Legal essentials for business

One of the first things you need to find out when you're starting out is what laws apply to your new business. As a small business owner, you'll know that being legally compliant relies on being aware of rules and regulations. You may wish to consult a legal professional to help you with all the legal requirements that you must comply with, such as licences and registrations, contracts and leases.

If you need legal advice on a business issue, then the online Small business legal help guide may help. It covers problems you may encounter such as contracts, employment, fair trading, leases, insurance, credit and debt recovery, finance and tax.

We've outlined six legal issues below to help you when starting your business and ensure you remain compliant.

Business registrations

All business owners in Australia have to register before commencing any business activities. As well as registering a business name, there are a variety of taxes that can impact on your business that you may be required to register for. These may include:

  • an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • the Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • a Tax File Number (TFN)
  • Pay as you go (PAYG) withholding.

Read our Registration and Licences topic for more information on what and how to register for to meet your tax and business obligations. There are other registrations such as registering for a domain name or registering a trade mark that may be applicable to your business. If you're operating as a company, a different registration process applies than if you were a sole trader, partnership, or trust. Read our Register your company page.

Licences

If you operate a business, it's likely you'll need certain licences to make sure you're complying with your legal obligations.

The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) can help take the guess work out the licences, permits and registrations needed to run your business. You can search the ABLIS to find government licences, permits, approvals, registrations, codes of practice, standards and guidelines you need to know about to meet your compliance responsibilities.

The licence or permit you require may depend on the product or service you're selling. You'll need to find out whether there's a licensing requirement for your particular business, or you may face fines or other difficulties.

Businesses selling products for consumption as food, for example, could need a Food Business Licence. However, there may be other licenses that aren't so obvious, so it's best to do some research into this area. Licenses and permits can vary from state to territory, so it's best to find out this information from your local, state/territory, or federal government, to ensure you're doing the right thing. Search for your state and business type in ABLIS today.

Privacy Act

A new set of privacy principles was introduced in March 2014. The principles cover how a business handles personal information, including the:

  • handling and processing of personal information
  • use of personal information for direct marketing purposes
  • disclosing of personal information to people overseas.

Find out your Privacy Act 1988 obligations from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC) website. You'll need to be aware of your obligations under the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). Check out the OAIC website to see if your business needs to comply. Try the 9 Step Privacy Checklist for Small Business to find out if it applies to your small business.

Anti-bullying laws

People who believe they're being bullied in the workplace can apply to the Fair Work Commission for help in resolving the issue.

Bullying occurs when a person or group of people, repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker. The behaviour also has to be deemed a risk to the worker's health or safety. Read our Employing people topic for more information.

Download the Anti-workplace bullying guide (PDF, 130KB) to find out more about bullying in the workplace.

Independent contractors

Independent contractors are self-employed and provide a service to a business.

They often negotiate their own payments and working arrangements, and have the opportunity to work for a range of clients at any given time.

Before entering into a contract, you'll need to determine whether someone is classified as an independent contractor. Their status will affect their rights and obligations. It's possible for someone to be an employee for some work and an independent contractor for other work.

You also need to remember that it's illegal to fire, or threaten to fire, an employee if they don't agree to become a contractor.

It's important to know whether you're hiring an independent contractor or an employee, so you can be sure you're complying with your legal obligations.

Try our Contractor decision tool to find out if someone is more likely to be an independent contractor or an employee.

Unfair dismissal

Small businesses have different laws compared with larger businesses when it comes to unfair dismissal. Most small businesses (those with fewer than 15 employees) will fall under the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code.

If you are planning to terminate an employee, it's important you follow the rules outlined in the Code.

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