Legal essentials for business
Do you know if your business needs to comply with the Privacy Act? Is the intellectual property of your products protected? Are you aware of the legal obligations of employing people?
One of the first things you need to know 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 for advice on what you must comply with, such as licences and registrations, contracts and leases.
Keep on top of these laws below to ensure your business stays legal:
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 your business may need 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 registrations and licences topic for more information on what applies to your business and how to register.
If you want exclusive rights to a business name, you’ll need to register it as a trade mark. Find out how to apply for a trade mark.
If you’re thinking of setting up a website, you’ll need to register a domain name. Find out how to register a website name.
Fair trading laws ensure your business operates fairly and competitively and that you inform and protect your customers.
There are a number of things to consider to ensure your business meets fair trading laws. Read about:
- Fair trading laws
- Australian Consumer Law and your business
- Complying with the Competition and Consumer Act
- Australian standards
- Codes of Practice.
When selling products and services you will need to understand:
- Australia's trade measurement laws
- Pricing regulations
- Displaying prices
- Product labelling
- Warranties and refunds
- Selling goods & services.
When you agree to do a job in exchange for money or some other benefit, you are probably entering into a commercial contract. This contract is legally enforceable regardless of whether it is a ‘handshake deal’ or written agreement.
Make sure you understand the contract before signing.
The Privacy Act
There are privacy laws around the collecting and storing of your customer’s personal information. This covers how a business handles personal information, especially for direct marketing purposes.
Read the checklist for how your business needs to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website.
You can also read more about how to protect your customers’ information.
Bullying at work occurs when a person or group of people, repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker and put the worker's health or safety at risk.
There are legal risks associated with harassment and bullying in the workplace. If you employ people, you should be aware of the steps you can take to minimise your potential liability.
Read more about bullying and harassment laws.
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 independent contractors’ decision tool to find out if someone is more likely to be an independent contractor or an employee.
The Small Business Fair Dismissal Code provides small businesses with a process to follow if they need to dismiss an employee. The Code applies to your business if you have less than 15 employees.
To download the Code and a checklist to help you follow it, visit unfair dismissal on the Fair Work Commission website.
Read more about dismissing employees fairly.
Importing and exporting
There are certain laws and permits you need to adhere to before you begin to import or export products. Contact the Department of Home Affairs for advice and information or read our page on importing and exporting.
As well as registering your intellectual property (IP) in Australia, you should ensure that goods you export will not infringe the IP of other businesses. Read more about intellectual property.
The Franchising Code of Conduct
All franchise businesses, including franchisors and franchisees, must comply with the mandatory industry code, Franchising Code of Conduct (the Franchising Code).
Find out more about Franchising Code of Conduct on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) website.
There are many legal obligations for employing people. They include:
- paying your employees correct wages
- reimbursing your employees for work-related expenses
- abiding by work health and safety (WHS) regulations and codes of practice
- ensuring you have workers’ compensation insurance for each employee
- not acting in a way that may seriously damage an employee's reputation or cause mental distress or humiliation
- ensuring you have a Working With Children check if you work or volunteer in child-related work. Find out more in our page about employing young workers.
You can read more about employment laws, industrial awards and contracts on our legal obligations for employing people page.
Laws of the environment
Federal, state and local governments jointly administer the environmental protection laws in Australia. As a business owner, you need to understand which laws apply to you.
Read our page on environmental legislation licences and permits to find information for your state or territory.
Legal obligations of marketing
When marketing your products or services, you need to be mindful of the relevant regulations, to ensure you aren't misleading your customers.
These include laws on advertising, signage, spam, pricing and licencing for using music in your advertising or even playing music in your business.
Find out more on our legal obligations of marketing page.
Find out more
- A great tool to help you get up and running is the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS). Search ABLIS to find out which licenses or permits are applicable to your online business, or get a tailored business report.
- Each industry has its own unique legal, operational and business requirements. Find out how they apply to you with our industry fact sheets.
- Do you need legal advice? Find free or low cost legal advisory services in your state or territory.