The new amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Act) commenced on 1 January 2014, but what does this mean for your business?
Amongst other changes, the Act introduces:
- new anti-bullying measures;
- amendments to right of entry provisions; and
- new consultation terms when amending regular rosters and working hours.
Below is a brief snapshot of some of the changes.
Changes have been made to provide avenues for employees to file complaints of bullying in the Fair Work Commission (Commission). Importantly, a financial penalty cannot be ordered against an employer, however the Commission has the power to make orders for:
the bullying to cease;
require monitoring of behaviours by an employer; or
ensure that proper training and policies are in place.
The provisions are not limited to employees but cover contractors, labour hire personnel and persons engaged under other workplace arrangements. There are no time limits for the worker to apply for an order, but the worker will still need to be working at the business.
Right of Entry
Previously union officials were able to insist on conducting discussions in a lunch room. The amendments now give some scope for union officials to comply with reasonable requests to conduct interviews or discussions in a particular room.
The Commission is also entitled to deal with the frequency of entry to hold discussions, but only in circumstances where it would require an unreasonable diversion of the occupier’s critical resources.
Change of Rosters
Modern awards and enterprise agreements must now provide a term obliging the employer to consult with employees about changes to rosters.
The process will entail the following:
- The employer informs the employee about the change;
- The employer than allows the employee to give their views and discuss how the change will impact on their responsibilities, such as parental or family responsibilities; and
- The employer then needs to consider the employees views and decide whether the change will have an impact on the employee.
It is vital that an employer is aware of their duties and obligations in this matter, and the need to ensure that employee objections are reasonably accounted for.
Implications for your company
For the most part, employers should be concerned with the new bullying laws.
The Commission must commence reviewing bullying claims within 14 days of the application being made. In practical terms employers will have minimal time to prepare a response, particularly if there are no clear policies in place. Employers are well advised to ensure anti-bullying measures and workplace policies are in place. Importantly, regular training should be undertaken with employees to reinforce the acceptable standards expected.
If there are no measures in place to prevent bullying or safe practice in the workplace, the employer also risks multiple proceedings on the same factual context, this can include of Workplace Health and Safety, discrimination legislation or general protections.
We can assist your business with the preparation or amendment of your policies and training manuals, to reinforce the importance of the new changes, or assist you in any complaints of workplace bullying.