New financial year = opportunity for a new approach to your business’ workplace relations

Posted by June 26, 2024 | Articles | No Comments

With the new financial year upon us, what is your business planning to do differently this year to more effectively and efficiently manage one of the most important aspects of managing any business – its workplace relations?

With a myriad of changes coming into play in the workplace relations landscape, it’s crucial to take the time to reflect on and refresh workplace relations practices.

If you need a short refresher on the many recent changes in the workplace relations landscape in Australia, have a read of our three-part update on Australian workplace relations reform: here.

Otherwise, here are our suggestions to set your business up for workplace relations success, and minimise risk, this new financial year:

(1) Back to basics: With the criminalisation of wage theft from 1 January 2025 and this remaining a hot focus area of the Fair Work Ombudsman, ensuring that your business is paying its employees correctly is crucial. We are continuing to assist many businesses lacking in solid workplace relations foundations, which are now dealing with the fall out of employee underpayments.

Solid workplace relations foundations are critical.  How solid are yours?:

  • Can your business readily identify which of its employees’ are covered by a Modern Award and which aren’t?
  • Has your business had advice on Modern Award coverage to ensure its understanding is correct and up-to-date?
  • Is your business up-to-date with the most recent pay rates?
  • If paying award-covered employees an all-inclusive rate, has that rate kept pace with award wage increases and do your employment contracts include appropriate all-inclusive and set-off clauses?

Not sure about any of the above? Get in touch with our team to schedule an audit.

(2) Employment contract templates: When was the last time your business had its employment contract templates audited? Is your business using fixed term contracts in compliance with recent legislated limitations? Amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as well as case law developments mean regular audits and updates to employment contract templates are a must.  Don’t risk setting and forgetting contract templates!

(3) Employee vs Contractor: From August 2024 there will be new definitions of ‘employee’ and ‘employer’ in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The new approach will override the previous approach adopted in the High Court decisions of Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd [2022] HCA 1 and ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd v Jamsek [2022] HCA 2 — which had regard to the primacy of the written terms of the contract – and we will revert to the multi-factorial approach in assessing the employee vs contractor relationship.

Is your business correctly characterising its relationship with its workers having regard to the multi-factorial approach? If you’re not sure, please contact our team to discuss.

(4) The right to disconnect: From August 2024 (non-small business) and August 2025 (small businesses) workers will have a legislated right to disconnect outside of normal working hours and the Fair Work Commission will have the power to make orders in respect of disputes about this.

Has your business considered how it will manage this new legislated right to ensure compliance whilst also managing its operational needs?

Keep a look out for our next blog on this topic, or contact us to discuss a tailored strategy for your business.

(5) Workplace training: When was the last time your business conducted interactive workplace training for its workers on appropriate workplace conduct? Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) now contains a positive duty on employers and persons conducting a business or undertaking to eliminate sexual harassment.  Employers can be found vicariously liable for sexual harassment which occurs in the workplace.

These amendments require a proactive approach to preventing sexual harassment from occurring, rather than only responding afterwards. The Australian Human Rights Commission Guidelines for Complying with the Positive Duty under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (August 2023), lists seven standards which outline what the Commission expects organisations and businesses will do so satisfy their positive duty. For further information please see our blog on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s new investigatory powers: here.

Workplace culture and knowledge make up two of the seven standards, with the Commission emphasising the need to:

  • foster a workplace culture that is safe, respectful and inclusive; and
  • develop, communicate and implement respectful behaviour policies and support workers to engage in safe, respectful and inclusive behaviour through education.

A ‘ticking of the box’ approach to appropriate workplace conduct policy won’t suffice and it is safe to assume that businesses will be expected to demonstrate an engaged and ongoing approach to training on appropriate workplace conduct, which extends beyond an employee’s induction.

MDC Legal can tailor annual refresher training sessions for your workplace to assist your business to demonstrate compliance with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s compliance standards.  We can also assist with targeted training for Managerial employees.

Next steps

Setting even just one ‘workplace relations new year’s resolution’ is beneficial and we strongly encourage our clients and followers to use the opportunity of the new financial year to reflect and refresh.

If you need some assistance getting started or identifying the best place to start, get in touch with our team to discuss our fixed fee workplace relations audit – which is a short, hassle-free process that can assist you to identify your business’ key risk areas and where to best place its workplace relations focus during the new financial year.