Domestic violence leave proposal reaches Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission is considering a proposal to introduce 10 days of domestic violence leave for workers. Maria Hurley-Smith, a special counsel at Baker & McKenzie, discusses the proposal and existing domestic violence leave regimes – listen here.

Significant and systematic micromanaging valid reason for dismissal

The Fair Work Commission has upheld an employer’s decision to dismiss an employee who engaged in “significant and systematic micromanaging” of his employees.  The employer dismissed the employee following a workplace investigation, on the basis that he had engaged in breaches of relevant workplace policies regarding bullying and harassment.

Complaints

Several employees working under the supervision of the employee made complaints. A number of complaints related to specific incidents, including that the employee had responded to an employee’s group email publicly with “why did you send this?” and had then spoken to the relevant employee about the email in an aggressive and threatening tone. Other aspects of the employee’s micromanaging included that he had limited employees’ contact with internal and external stakeholders by requiring permission to speak to stakeholders, started attending internal stakeholder meetings with employees (who had previously attended meetings alone), and required employees to complete onerous tracking and other administrative tasks.

Micromanagement had the effect of bullying

The employee did not dispute the contents of the complaints, but rather their characterisation as bullying behaviour.  The employee claimed that the relevant employees had not raised these issues with him directly prior to making a formal complaint and that he had been unaware that his behaviour had an adverse effect. 

The Commission found that despite the possibility of the employee being “well-intentioned”, the cumulative effect of his conduct and behaviour was one of significant and systematic micromanaging that breached the employer’s Code of Conduct, and bullying and work, health and safety policies. 

The decision indicates that an employee’s intention may not be relevant in considering whether conduct is bullying.  Rather, the Commission will consider the impact of the behaviour in question on affected employees. 

see Carroll v Karingal Inc [2016] FWC 3709

First WHS conviction for failing to consult

The South Australian Industrial Relations Court has recorded the first conviction against a company for failing to comply with the duty to consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with other duty holders in relation to work health and safety matters.

A trainee and apprentice placement organisation, Trainee and Apprentice Placement Services Inc. (TAPS), was fined $12,000, a fraction of the potential maximum penalty of $100,000, for breach of consultation obligations (for a corporation) under the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act.

TAPS had placed an apprentice in a position with a roofing company.  In January 2014, while working for the roofing company at a construction site, the apprentice suffered “horrific injuries” when a section of guttering he was handling came into contact with power lines.

Obligation to consult

TAPS was prosecuted under section 46 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), a provision which is replicated in all other Australian States and Territories that have adopted the model WHS legislation (i.e. all States and Territories other than Victoria and Western Australia). That provision states:

“If more than one person has a duty in respect of the same matter under this act, each person with a duty must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult, cooperate, and coordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter.” (Emphasis added.)

Interestingly, while other entities were charged with safety breaches after the incident, TAPS was the only entity to be prosecuted for breach of the consultation duty where the construction company in charge of the site had gone into liquidation.

The Industrial Magistrate found that TAPS had an awareness of WHS issues and undertook certain measures to comply with its WHS duties (for example, visiting each of its host employers every 8 weeks). However, the Court also found that TAPS had not engaged in a consultation process with the roofing company about its WHS policies and procedures and admitted that an audit it had conducted on the roofing company’s operations prior to the incident was inadequate. The Court accepted evidence there were no safety measures in place at the site, despite it being a high risk environment.

Penalty

The Industrial Magistrate applied a significant reduction to the penalty imposed on TAPS for breach of section 46 because it had entered an early guilty plea, acted swiftly to comply with improvement notices, spent around $70,000 improving its safety systems to ensure that it complied with its consultation obligation in the future and had provided substantial ongoing support to the injured apprentice after the incident.

Turning attention to consultation

The Court’s decision should serve as a reminder that the consultation obligations in WHS legislation must not be overlooked. This decision is of particular importance to organisations responsible for placing workers with host employers or on client sites to perform their primary work. Consultation with other duty holders should form a standard compliance measure in any engagement, placement or audit process. Failing to comply with consultation duties can lead to significant penalties and safety convictions recorded against the company.

Aside from statutory compliance, failing to consult with other parties may prevent an employer from obtaining all of the information required to make a proper assessment about safety. Consultation with concurrent duty holders is essential to an employer being able to discharge its primary WHS obligations, where these duties can never be entirely delegated to a third party.

Boland v Trainee and Apprentice Placement Service Inc. [2016] SAIRC 14 (27 May 2016)

The Fair Work Commission announces minimum wage increase from 1 July 2016

The Fair Work Commission’s panel for annual wage reviews released its Annual Wage Review 2015-2016 decision today, 31 May 2016. 

The decision provides that minimum award wages will increase across the board by 2.4%, effective 1 July 2016.

This decision will result in the following increases to Federal minimum wage rates:

  • Weekly minimum wage: from $656.90 to $672.70 (increase of $15.80)
  • Hourly minimum rate: from $17.29 to $17.70 (increase of 41 cents)

 

Otherwise, the percentage increase will apply to the minimum rates of pay contained in modern awards. Increases to minimum weekly wages will be rounded to the nearest 10 cents.

In fixing the increase at 2.4% (down on last years 2.5% increase), the Panel observed all measures of inflation and wages growth to be at historically low levels, but that the general economic climate was good, providing an opportunity for a modest increase.

Employers should now start to review their employees’ existing rates of pay to ensure compliance with minimum rates when the above changes commence on 1 July 2016.

Annual Wage Review 2015-16 [2016] FWCFB 3506