In 1819, John Keats penned his now famous ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’. And while most of us do not put pen to paper, we all have furniture without which we simply could not live. Think of your comfortable couch or that beautiful chair. However, for retailers, furniture is more than comfort and symmetry. It is also about legalities. If you are a furniture retailer, this article discusses those legal considerations you need to be aware of as you carry on the business of selling furniture.

There are three main legal issues that all furniture retailers need to consider:

  • Trading Hours;
  • Wages; and
  • Consumer Safety Issues.

Trading Hours

All states and territories regulate retail trading hours. This kind of regulation was introduced historically to safeguard time for religious observances. More recently, it was designed to prevent employees having to work outside of normally accepted trading hours

The effect that relevant state or territory legislation and regulations will have on your furniture store depends on two things:

  • The location of your store; and
  • The size of your store.

For example, under the Shop Trading Reform Act 1996 (Vic), Victoria prescribes two and a half restricted trading days: Christmas Day, Good Friday, and before 1 pm on Anzac Day. However, if your store qualifies as exempt, it can trade even on these days. Some stores are also exempt from restricted trading hours.  In contrast, shop trading hours are deregulated in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. Similarly, large stores or stores in the main metropolitan areas may have different trading restrictions to smaller stores or stores in outlying areas.

The state and territory based regimes for regulating trading mean that you need to know which legislation and regulations govern your store and exactly how they affect it. The websites for relevant state and territory authorities are an excellent resource.

Wages

On 1 January 2010, the General Retail Industry Award became law. The award applies nationally, and it regulates the earnings of retail employees, including those working in furniture stores.

The award covers issues like appropriate scheduling, applicable penalty rates, annual leave entitlements and allocated breaks for employees while on shift.

The award permits penalty rates for employees working overtime, on weekends or public holidays. For example, a full-time employee is entitled to a 25% loading for hours worked on weekends or after 6 pm on a weeknight. Similarly, casual employees receive a 100% penalty payment for working on Sundays and a 150% penalty payment for working on public holidays.

All furniture retailers need to know the details of the award. You also need to ensure that anyone in your business dealing with payroll and employee entitlements is well versed in the award. You are obliged to ensure that your staff receive all of their correct entitlements. Information on the award can is on the Fair Work Commission website. It is also an excellent idea to speak with a lawyer experienced in employment related issues.

Of course, observing the award does not excuse you from honouring all your other employee obligations. For example, your workplace must be safe and free from harassment and discrimination. You will also need to make all appropriate superannuation contributions.

Consumer Issues

As a retailer, you have obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The ACL obliges you to meet the consumer guarantees and provide all appropriate remedies. If you need information on these obligations, the website for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is an excellent resource.

You must especially ensure that your products meet all product safety requirements. Product Safety Requirements are in place to ensure that consumers can rely on the promises and assertions made by suppliers and manufacturers.  In the marketplace, consumers have no other way of knowing that a product is safely fit for its purpose.

The ACCC is careful to investigate and take action against any retailer selling unsafe products. You need to know about and meet all relevant product safety requirements applicable to your business. This issue is both legal and commercial issue. The bad publicity that consumer injuries or a product recall attract can be commercially disastrous. Consider the recent recall of all IKEA Malm Drawers. In North America, six infant deaths have been associated with these drawers. Ikea has recalled all Malm drawers in North America. The ACCC is also investigating their sale in Australia. Irrespective of the legal actions that could follow on from these drawers, it would not be surprising if a lot of potential Ikea customers with small children are thinking very carefully before purchasing any of their products.

If you need further information on product safety issues and standards, the ACCC and Product Safety Australia websites are a great resource.

If you need tailored legal information for your furniture store, it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer. It could prevent difficulties later on. Contact LegalVision’s business structuring lawyers to assist you. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.

Carole Hemingway

Next Steps

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