How small businesses can stay up to date with workplace compliance

If your small business has employees, then you likely already know how complex the task of complying with workplace laws can be. The employer/employee relationship is highly regulated, and those regulations come from a variety of sources and change frequently. Furthermore, employees are increasingly aware of their rights and are increasingly empowered to enforce them. Workplace compliance has never been more important.

The good news is that getting workplace compliance right is possible, particularly if the job is divided into three basic steps:

  • training in workplace laws and regulations;
  • developing policies and procedures to routinise compliance; and
  • scheduling regular legal check-ups to ensure that your small business remains up to date with changes as they occur.

It’s a big challenge, but not impossible. By educating your team and getting the help that you need, you can avoid legal consequences.

What laws apply?

The place to begin is the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA). The FWA regulates maximum hours of work, flexible working arrangements and leave entitlements, public holidays, termination of employment and redundancy pay, among other issues. It also established the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman to help resolve complaints. In addition, Awards cover variances in both industry and occupation and provide additional enforceable minimum employment standards.

Employers must comply with health and safety regulations, some quite industry-specific. Laws also mandate employer responses to instances of bullying and sexual harassment. Whistleblowers are also entitled to legal protections in some instances. Australian laws protect employees from discrimination on the basis of age, race, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status, sex or physical or mental disability, among other characteristics.

This is obviously not, nor is it intended to be a complete summary. The point is that the curriculum for workplace compliance is quite extensive, and thorough training is essential. Many options are available. One of the first steps, however, may be to undertake some self-study using publicly available sources from the Fair Work Ombudsman. That will provide a basis to assess the value of other training options.

What kinds of procedures?

As part of the onboarding process, every employer must give new employees a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement, a document that gives new employees a general overview of the National Employment Standards and conditions of employment.

Beyond that, it will undoubtedly be useful to develop procedures and forms to ensure that workplace compliance becomes fully integrated into the way that your business is conducted. Templates exist which may be adapted to your business and industry.

Three particular areas deserve special attention: regularly scheduled performance reviews, termination of an employee and the processing of grievances, including complaints about discrimination and harassment.

Performance reviews should occur at least annually and should be thoroughly documented, including suggestions for improvement and employee responses. Employers should be careful to comply with notice, leave, and pay requirements when terminating employees.

Grievances and complaints about prohibited behaviour are especially sensitive, particularly when they involve supervisors or whistleblower allegations of illegal business practices. Some employers think it prudent to establish a confidential hotline. This is a topic that should be carefully reviewed with legal counsel.

Regular compliance audits

Even the most careful employer may fall out of workplace compliance because of legislative changes or changes in the interpretation of legal requirements driven by court cases, so it is important to schedule regular compliance audits. Although internal reviews are useful, a periodic outside audit is as necessary in the human resources area as it is with business finances. In this way, you can navigate workplace compliance effectively.

Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers

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