Why You Need to Get Aggro About Health & Safety in the Workplace


If you said, ‘human resources’ and I blurted out ‘workplace health and safety’ would that be a non-sequitur? Or is there a connection?

Let’s drop by Canada for a moment, where the WHS protocols lay out the direct line between the two with complete clarity. ‘Human resource professionals play an important role in ensuring health and safety, as they know the workplace, the employees and their job demands.’

Can’t say it straighter than that. Here’s what you, your HR expert or your team can do to meet those expectations - because a safe, healthy work environment is worth getting aggro about.



‘Safety First’ is a useful mantra in industrial settings where it can be used to drive home the habitual use of proper safety measures. It’s equally relevant as the foundational principle for the hiring and orientation of new employees.

  • Give strong preference to applicants with a track record of responsible work practices - because their habits have consequences that go to the safety and wellbeing of all your employees.
  • Consider drug testing for those that will operate equipment or engage in overtly physical activities.
  • Use high quality, comprehensive materials for orientation, and don’t put new employees to work until they’ve mastered them.



What do training days and hernia operations have in common? They elicit the same level of enthusiasm from your employees.

Ironically, training might just save them from a hernia. Remind them of that! Queensland metal manufacturer Bremco cites lack of training as the top cause of workplace injury, and maintains that professional, relevant and regular safety training is essential for all. So get your team engaged - and here’s how:

  • Spark their imagination with safety training word games and other strategies that bring training to life.
  • Engage the mind and the body - get them moving
  • Bring in an element of friendly competition
  • Praise their efforts vociferously, and give them a reward at the end of the day



How’s your workplace culture? Is there open communication between team members? What about between the workforce and management?

A culture of open communication fosters a proactive approach when it comes to identifying threats to health and safety. This means that accidents ‘waiting to happen’ are more likely to be pointed out - and avoided.

Take your team’s concerns seriously. Quashing them with excuses about cost, loss of productivity or the hassle of installing safer equipment or adopting healthier workplace practice is counterproductive, not to mention dangerous and unethical. Injury, loss of life and the company’s liability when preventable accidents happen is a far greater cost.

Direct your managers and team leaders to encourage employees to be open about their workplace health and safety concerns. Want to go further and really change the game? Give permission for any employee to bypass their supervisor and speak to HR direct, anonymously and without repercussions. Those two steps will go a long way in promoting the open communication that boosts safety, employee morale and your bottom line through cutting losses.



It’s your job to be a stickler. A slack approach is an invitation for someone to get hurt.

Being lax about health and safety doesn’t make you a cool and laid back boss, it makes you negligent. And that’s what you’ll be labelled in the event of an accident. Rules aren’t always there to be broken - they’re there to be enforced, and it pays. Set rules clearly, and penalise for violations. Suspension or dismissal is totally acceptable for both ongoing minor offenses and grievous first offenses.

A word to the wise: injured employees and their lawyers can be quick to turn on employers. Having clear policies, expecting adherence and enforcing accountability for failure are necessary and protect you from this. Ignore it at your peril.



If you’re a startup, or an established business playing with fire by neglecting workplace health and safety, it pays to consult with professionals about developing and implementing a comprehensive plan.

The peace of mind it brings - and the tangible protection - is invaluable. That gnawing anxiety about ‘what if something bad happens’ becomes a sense of having things properly under control. So be rigorous: smart hiring, thorough training, good communication and workplace accountability. You’ll thank yourself in the long term and the short, and be glad you’re aggro about something that reduces both injuries and costs.


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What You Need to Know About First Aid Compliance in the Workplace


When in the thick of productivity, small business owners tend to get caught up in day-to-day core business and urgent affairs - it can take some grit to get the ball rolling on those other stickier, more time consuming tasks. The tasks we put on the back burner and bank for another day. Confidence can get in the way too, hoping that unlikely events don’t occur and hedging bets that luck is always on side.

Managing a workplace in this way can be really risky business. It’s no surprise that this type of mindset doesn’t stand well when things go wrong. Especially, when it has much to do with keeping people safe at work.

Let’s take first aid as an example.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the Work-Related Injuries Survey, Australia, 2009–10 reported the average annual injury rates are 57.9 per 1000 workers. The top industries who were markedly higher than the overall average were accommodation/food services industry at 83 and manufacturing at 76 per 1000 workers.

The implication of these numbers for businesses – big and small - is huge. Lost time, reduced productivity, increased stress and anxiety are just a few. Of course, there are other much larger pitfalls too. Breaches to legislation or codes of practice quickly come to mind.

In February, 2016 Safe Work Australia released a Code of Practice on first aid in the workplace. This Code of Practice was approved under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act). A big piece of legislation that is relevant to any business with a duty of care.

As an employer, this Legislation makes it pretty clear that your duty of care in relation to first aid goes beyond band aids in the lunchroom or an incident log at reception.

Following, are the top three things employers must consider for first aid risk management and meeting compliance standards – how well does your business stand up against these?



All workers must have access to a first aid kit. Its contents should provide basic equipment for providing first aid for injuries like cuts and scratches, burns, broken bones and shock. Some workplaces are assessed as high risk, so it’s best to check-in with Safe Work Australia to have a full understanding of your requirements.

St John Ambulance Australia says, “Treatment in the first five minutes after a first aid incident can dramatically change the outcome. Workplaces should have the appropriate equipment and signage in place to allow for a quick response and ensure the safety of workers.”



Duty of care includes training all employees in basic procedures and protocols to follow in the event of a first aid emergency. Training should include information on the location and composition of first aid kits, communication channels to use in an emergency, and the identity and location of accredited first aiders. Yes, that’s right, accredited first aiders – every business requires at least one.

The statistics say that less than one in three Australian employees (31%) currently feel confident to perform first aid in an emergency, reasons ranging from ‘a lack of training’ through to feeling ‘personally responsible’ if something went wrong.



This is key. Sure, we must work through the Code of Practice, order first aid equipment and head off to training providers like St John Ambulance, but the final step is always to communicate protocol to staff. Best practice implementation should be done through procedural documents, regular first aid drills and instigating mock emergencies.

Don’t feel over-whelmed, there are many resources available to help employers implement best practice and meet compliance. Safe Work Australia is an excellent place to start looking for on-line resources governed by Australian legislation, as well as St John Ambulance Australia for documentation that’s useful when compiling procedures, purchasing compliance equipment and meeting legislative training requirements.

It’s about tackling the hard stuff early – managing first aid related issues in retrospect, with no supporting policy or go-to guide, is complex, stressful and costly. Being proactive and having best practice in place from start-up onwards is most certainly the way to go.

Making these arrangements a priority might seem daunting and quite rightly so. But it’s best to be wise and not run a risky business – the law counts on us to get it right from the get-go!

First aid compliance is important to your business. Ensuring that you meet the requirements make your workplace safer for your employees and avoid hefty legal WHS fines. We have first aid resources that you can use in your workplace. It has first aid signs and posters (all downloadable and print-ready), how-to guides to workplace emergencies all for FREE!


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The Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace


Drugs, alcohol and work are not a cocktail we recommend. In your small business, we suggest you keep things clean from the very start with a suite of procedures and best practice in place.

If you’re a numbers person, you’ll be interested and not a little alarmed at the statistics released this month by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW), telling us that around one in two-hundred people in this country sought treatment for alcohol and drug use in 2014–15.

For the last ten years alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines and heroin have been the drugs causing most concern. The Institute’s spokesperson Tim Beard advises that for their clients seeking treatment aged thirty and over, alcohol was the most commonly used drug, while for clients aged twenty-nine and under, it was cannabis.

Some of those people work. It’s possible they work for you or might do so at some point. Are you ready to handle the consequences?

Let’s not be naïve. This is clearly an issues that touches workplace culture both directly and indirectly.

The Australian Drug Foundation reports that alcohol and drugs cost Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity, with 2.5 million days lost annually.

The cost to co-workers is just as significant. One in ten workers say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s misuse of alcohol. That might include reduced capacity in doing their job, causing an accident or near miss. There can be an expectation that colleagues will cover for them, even extending their own hours of work to do so.

Whatever the size of an organisation, all employers have a legal obligation to address alcohol and drug related issues in the workplace. Reasonable or practicable steps must be taken to ensure the health and safety of all staff, as well as contractors or clients.

Which brings us back to our recommendation that you keep things clean from the start.

Managing alcohol or drug related issues in retrospect, with no supporting policy or go-to guide, is complex, stressful and costly.

At #HR we know that being proactive and having best practice in place from start-up onwards is most certainly the way to go.

There are many resources available to help employers implement best practice. Safe Work Australia is an excellent place to start looking for on-line resources governed by Australian legislation, as well as the Australian Drug Foundation for documentation that’s useful when compiling your procedures.

If you have any doubts at all, contact a professional like #HR, who will be able to support you through this process. We are an influence upon whom you should be counting.

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The Sobering Facts and Facing Them as an Employer


Few things bring your business to a halt more effectively than an employee under the influence.

If you’re a numbers person, you’ll be interested in the figures released in 2016 by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. Alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines and heroin continued to be the most common drugs of concern over the past decade, with one in two-hundred Australians seeking treatment for alcohol and drug use in 2014–15.

Some of those people work. It’s possible they work for you, or might do so at some point. This is clearly an issue that has a very direct impact upon our workplace culture.

Alcohol and drugs cost Australian businesses an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity, with 2.5 million working days lost every year.

The cost to co-workers is just as significant. One in ten say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s misuse of alcohol. That might include a reduced capacity to do their job safely, causing an accident or near miss.

All employers have a legal obligation to address alcohol and drug related issues in the workplace. Practicable steps must be taken to ensure the health and safety of all staff, as well as contractors or clients.

Safe Work Australia is the go-to authority on workplace standards. They help ensure we have all the tools we need to keep our employees safe. Their guide, Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace, sets out your responsibilities as an employer, and your obligations with regard to the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Safe Work Australia advises employers to develop a Workplace Alcohol and Drugs Policy in consultation with employees. That policy must include initiatives that deal with:

  • Managing health and safety risks
  • Approaching a worker who may be under the influence
  • Reporting alcohol and drug use
  • Delivering information, education and training
  • Offering counselling and support, perhaps in employee assistance programs
  • Conducting disciplinary procedures

Not all of these initiatives are appropriate for every workplace, since the nature and severity of alcohol and drug related hazards varies.

However, having a policy in place provides an employer with the correct pro-active measures to manage a crisis swiftly and safely. This not only helps avoid any costly and stressful outcomes - it could save lives too.

There are many resources for employers looking to implement best practice. Safe Work Australia and the Australian Drug Foundation are excellent places to start.

If you have any doubts, contact a professional who can support you through this process. Look for a consultant with the right expertise, a thorough knowledge of best practice and the Australian legislation governing it.

Don’t run the risk of doing nothing. The law counts on you to be compliant, and so do your staff.

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Body Art at Work - Drawing a Fine Line

Body Art in the Workplace

In the past, body art was generally only seen on the outskirts of town. Now it’s in every high street and walking down the mall. And those are only the visible examples! Who knows what any of us are sporting underneath our crisp business wear. 

Tattoos, piercings, brandings and dermal implants have come to be considered acceptable in society, even normal - within a generation. And if you’re thinking about introducing restrictions on them for the personnel in your business, it can be a legal minefield - so tread carefully. 

One in seven Australians have a tattoo, according to a study conducted by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The study surveyed 8,656 Australians between the ages of 16 to 64 years. The results showed that Australian men are more likely to have a tattoo than Australian women. However, women in their 20s are more likely to have tattoos than men in the same age group.

Go figure.

It’s of course likely that many of those surveyed have a place of work, and highly likely that someone just like them may work for you, or do so at some point.  As a business owner, it’s critical that the decisions you make within your business are lawful, about body art and everything else. And that means bearing in mind that what you might think is acceptable, may not necessarily be aligned with the law.


Specifically, ‘physical appearance’ is not regulated under the Fair Work Act. However, discrimination, equal opportunity and workplace health and safety are most certainly forefront considerations when it comes to the implementation of rules and employment practices - and it’s here in which body art and physical appearance can be brought to the table for discussion. 

For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission may consider an employer who refuses employment to an Aboriginal applicant because they have a tattoo which is connected to their ethnic origins, to be potentially guilty of racial discrimination.  

And the Fair Work Commission might determine that strict ‘no body art’ rules imposed upon front-of-house staff at sporting clubs could be considered unfair, when we consider the prevalence of professional athletes we see on television who themselves wear body art. In the sporting realm, it could be considered the norm. 

Judgements between governing bodies can be a grey area in this matter. Thus, making body art taboo in your workplace should probably come with a warning.  Before implementing a ban, take advice. The perspectives are as many and varied as the designs your employees or potential employees might be wearing - and implementing rules is not as simple as following your own personal preferences. 


Approaching the matter with overall guidelines can offer a lighter touch which doesn’t cause offence. A general ‘personal appearance’ policy helps to impose limits or provide the guidelines which you expect employees to respect. This way, it’s about upholding a professional image, which everyone agrees is best for the business. Implicit in this must be the understanding that a person’s body art does not affect their ability to perform certain duties.

This policy can address things such as (a) where the safety of an employee could be compromised, (b) where it may negatively impacts others, or (c) when there might be a breach of any legal responsibilities of the organisation. 

It’s best to ensure that your policy is underpinned by workplace legislation - specifically discrimination, equal opportunity and workplace health and safety laws.  Getting this wrong could be a costly mistake - so ask for help if you’re not sure.  

Lastly, it’s best to be consistent.  It’s one thing to have a policy, but without fair implementation a claim arising from a dispute could easily be applied - resulting in unpleasant, costly and unexpected implications.

The statistics say that people of all ages and genders are getting inked, pierced, branded, or implanted.  Be an employer who ensures that your rules are sensible and reviewed regularly, so you don’t lose the best talent in the market and you avoid any nasty claims due to oversights.

The writing’s on the wall, and the bodies - we should all be paying attention. 

What do you think? Do you feel that tattoos have a place in the workplace? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. 


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Keeping Your Annual Leave Entitlements Airborne


Iconic, low-cost Irish airline Ryanair had a fiasco on their hands just recently. The mismanagement of their pilots’ annual leave left them with a shortage of pilots - not enough to cover their scheduled Autumn flights. This led to a massive cost blow-out, reported to be in excess of seventeen million pounds - not to mention an embarrassing blemish on their brand image.

Always Getting Better’? It didn’t look that way, to the pilots, or customers.

Ryanair’s cancellation of hundreds of flights after it admitted ‘messing up’ the planning of its pilots’ leave, makes you wonder. How many more of us who are running businesses could easily fall into the same pit of mismanagement, leading to who knows what consequences?



The management and occasional confusion of annual leave can be a simmering mess that quickly reaches boiling point if not enough time is spent on planning. And for those of us in small business, it’s even more crucial to pay attention. The smaller your team, the bigger the impact.

And yet, studies released by Roy Morgan Research show that Australia’s full-time workforce has accrued a total 123,510,000 days of annual leave. That averages out at just under 21 days’ leave for each full-time worker. The research indicates that certain industries have a higher level of annual leave accrued than others, with those employed in wholesaling accruing an average of 25 days each.



Allowing employees to accrue excessive annual leave in such a way has its cost. So does the approach of not taking care to spread annual leave over the course of the entire year.

Big leave balances are expensive. Why? Because untaken leave is a recorded liability. That’s a big problem. But let’s also keep in mind the purpose of leave in the first place – to prevent burnout! Leave is there to have a positive impact to the mental and physical health of your employees. And that’s a win for you – because it yields greater productivity and a more engaged workforce when they return. Bonus!



Maintaining best practice for annual leave is certainly clever business practice. Here to help you get it right is a quick Do and Don’t Guide on how to get your annual leave planning right first time.


  • encourage your employees to submit dates for annual leave as far in advance as possible.
  • review employees’ leave accrual regularly and discourage accruals greater than 6 weeks.
  • send reminders to employees on outstanding accruals - anything approaching 4 weeks should be planned for and discussed.
  • speak to employees who have not taken any annual leave nor requested dates for leave - as a matter of urgency.
  • ensure that your employees’ annual leave is planned for in such a way that the business has adequate cover at all times – and keepyour planes in the air. 
  • be proactive in the management of annual leave - this is not a topic to leave at the bottom of your to-do list.


  • leave annual leave allocations to chance.
  • take the view that it’s up to your employees to decide whether or not they choose to take leave.
  • wait until the year end before reviewing annual leave accruals.
  • give in to requests for payment in lieu of annual leave.
  • make employees feel guilty about taking annual leave.

Managing annual leave certainly has its challenges but so do the scenarios that develop if you allow things to get out of hand, or plan badly. With transparency, good communication, forward planning and a culture that values leave taking, things can run a whole lot more smoothly - and with luck there are flights available to your employees’ chosen holiday destinations.


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When the Chips are Down, Is Your Workplace Safe?


Workplace injuries. Two words that send shivers down any business owner’s spine. When the cause is also an emergency incident for which you’re unprepared, then be afraid. Be very afraid.

Your employees count on you to have their safety front of mind. So when there’s an injury, whether apparently trivial or evidently more serious, the onus is on you as employer to take responsibility.


It worked for the scouts and it’s perfectly apt for your workplace too. In February 2016, Safe Work Australia released a Code of Practice on first aid in the workplace. This Code was approved under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act). It’s a big piece of legislation that is relevant to any business with a duty of care.

This Legislation makes it clear that your duty of care as an employer in relation to first aid goes beyond band aids in the lunchroom or an incident log at reception. In order for business owners to meet workplace health and safety requirements, a set of guidelines and an active approach to constantly improving the safety of your work environment is best practice. It’s black and white.


The statistics say that less than one in three Australian employees (31%) currently feel confident to perform first aid in an emergency. Reasons range from ‘a lack of training’ through to feeling ‘personally responsible’ if something were to go wrong.

Well-trained First Aiders are one of the important measures you can take to meet compliance. More importantly, they’re there to save lives.

They’re the ones everyone looks to when injures occur and when your workplace is in the throes of an emergency.

It goes without saying that they should be properly trained in all procedures likely to be necessary, and familiar with all the related workplace policies that govern what happens during an incident.

Types of First Aid Training might include:

  • Basic and Advanced First Aid – common emergencies, CPR, casualty management, incident management, high-risk workplaces
  • Occupational First Aid – as above, with a focus on first-aid facility management;

First Aid in Remote Situations – first aid administration in hard to reach locations, including aerial evacuation.

In Australia, depending on your workplace and its level of risk, there should be at least one First Aider for every 25 employees in high-risk environments. Low-risk workplaces should have one per 50 employees. Think about your own numbers - how compliant is your workplace?


An essential part of workplace safety is the tools required – your First Aid Kit. It’s essential to do some research and select the right kit for your workplace.

Here are some emergencies that a compliant First Aid kit can treat:

  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Electric shock
  • Minor eye injuries
  • Cuts, scratches, punctures, splinters, grazes
  • Muscular ailments and sprains

Do some research, take compliance advice – then make sure you’ve got the right kit in place, and that your First Aiders know what’s in it.


Negligence in this area can lead to serious sanctions. And if you’re lax on compliance, then your employees are always in some danger. So it should be no surprise to learn that infringement notices and conduct investigations are a common consequence, if you fail to follow the rules.

In Australia, there are three types of notices that a business might receive from an inspector:

  • Improvement Notice – If a company fails to fix the listed problems, penalties can be up to $50,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations;
  • Prohibition – All work operations must cease until improvements have been completed. Non-compliance means fines of up to $100,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations;
  • Non-Disturbance notices – A preservation period of 7 days is issued. Potential penalties are the same as those listed for the Improvement Notice above.


Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. Keep your team updated and informed. Provide them with all the resources they need to minimise workplace risks and injuries. It’s the least you can do - and it’s also the law.

First aid compliance is important to your business. Ensuring that you meet the requirements for making your workplace safer for all your employees is your number one priority. And if ever in doubt, outsource. Find the right service provider of first aid resources that can support your business on its journey to compliance.


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The Magic Number – Not to Be Dismissed


There’s a magic number which most owners of an Australian business would definitely know. Fifteen. 

This is the golden number below which their employee head count should always be, to benefit from the more generous clauses set out in the ‘Small Business Fair Dismissal Code’.



It’s simple.  Small businesses with less than fifteen employees have different rules for dismissing employees. The Code protects small businesses from unfair dismissal claims – as long as that employer has followed the fair and reasonable steps set out the legislated guidelines.  

In the code, there is a checklist.  This takes the employer through a step by step guide, in assessing and recording reasons for terminating an employee.  It supports the employer in understanding their procedural obligations and how to best be compliant.  In so doing, it protects both their business and their credibility. 



Small business employees cannot make a claim for unfair dismissal in the first 12 months following their engagement. If an employee is dismissed after this period, and the employer has followed the Code, then dismissal is deemed to be fair. 



Keep your head-count under fifteen!  Here is how the Australian Small Business Fair Dismissal Code defines small business: 

A small business is defined as any business with fewer than 15 employees.


To figure out whether a business is a small business, count all employees employed at the time of the dismissal including:

  • the employee and any other employees being dismissed at that time
  • regular and systematic casual employees employed by the business at the time of the dismissal (not all casual employees)
  • employees of associated entities, including those based overseas.

The size of the business is counted the earliest of:

  • when the employee is told their employment has been terminated, or
  • when the employee is given their notice of termination.



Be smart. Follow the code, and document all the circumstances on the journey to dismissing an employee.  The Fair Work Commission loves to see hard evidence and procedural fairness when faced with a claim. Do your best to follow the protocol and always seek specialist support if you’re unsure. It will stand you in good stead. 

Here at #HR, we often see the consequences - and the costs - of poor judgement and all-too-common oversights. All could easily be avoided.   We know that dismissing an employee is never easy. So stick to the magic number – and protect yourself. 


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Sexual Harassment - There’s No Place for It


We’re all of the opinion that a work environment free of discrimination and harassment is the ideal scenario, right?

We agree. And the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity now in place in any business operating with best practice in mind, are designed to underpin all your business and workplace decisions in this area. 

When it comes to managing allegations of sexual harassment, employers must stand to attention pretty quickly. Investigating an allegation is mandatory, regardless of whether you think the claim has veracity or not.  Employees count on you to get this right - and so does the law, so having a zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment is most certainly best practice - and the way to go.

Here are two cases of sexual harassment held before the Commission, with learning points relevant for many workplaces.




Two months after Amy began employment as a short-term contract delivery person, she attended the staff Christmas party at a local hotel. Amy alleged that on arriving at the hotel with her sister, a group of about ten male co-workers wolf-whistled and made sexual remarks about them. Shortly afterwards a co-worker, Evan, walked over to the table where Amy and her sister were seated with their drinks. He started to dance and lifted his T-shirt, exposing his stomach and chest. He then allegedly proceeded to loosen his pants and turned around and bent over, exposing his bare backside directly in front of Amy and her sister.

Later in the evening, while Amy was playing pool with another co-worker, Evan allegedly approached Amy from behind and pulled down her top, exposing her right breast. She claims she hit Evan over the head with her pool cue because she was frightened and embarrassed. After this incident Mark, another co-worker, approached Amy and tried to wrench the pool cue from Amy’s hand. Amy claims she was further intimidated by Evan, because he was sitting across the room, staring at her.

Amy complained to her manager the following work day about these incidents, and her employer conducted an investigation into the complaint. Her allegations were substantiated. Evan was transferred to another work-site, while Mark was reprimanded. After making her complaint, Amy alleged that her co-workers treated her coldly and her contract was not renewed. Amy lodged a complaint with the HREOC seeking financial compensation and the introduction of a more transparent sexual harassment complaint and discipline procedure. Amy’s employer settled her complaint privately for an undisclosed amount, prior to going to a conciliation conference.



Tracey began working for a telecommunications company through an employment agency as an administrative officer. A co-worker, Sam, allegedly started to make innuendos and comments of a sexual nature including “I know what you need”, and “Are you wearing a G-string?” Tracey also claimed that Sam stared at her breasts, tried to hold her hand when he was passing her something, and invited Tracey to sit on his lap.

After almost twelve months of this behaviour from Sam, Tracey stated that she was suffering from stress headaches and hated going to work. She complained to the manager who responded by allegedly saying that Sam was “from the old school and doesn’t know any better” and to wait a few days or a week and see what happened. No action was taken by the telecommunications company.  Tracey lodged a complaint with the HREOC alleging sexual harassment against Sam and the telecommunications company. Prior to a conciliation conference, the parties decided to negotiate settlement privately. The terms of the final settlement remain undisclosed.

Acts of sexual harassment can play-out at any time, and can occur during office hours or at other premises - including Friday afternoon drinks at the pub.  Whether an allegation arises as gossip or a direct complaint, there’s a legal obligation to investigate and take the matter seriously.  



But that’s not all. Additionally, employers have a legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

‘Reasonable steps’ may vary, depending on the size of your organisation. At the very least, they include  implemented policies which create a discrimination-free environment. The next step we’d encourage is documented procedures - outlining specific steps to take in the event of an allegation – as well as specific training for employees on acceptable workplace conduct. 

Leaving no stone unturned, here’s a brief list of examples from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission on what constitutes sexual harassment:

  • Staring, leering or unwelcome touching
  • Suggestive comments or jokes
  • Sexually explicit pictures or posters
  • Unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sex
  • Intrusive questions about a person's private life or body
  • Unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • Emailing pornography or rude jokes
  • Displaying posters, magazines or computer screen savers of a sexual nature
  • Communicating content of a sexual nature via social media, such as sending sexually explicit text messages.

We hope none of these examples ring true in your workplace. But if they do, it’s time to step up and get compliant!


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Moaning and Groaning – and When to Pay Attention


We all complain sometimes. We’re only human. And workplaces aren’t immune to it. Typically, a couple of disinterested, disengaged or just downright grumpy employees might have a grumble at some point during the working week. 

You can hear it in their tone, and the general tenor of what they say, and if you’re a manager or a business owner, we don’t need to tell you - it can be an array of issues, ranging from the surprising to the predictable. 

Perhaps it’s a colleague’s annoying ring tone, or they’ve been asked to perform a task outside of their job description.  Either way, this is one of those aspects of management that make it a complex game. It takes patience, no doubt. Critically, it also takes judgement – in knowing what complaints to take seriously and which ones can be taken with a pinch of salt. 

If you’re unclear on what workplace rights you’re required uphold, here’s some help in how to begin deciphering what can be dismissed as a moan, and what could have greater consequences. 



Starting with the basics, workplace laws ensure that employees are protected under an employment agreement or any relevant award or enterprise agreement.  If you’re up to speed, you’ll already know that these are the documents that are the go-to for determining employment conditions like salary and other entitlements.  Make sure all your employees have one - that’s best practice. All employees have the right to participate in lawful union activities too.

Beyond this, the Fair Work Act is clear that every employee has the right to be treated equally, regardless of race, sex, age or disability, amongst other things. In practice and in person that means our personal odour, birthmarks, dermatitis and comb-overs are all part and parcel of us as a person and must be accepted as such.

When more untoward behaviour becomes repetitive in nature, then there might be a duty of care for the employer to intervene, under the workplace bullying and harassment laws.

The Fair Work Act even gives us the right to make a ‘complaint’ or ‘inquiry’ while at work. Where the line must be drawn is less clear, between complaints about the ply of toilet paper in the shared facilities, and matters which are obviously more substantial. At the very least, a complaint should be related to a person’s work. 



 Complaints which have been upheld, in which the employee was found to have been exercising a workplace right include: 

  • Where an employee was not paid a commission in accordance with their employment agreement;
  • Where a colleague was found to have a conflict of interest - in choosing to engage their daughter as a preferred supplier to the business; and
  • Where a senior manager made inappropriate statements.

These cases suggest that a complaint or inquiry has to be about something that has direct and tangible impact on a person’s employment. By contrast, an employee’s concerns about another staff member’s dissatisfaction with their job, or complaints about the general lack of structure or direction within the business have been found not to be examples of employees exercising their workplace rights.



ADVICE: It’s not always obvious what is a workplace right – and what isn’t . When in doubt, err on the side of caution and get professional advice.  

POLICY: Get solid policies and procedures bedded down.  They should be underpinned by workplace legislation - specifically  discrimination, equal opportunity and workplace health and safety laws.  The tighter your policies, the less opportunity for uncertainty - or complaints.  

TRAINING: Tackle the hard stuff early. Provide regular training and communicate to employees what is an actual workplace right - and what is not. You might find there is less complaining and more time spent achieving your business goals. 

Most employees avoid being the squeaky wheel.  So complaints about real workplace issues might be few and far between in your business. But they can happen.  And when they do, it can be tricky to get the business of an employee’s rights, well - right. 

So get the right policy in place, take advice where you need to and avoid making on-the- spot decisions. There might still be the occasional grumble, but you’ll be clearer about what’s justified- and so will your staff. 


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Summary Dismissal - Don’t Play That 'Trump’ Card Unless You’re Sure


Terminating employees is rarely comfortable – and nor should it be. It’s not just the legal ramifications and potential costs of getting it wrong that might make one nervous, but the impact upon the employee and their family can be a burden on the conscience that’s hard to bear. 

Summary dismissal is especially tricky.  This type of termination takes place when an employee is involved in serious misconduct.  It may include a serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of another person or to the reputation or profits of the company’s business, or where an employee deliberately behaves in a way that is inconsistent with continuing their employment.

Theft, fraud, assault or refusing to carry out a lawful and reasonable instruction that is part of their job, are just few examples of serious misconduct. 

Think you’ve got it covered? So did the business owners in these five cases of summary dismissal which were held before the Fair Work Commission. Only two of these five cases were upheld by the Commission, while the other three were deemed unfair. 

Which two do you think the Fair Work Commission upheld on the grounds of serious misconduct? 

  1. An employee performed burnouts in the workplace driveway, went on to intimidate a customer, and made ‘rude and aggressive gestures’ towards the Company’s security cameras. 
  2. An employee was annoyed for being contacted on their rostered day off, and verbally abused their co-worker during the telephone conversation. 
  3. An employee left a voicemail message containing ‘colourful language’ on a co-worker’s telephone. 
  4. An employee who was a competitive rifle shooter in his spare time attended work with a high-powered weapon.  He showed it to other co-workers in the Company car park, which led to the police being called to the workplace. 
  5. An employee engaged as a bouncer at a casino allowed an underage girl to enter, having only briefly inspected her Learner Driver’s Licence.

The Fair Work Commission determined that the first two cases constituted serious misconduct and the summary dismissal was upheld.

In the last three cases, the Commission found that the employer had overreacted, and that summary dismissal was not justified when the broader circumstances were considered.

Clearly, once the ‘Trump’ card of summary dismissal is on the table, there’s no going back, and if you’ve misjudged, it could work out to be costly. So it pays not to play your Presidential hand too rashly, unless you’re really sure it’s justified. 

Procedural fairness is always best practice in making sure you get things right first time.  There are a number of steps that must be taken before you make any final decisions as an employer. These include meeting with the employee and presenting all the facts and evidence surrounding the alleged misconduct; and allowing the employee to respond to the allegations, providing them with good opportunity to explain their actions. 

Procedural steps give you time to think, and understand, and can benefit all parties. All the evidence can be considered carefully and the right advice can be sought, before you make a final decision concerning the future employment of what might be a valued member of your team.

Terminating employees on any grounds – serious or not, is not to be taken lightly or done rashly.  Although you might have a level of certainty that the dismissal is well grounded, the law may not necessarily be on your side. Get the right advice first and avoid making an on-the-spot decision. You’re doing what’s right for your business - and your employees! 


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Get Social - and Be Upfront About It


A Victorian business owner learned to his cost recently about the harsh realities of social media use in the workplace - and setting rules around it. 

After being with the business for one year, a male employee was summarily dismissed by one of the business’s executives, due to an inappropriate and explicit update he posted on his Facebook feed.  The post alluded to a woman who had just been promoted having provided certain ‘favours’ to her boss in return for the new role. 

The employee in question soon amended the post, clarifying that the female employee was at his mother’s workplace — not his own.  However, not long after that he was contacted by his managing director and his employment was terminated - effective immediately.

The now ex-employee instigated unfair dismissal proceedings. His former employer argued strongly that the employee’s derogatory comments had overstepped boundaries and were not consistent with a safe working environment which is free of harassment, victimisation, or any kind of sexual abuse. 

The employee counter-claimed that he hadn’t been provided with a copy of the social media policy and was unaware of having received any warnings about social media use. Further, he alleged that the post was unrelated to his workplace, and it was posted while he was on a break at work.

The Fair Work Commission found that the employee had in fact been unfairly dismissed, and awarded him over $6,000 as compensation.


There were three reasons given for this finding. 

  1. The employee had flexible working hours and it was unclear whether he was on a break at the time of making the post;
  2. there was no evidence to show that the employee was provided with a copy of the social media policy, as the policy acknowledgment document was unsigned; and
  3. the employer’s concerns about the language used in the post was ‘tempered by the fact that similar language appears to have been used in the workplace at various times’.


Dealing with social media as an employer can be very difficult. It may only take a few seconds for an employee to grossly misuse social media during work time, but it takes much longer for an employer to properly respond and take appropriate action.  Incidents like this can leave a business owner with a hefty bill - and a heavy heart - when things go wrong. 


It’s vital, astute business practice and good governance for every business owner to get their house in order. 

Every business owner worth their salt wants the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are meeting procedural obligations - with best practice standards in place for when it really counts. 

Meeting your procedural obligations and making your expectations clear to employees from the outset, ensures that your business can handle workplace complexities and disputes as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law. 


With the rise of new media, ways in which employees can communicate with each other, with those outside your business, and about your business, are continually evolving. While this creates new opportunities, it also creates accountabilities.   It’s important for business owners to have a Social Media & Internet policy that applies to all employees and contractors who use social media and the internet - whether in a private or business capacity. 


If a business expects employees to always treat others with the utmost respect and courtesy, both in person and online, it’s good due diligence to set expectations with a Code of Conduct.  Having benchmarks in place, so employees understand that congenial, professional and respectful behaviour is standard workplace practice, is almost certainly going to help your business tackle the bigger issues, if they arise.


Ensure you take the next steps too. All employees must be made aware of these policies with adequate training on the topic of their obligations within your business.  Have them sign off - to acknowledge their understanding. And don’t let the dust settle there.  Lead by example and remind your employees at every opportunity of exactly what your workplace expectations are. 

While we know that every situation is different, and the policies you implement aren’t legal documents nor will they guarantee compliance, they will provide you with assurance - that you’re meeting your procedural obligations, and can best handle workplace complexities as they arise, smartly and professionally – and in line with the law. 

Need help with policy development and implementation?  Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for all your best practice support needs.

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