The coalition government made a significant drive into the workplace relations space in December 2018 with the passage of new legislation designed to simplify and streamline the Fair Work Commission's award review and enterprise agreement approval processes. The key change is the removal of the present requirement in the Fair Work Act 2009 for the Fair Work Commission to conduct four-yearly reviews of modern awards.
The Fair Work Commission's recent decision in Klooger will undoubtedly be the subject of considerable analysis as the developing gig economy forces employers to ask what employment in Australia will look like in 2019. The commissioner's comments clearly show that an approach to work health and safety which actively seeks to circumvent such obligations may lead courts and tribunals to more willingly characterise gig economy engagement models as traditional employment relationships.
In its four-yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission has varied nearly all modern awards to require that employers make termination payments within seven calendar days of the effective date of termination. Employers should be aware of the requirements for termination payments, which now appear in the majority of modern awards, and amend their employee exit procedures accordingly.
The Fair Work Commission recently made a significant decision on out-of-hours conduct in finding that ALDI had had a valid reason to dismiss an employee for throwing a full glass of beer over the heads of other employees at a work Christmas function. The case emphasises that while employers have a responsibility to maintain appropriate standards of behaviour at work functions where alcohol is present, employees also have an obligation to act within reasonable limits.
A recent Full Court of the Federal Court decision has set off alarm bells for employers that engage casual workers. The court found that a 'fly-in, fly-out' worker was not a casual employee despite being employed as one. Accordingly, the employee was entitled to annual leave – a benefit not otherwise available to casuals. This decision raises many significant questions and issues, going to the very nature of what makes casual employment relationships 'casual'.
While using terms like 'sweetheart' and 'babe' in the workplace may come from a friendly place, they may cause female staff to feel undervalued and could land individuals in hot water. It should go without saying that using terms like 'chicks' and 'babes' to refer to female colleagues and employees is inappropriate. But what about 'ladies', 'girls', 'sweetheart' or 'love'?
The Fair Work Commission has found that an HR manager who was made redundant after accusing his managing director of having a meth addiction was not unfairly dismissed. Employers should be aware that, when considering whether a redundancy is genuine, the onus will rest with them to prove that the job is no longer required to be performed by anyone.
Recent claims against politician Barnaby Joyce show that sometimes an internal investigation into workplace sexual harassment is not the best idea. When sexual harassment or misconduct claims are made against an individual in an organisation, the natural reflex may be to deal with complaints internally (especially if the person is senior or high profile). However, the benefits of engaging an independent investigator can outweigh the seeming advantage of being able to fully control the matter internally.
Employees will not come forward and report troubling behaviour if they fear retaliation. There are a number of steps that employers can take to create an atmosphere of trust and candour, which will help to reassure employees that they can, and should, voice any concerns.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has persuaded the Federal Circuit Court that the underpayment of two migrant employees by a Tasmanian hotel was deliberate, exploitative and discriminatory in its first racial discrimination prosecution under Part 3-1 of the Fair Work Act. The decision demonstrates the FWO's appetite to use all of the tools at its disposal to pursue employers which take advantage of employees.
The Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (NSW) has received assent, making the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) the first of its kind in Australia. The act addresses the findings and recommendations in the report on the inquiry into human trafficking in New South Wales, which left little to the government's imagination about the prevalence of modern slavery in New South Wales and throughout Australia.
The line between employee and contractor continues to be blurred in the gig economy. To avoid litigation, companies must determine how to classify workers. The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched legal proceedings against a food delivery business, Foodora, on the basis that it treats its workers as independent contractors rather than employees. While the gig economy awaits the outcome of the case, what should employers be doing in the meantime?
Visual contracts, in which an employment agreement is conveyed partially or wholly by pictures, are now a thing – but what are their benefits and risks? In addition to concerns over certainty and variation, there are a number of key issues that businesses should consider before getting out the watercolours to update their employment agreements.
The Fair Work Commission's Expert Panel recently issued its 2017-2018 Annual Wage Review decision. Among other things, the panel decided that it was appropriate to adjust modern award minimum wages. From the first full pay period on or after 1 July 2018, minimum weekly wages will increase by 3.5%, with commensurate increases in hourly rates on the basis of a 38-hour week.
Navigating the payment of bonuses or incentive payments can be a tricky legal issue. One question that clients regularly ask is how discretionary is an employer's discretion when it comes to awarding a bonus or setting an employee's annual remuneration? As with most legal issues, there is no quick answer, but there are some tips from case law which can provide guidance.
The effects of Australia's ageing workforce are expected to be so pronounced that the government has budgeted for retraining. Between the tax cuts and promises to return to surplus, one of the centrepieces of the 2018 Budget was increased funding to assist Australia's so-called 'greying' population. To manage the changes to Australia's demographics, employers should start to prepare for an ageing workforce and develop strategies to manage and retain older workers.
Under new legislation, labour hire service providers in Queensland and South Australia must be licensed to provide labour hire services in order to avoid costly penalties. Businesses that engage labour hire service providers must also ensure that those providers are licensed. The new licensing schemes aim to regulate the provision of labour hire services and protect employees from exploitation by labour hire service providers.
In January 2018 rail workers employed by Sydney Trains and NSW Trains threatened a 24-hour stoppage and overtime bans. In a noteworthy decision for all employers, the Fair Work Commission ordered that all industrial action be suspended for six weeks, finding that the stoppage threatened to cause significant damage to the economy and endanger the welfare of the community and the people who rely on the network to get to work and school.
Managing a workplace investigation can be challenging at the best of times, particularly where the complainant or alleged offender proves difficult. Employers should consider a number of issues that can arise when managing absent participants or vexatious employees in the context of an investigation, as well as various tips on how to move forward successfully.
Employers should consider a number of legal issues when seeking to integrate apps with their existing systems. In some cases, it may be necessary to tailor apps to the business or to consider changes to instruments which govern the employment relationship. Employers should consider these issues and review existing industrial instruments and employment contracts for their compatibility with apps before implementing them in the workplace.