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Marvin HR News – 18 APR 24

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Benjamin Cohen, a university student in Sydney, was falsely accused of the Bondi Junction stabbings. Channel 7 News incorrectly named him the perpetrator, resulting in a defamation lawsuit against them. The incident highlights Australian employers’ challenges when an employee faces accusations or negative media attention. A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that 72% of employers have dealt with adverse social media incidents involving employees.

Employers should take three steps in response to such situations. Firstly, they should understand the nature of the accusations and media coverage. A 2023 study by the University of Sydney Business School found that speed and accuracy of response are crucial in managing negative publicity. A study by Edelman Trust Barometer, 2023 showed that 60% of employees believe a company’s response to a crisis reflects its leadership), and workplace morale.

Regardless of the truth about the accusations, employers should offer emotional support and resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). Employers must be respectful, especially in delicate situations. Imagine being in Benjamin Cohen’s employers’ shoes; navigating these moments with care is paramount. Opting to err on the side of caution protects the interests of all parties involved and reinforces a workplace environment built on trust and integrity. Further, employers should be cautious not to make defamatory statements about the employee, even if they believe the accusations. 

The key learning here is that employers should avoid negative media attention on employees. A brief, factual statement can clarify the company’s position without taking sides or disclosing confidential information. According to a 2020 study by the University of Canberra School of Communication, clear and concise communication is essential during a crisis. Furthermore, employees generally have the right to express themselves freely outside of work on matters unrelated to their job (Fair Work Act 2009 [Cth], s 352). Punishing them for speaking to the media, even if negatively, could breach their rights.


HR/IR Snapshot 

Let’s dive into a critical yet often overlooked aspect of the “Closing the Loopholes” bill: the rights of delegates. Now, you might wonder, “What exactly is a delegate?” These individuals are the voice of workers within an enterprise, appointed by either the FWC or an employee organisation (typically a union) to advocate on behalf of workers. What hole is the FWC targeting? Well, there has been a stark decline in union membership, which has plummeted to an all-time low of 8.2% in the private sector (AFR, 2024). 

From July 1, 2024, there will be a significant change for delegates. They will be authorised to enter workplaces without prior notice to investigate suspected breaches related to underpayments under the FWA (2024). This differs from previous legislation whereby union officials were required to provide a 24-hour notice and to conduct these investigations. The problem with this system was that the notice period allowed document destruction.

Furthermoreemployers taking adverse actions against union delegates for championing the rights of their union comrades in the workplace is coming to an end. Under the previous framework, the FWA safeguarded employees from adverse actions for exercising their workplace rights under general protections, which didn’t explicitly cover delegate activities. The new bill rectifies this, ensuring delegates can’t be dismissed, demoted, or threatened for their advocacy work (FWA 2024).

In addition, delegates will now benefit from paid training time during regular business hours. However, this perk is not extended to employees of small businesses. Moreover, delegates will be included in modern awards, emphasising employers’ importance in establishing clear guidelines for delegates’ responsibilities. From July onwards, employers must be cautious about any missteps with delegates, which could lead to liability issues FWA (2024). However, there seems to be a lack of consequences for delegates who might exceed their duties or perceived authority.

Employers must meticulously assess misconduct claims under “delegate rights,” discerning between general underperformance and issues specific to delegated responsibilities. These represent distinctly separate scenarios necessitating tailored approaches. The legislative evolution in this area is set to significantly alter workplace dynamics, introducing a more significant number of delegates and, consequently, an increased likelihood of disruptions in workflow.


Team Diary 

Navigating the world of work-from-home requests can often feel like a tightrope walk for employers. Let’s dive into the essentials, shall we? Picture this: An eager new hire, fresh off their onboarding, asks, “Can I work from home?” Well, it’s crucial to remember that the privilege of working from home isn’t a given right from day one. Employees must clock in 12 months with their employer before considering filing for flexible work arrangements. Sometimes forgotten, but casual employees are also included in this as a rule applied across the board; a casual employee who has worked regularly for over 12 months (and reasonably expected to continue) is also entitled to request flexibility.

However, the refusal of WFH requests is not illegal if they don’t fall under the FWC-specified criteria. So, what are the criteria? We’re talking about employees who are either expecting a baby, already juggling parenting or caregiving responsibilities, looking after a school-aged child or younger, living with a disability, aged 55 or older, coping with family or domestic violence, or supporting someone in these scenarios. However, the door is open for others. Those not fitting these categories can still pitch for flexibility, but let’s be honest – the reason “I have a Pilates class at 9 AM” might not cut it. Employers should know that the FWC will back employers’ refusal or remote work requests (HRM 2024).

When an employee does make a formal request for flexibility, the clock starts ticking for employers. You’ve got 21 days to respond. Would you like some help navigating a refusal? The marvinHR team is your go-to for advice. But generally, valid reasons for turning down a request include concerns like excessive costs, insufficient capacity, impracticality, or potential negative impacts on efficiency and customer service. Remember, it’s all about finding that spot between accommodating flexibility and maintaining business needs. Let’s keep the conversation open, and when in doubt, marvinHR is here to guide you through the maze of work-from-home requests.


This week’s Top 4 Reads

1. Officers want to work from home, WA – Police Commissioner

2. ACTU wants double holidays at half-pay

3. HARVARD – How to onboard staff without overwhelming them

4. McCrindle Report: People don’t always fit into generational majorities. Knowing your unique team members and their motivators is key. The one common thread across all generations, regardless of age or life stage, is working with leaders who have an accessible and approachable leadership style – which can’t be undervalued.

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