Managing people

Six HR tasks you can't ignore

New laws mean big changes to employment contracts, flexible work, leave entitlements, and more. Here are the deadlines your business cannot afford to miss.

4 May 2023

It’s a new year and business is in full swing, but with several important legislative changes looming, business owners must ensure they understand their new obligations to their employees and have appropriate systems and processes in place.  

In a recent webinar, Julian Arndt, Associate Director, and Kate Thomson, Senior Associate, at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors, provided some key dates and helpful advice for business owners.  

Audit all fixed-term contracts 

Deadline: December 2023 

All businesses need to be across the “two-year rule” when it comes to fixed-term contracts after a ​​new Bill was introduced. Coming into effect in December 2023, the Bill places significant restrictions on employers entering into a fixed-term contract with an employee for more than two years.  

“Audit all fixed-term contracts or engagements. If you have them, consider transitioning to something else because the fixed-term magic bullet will not be available for much longer,” said Mr Arndt.  

If you still need or want to use these contracts, confirm whether you can rely on an exemption – such as a high-income threshold – or get a new contract signed, he explained. Mr Arndt added that there’s a strategic consideration as well as a legal one. 

“If your whole business model is based on fixed-term contracts, then the question to ask is whether you need to structure your business this way,” Mr Arndt added. 

Read more here

Find policies and documents at My Business Workplace.

Develop new processes for parental leave and flexible work 

Deadline: 7 June 2023 

Meanwhile, businesses need to develop processes for flexible work requests after the government updated section 65 of the Fair Work Act. This gives employees the right to ask for flexible work if they meet one of the criteria, such as they’re carers for school-aged children, have a disability, or are aged over 55. 

Previously, employers could turn down such requests on “reasonable business grounds”, and employees had no real way to challenge this. Now, they can turn to the Fair Work Commission for a review. It’s for this reason businesses should have processes and train staff in them. 

“Just saying no straight-out isn’t going to fly anymore,” said Mr Arndt. 

“You need to sit down and discuss the fact that you’re going to say no. Then, you have an obligation to suggest other things you could accommodate instead – perhaps an early start and finish a couple of days a week instead of a no in its entirety.”  

Similarly, when it comes to parental leave, employees now have greater rights to request an additional 12 months of leave (24 in total) – and employers need to show reasonable business grounds on which to refuse. 

“You have to be prepared to stand up in front of the Commissioner and tell them why you said no,” Mr Arndt said. 

Read more here and here.  

Find policies and documents at My Business Workplace.

Have a strategy around pay secrecy 

Deadline: 7 June 2023 

Pay secrecy is another issue in the crosshairs – from 7 June, any clauses in contracts or enterprise agreements that prescribe pay secrecy will be banned. 

It’s imperative to update your template contracts as soon as possible, although older contracts don’t need to be renegotiated – unless you vary the contract, he added. 

“The key is to look at all your template contracts and ensure there are no pay secrecy clauses in them,” he said.  

And with the potential downsides of increased transparency, it’s also important to have a strategy for dealing with questions about pay, people talking about their remuneration in the workplace, and training for managers – because without them, a workplace can turn toxic. 

Read more here.

Find policies and documents at My Business Workplace.

Get across bargaining changes 

Deadlines: 7 June 2023, 7 December 2023 

There are many changes afoot when it comes to bargaining enterprise agreements. 

If you are on the Fair Work Commission’s Zombie Agreement “Kill List” – agreements that were put in place before the Fair Work Act – then be prepared that your enterprise agreement will “drop dead” on 7 December. This means you either fall back on the award or bargain for a new one. 

The commission will also have more interventionist powers in this regard from June. For example, if you’re bargaining and things have ground to a halt, get ready for potential arbitration. Also, if your competitors have an EA and you don’t, then get ready to potentially be a target for multi-enterprise bargaining (or roped in). 

“We need to give some serious thought to this stuff. It’s coming – let’s just accept that and use it as a chance to be proactive rather than reactive,” Ms Thomson said. 

Read more here

Domestic violence leave 

Deadline: 1 August 2023 

For small businesses with less than 15 employees, paid family and domestic violence leave starts from 1 August 2023. There are several things to be mindful of here, the lawyers explained. 

“There’s regulation about what gets written on a payslip – it’s very sensitive,” Mr Arndt said.  

“It’s a broader issue than ‘I’m not going to be at work today’, so it’s going to be very challenging for the HR person or manager who needs to accept these requests. Please get a procedure, so employees know what to do.” 

For employer with more than 15 employers, the deadline was February 1.

Read more here

Find policies and documents at My Business Workplace.

Treat sexual harassment and stress as ‘hazards’ 

Deadline: 7 March  

While we might think of workplace health and safety (WHS) risks as being more physical, the lawyers warned that these now extend to psycho-social hazards and sexual harassment. 

On 7 March, the Respect@Work Act will come in, which lawyers say is a “big deal” for employers because they will need to take action to prevent sexual harassment from occurring – instead of being reactive.

The first step, the lawyers said, is to understand your obligation. Then, update or create a policy and a training package so everyone understands those obligations. And finally, add sexual harassment to your WHS risk management framework. 

Or try seeking some help putting policies into place. 

Similarly, it’s essential to understand psycho-social hazards. This can mean areas like bullying and anything else that can impact someone’s well-being, such as workplace stress. A new code of practice has already come in, and following this code will help keep your business safe from risks. 

“Just like you would with ergonomics, hazardous chemicals or machinery, work out where the hazards are for sexual harassment and psycho-social safety,” Ms Thomson said.  

Read more here

Find policies and documents at My Business Workplace.

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