropriate.

When you report your workplace dispute or issue to us, we assess it to decide how we will respond.

Our Compliance and Enforcement Policy guides decisions we make about:

  • whether or not we investigate a problem or provide extra support
  • the kinds of support we offer or the types of investigations we carry out
  • if and how we respond to investigation findings.

When deciding whether we'll get involved in an issue, we'll consider:

  • the seriousness of the workplace issue
  • the circumstances of the employer and employee
  • practical issues involved in resolving the matter.

Watch our Compliance policy video external-icon.png to see the different ways we help employers and employees fix workplace problems.  

Download the Compliance and Enforcement Policy (DOCX 1.2MB) (PDF 695.6KB).

We can't force employers and employees to take any specific action, including paying back money. Only a court can make binding orders.

Read on for information about dispute resolution tools and compliance and enforcement options we may use.

Dispute resolution tools

If we offer to help you using our dispute resolution tools, we’ll discuss this with you first. We’ll ask you to take some steps on your own before we begin.

As part of this process, it’s important to remember that we are neutral and impartial. We help both employers and employees. We don’t act or advocate for either party.

Early intervention

It's always best to resolve a dispute early on, before it escalates and further disrupts the workplace. In some instances, we may intervene directly and work with the parties to reach a solution. Our Compliance and enforcement policy explains how we determine when this would be most effective.

We want to make sure everyone follows workplace laws, can resolve issues quickly and get on with their job. Early intervention may include offering tailored advice, education and assistance to help you find a solution.

We may:

  • provide you and/or the other party with relevant advice and education to help and promote compliance with workplace laws
  • facilitate discussions between the parties, focusing on supporting them to have effective conversations and talking employees and employers through their options
  • re-assess the situation if the parties can’t resolve the issue. We’ll base this on the information provided to us to identify the most appropriate action, or prepare both parties for an alternate dispute resolution option when required.

Early intervention outcomes

Early intervention is often successful at fixing workplace disputes and problems. This approach involves parties coming together to discuss resolving the problem and helps both parties develop suitable strategies for addressing workplace issues at the workplace level.

Example: Help getting paid for trial period

Khaled had worked two shifts as a casual waiter for a café. He hadn’t been paid for the shifts. When Khaled contacted his employer to check when he would be paid, he was told he had to return an apron first. Khaled told the employer he didn’t have the apron and wanted to be paid for his time worked.

Khaled made a phone enquiry to us. We checked the relevant minimum pay rates and determined that the enquiry was suitable for us to assist.

The assessment team explained to Khaled that we would provide him with tailored information and tools to help him write a letter to his employer. Khaled used this information to send the employer a letter asking for payment for the hours he worked.

A couple of weeks later, Khaled called us and said his employer had paid him $750 in outstanding wages.

Example: Getting help with final pay

Jayda was employed as a full-time manager of a hair and beauty salon. She had worked there 10 months then resigned, giving her employer one week notice as required in her award. When Jayda finished her employment, she noticed she hadn’t been paid for the all the overtime she’d worked.

Jayda made an online enquiry to us. In her enquiry form, she said that her employer had done this to other employees. Jayda had tried to discuss the problem with her employer but the employer did not respond or resolve the issue. We assessed Jayda’s enquiry and determined it was suitable for us to provide assistance.

One of our team phoned Jayda for more details. Jayda said she thought the business could be trading insolvent. It wasn't clear yet whether that was correct. We also asked if we could contact her employer to better understand the issue.

With Jayda’s permission, we contacted her employer to discuss the problem further. The business owner, Lyle, confirmed he was in financial hardship. Lyle explained that he planned to pay Jayda when he could. We asked Lyle to confirm by email when her final pay would be made, which he did.

A couple of weeks later Jayda contacted us. She told us the salon had paid her outstanding entitlements of almost $2000.

Mediation

We offer mediation services in limited situations. Mediation is a confidential and voluntary process. It's conducted by a mediator to help employees and employers find solutions to disputes about workplace issues.

It's possible no agreement will be reached at mediation. If this happens we'll let you know what your options are. Often this will be a referral to take legal action in the small claims court.

Compliance and enforcement options

Our Compliance and Enforcement Policy outlines the different tools we can use to assist with resolving workplace disputes and enforcing compliance with the FW Act.

These include:

  • investigating potential non-compliance with the FW Act
  • issuing compliance notices to address alleged contraventions of the FW Act
  • issuing other notices or documents, such as a FWO Notice or a notice to produce records or documents
  • issuing a contravention letter or infringement notice
  • commencing legal proceedings.

We assess each matter that is raised with us. We use a range of criteria to determine the most appropriate compliance and enforcement option in the circumstances. For more information about our compliance and enforcement powers, including our assessment criteria, read our Compliance and Enforcement Policy (DOCX 1.2MB) (PDF 695.6KB).

Tools and resources

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