Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Harnessing Grey Power

Did you know that to be considered as an ‘older worker’ in Australia you only have to be older than 50? Now that’s pretty young (admittedly that’s coming from a 40 something!) but ask someone in their 50’s, who is looking for a job, whether they are finding it difficult to be considered for roles because of their age, and I bet you will hear a resounding ‘yes!’
It’s called ageism, and though it’s illegal to discriminate against a candidate because of their age (amongst other reasons) it happens quietly every day.
We have so many workers in their 50’s and 60’s who rightly feel like they are in their prime. Their family responsibilities are far less time consuming than they were and their wealth of experience is humbling. Importantly, there is also a Federal Government incentive programme for employers called Restart aimed at encouraging employers to take on workers over the age of 50 - the crux of Restart is an attractive $10,000 subsidy, this full rate is payable when older job seekers are employed for at least 30 hours per week.
Advantages of employing older workers:

1. Their children have left the nest - they can commit 100% with fewer distractions and don’t care about school holidays
2. They have a wealth of experience
3. Maturity ! That’s a big one right there
4. Loyalty - older workers are not interested in leaving you for greener pastures. They will most likely stay put longer and are less likely to take sick leave
5. Your business can benefit from the Restart subsidy programme.

So next time a CV crosses your desk from an older worker, or you are face to face in an interview, keep these factors in mind. Dismissing someone due to their age is shortsighted (pardon the pun) and don’t forget you will be in their shoes one day ….sooner than you think!

How do you get the right people on your business bus?

Guest blog from Dr Dimity Podger, Director, Barasa Consulting Group
I was asked recently by a small business owner, “How do you get the right people on the bus?” A Mission critical question.
As you would know, it’s not only about finding people with the right skills and experience for the specific role and team, it’s also about finding people who ‘fit’ culturally.  To do that, you need to be crystal clear about your business’ culture - why you are in business, what you stand for and how you  and your employees interact with each other and with your customers.
Know your purpose
This is the first part of defining your culture – the reason your business exists, for you and your customers.  Think of this as the ‘number’ on the bus.  There are many benefits of being fully focused when it comes to your purpose.  Research shows that businesses with a strong sense of purpose are more confident about their growth prospects and investment priorities (Deloitte 2014).
Know your values and behaviours
The second part of your culture definition – the principles that everyone in the business uses to make operational and strategic decisions, and that guide behaviour.  Values, together with behaviours, help set the minimum expectations you have for everyone in your organisation and lay the ground work for your business’ culture. What is the work environment you want to create, maintain and protect?
Think about the bus: are conversations from across the aisle welcomed and encouraged? Is there music blaring from the front, or are individuals free to listen to their own? When people ask for their ticket do they receive a blank stare or are they warmly invited aboard? Is it a bit scary down the back? Does everyone say ‘thank you’ and give up their seat when needed or do they need to be asked?
Hire for 100% alignment and reap the rewards of greater engagement
When you are clear on your purpose and values, you can integrate them throughout your business.
As the title of this blog suggests, a primary strategy for doing this is hiring for a 100% cultural fit.  Bringing people on board who are aligned with your organisational purpose and values is directly linked to how engaged they will be in your business.  Engagement in turn is linked to business performance.
Right Management, researching the link, found that the top driver of employee engagement is the employee’s personal commitment to their employer’s core values.  Gallup found in 2006 that companies with employee engagement scores in the top quartile had 18% higher productivity, 12% higher profitability and 12% higher customer advocacy
What does this mean practically? Engaged employees are more loyal, meaning reduced recruitment costs and loss of productivity in getting new employees up to speed.  Corporate Executive Board found that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisations than highly disengaged employees. The result – your business drives towards its purpose and has increased sales and profits.  Not bad for just clarifying AND living your purpose and values.
So, for your business success, address these issues:
1. Take time to define your purpose, values and behaviours
2. Create clear messaging and communications around your cultural values
3. Hire, and then manage, reward, and fire, in line with your values and behaviours
4. Model, deliberately and consciously, your organisational values
5. Address gaps between your current culture and what you and your employees desire.
When you are clear, you can communicate with the people waiting in the bus queue so they know which bus they want to flag down and you get to attract the right people for your business.  Remember, you need to know they are 100% aligned with 100% of your business.

Dr Dimity Podger is Director of Barasa Consulting Group, a culture change consultancy working with small to medium businesses to bring their purpose and values to life across operations, culture and strategy, increasing engagement, performance and customer satisfaction.  She can be contacted at

Friday, 6 March 2015

Ouch! I was guilty of being sexist

When I look back on my career, I feel very lucky for the fabulous experiences that I have had, especially twelve years at a professional services firm. In this role, I worked late, partied hard, travelled and worked all over the world and learnt an incredible amount BUT I was single, young and carefree. I was ‘master of my own domain’. Then I read Katherine Zaleski’s article I am sorry to all the mothers I used to work with and it made me think. Was I like this, in any way?  And I discovered to my shame - I was…...:

  • I know I wondered to myself why a pregnant colleague used to need to take off so much time for Dr’s appointments
  • I know I thought it was a bit of nuisance in HR, trying to hold open roles for maternity leave (as it was called then)
  • I know I did not speak up loud enough when male colleagues said “no candidates that are likely to want to have babies in the next couple of years” for fear of being considered in that group
  • I know I thought the mums racing home and missing out on Friday night drinks were missing out on an opportunity to grow their career (reality is they probably had more fun plus the benefit of no hangover)

The reality is, and I am ashamed to say, I too had some of this attitude in me and I too am a woman. I should have been supporting women and not assisting in their discrimination. I should have spoken up.

I also wonder whether I would have been able to achieve what I did in that time in my career had I been a mother? I believe the answer is no. Not then, maybe now but still I am not sure. I went to Bangalore for 3 months in 2003, managing a team of 50 - with a baby? Forget it!

Fast forward 15 years and I had have had three kids in 3 years, left my corporate life and started my own business Employee Matters. I now actively seek and hire Mums and I believe that I have tapped into a ‘talent gold mine’. My team is filled with brilliant mums with exceptional experience who are seeking flexibility, so that they can still do great work and be a great mum.  The work / life balance that many are seeking but few truly find.

So life and experience does teach you many lessons. I too, as others have said, celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, now older and wiser however, my hope is that my daughters won’t need the event in 20 years because we will finally have achieved true equality.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Got employees? Three ways to stay out of trouble

Got employees? Three ways to stay out of trouble

If you knew what I am about to share with you, before you started your business, you would probably never have  started one in Australia. It is a legal minefield, fraught with significant risk of breaching several laws and fines of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. I promise, I’m not exaggerating. Then there are the other financial consequences...
As a small business owner, it is almost impossible to be across (and more importantly, stay across),  all the legislation that governs your business, behaviour and obligations, let alone those that apply to you as an employer. Unfortunately, ignorance of your obligations is not a defence.
I want to share with you some details about the areas of risk and the subsequent fines for breach:
Modern Award – almost all employees in Australia are now covered by a Modern Award. Some awards cover an industry while others cover an occupation. You may have two or three Awards relevant to your workplace. For example,  your administration employees often fall under the Clerks Award and your superannuation advisors may fall under the Banking, Finance and Insurance Award. As a business, you need to comply with all the terms and conditions under the applicable  Award(s) including minimum wages, payment of overtime and shift lengths. It is no longer OK to pay above the Award to avoid the other terms and conditions.

Each breach of the Award leaves the business exposed to $51,000 per breach and even fines for individuals of $10,200, on top of the need to pay back whatever entitlements are owed to the underpaid employee.
To protect yourself- find out your Modern Award, review the document in detail and ensure that you are compliant. This may mean increasing salaries to ensure that you meet the minimum salary requirements or maybe paying overtime.
Employment Contracts – an employment contract is a legally binding contract for both the employer and the employee. A personal plea from me - please don’t use your mate’s employment contract . These are highly likely to be inappropriate and out of date. You cannot contract out of an employee's minimum rights under the National Employee Standards. As this employment contract is legally binding, if you, as the employer go against it,  it will constitute a breach. For example, if the contract states that you will conduct an annual performance and salary review and you miss one year, you are in technical breach of that contract.
Each breach could expose you to substantial damages.
To protect yourself- get compliant employment contracts in place for permanent employees, casual employees and independent contractors and review and amend them every 2 years, (and every time there is a change to the ‘deal’).
Interview assessment and documentation – you may not know that you are required to keep interview notes and any justifications for decisions for a period of 5 years. This is in case you need to defend your decision and rationale - for example, in the case of a discrimination claim during a recruitment campaign. Many years ago, I was reviewing interview notes and the interviewer wrote about a candidate “black as the ace of spades”. The lawyers would have a ‘field day’ with this case now.

Each breach could attract damages and exposures under a variety of laws

To protect yourself- have an interview template to document and train your interviewers, so that they are very aware of their obligations around recruitment and discrimination. File these documents so that they can be found, if required, in 5 years time.

I know that the above is scary but so is starting and running a successful business - and remember, knowledge is power and hopefully you now have the power to make changes to protect you, your business and your employees. Are you safe?

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

“Does annual leave accrue when an employee is on workers’ compensation?”

By our guest blogger, Danny King  - Principal of Danny King Legal

Each employment relationship is different, and may be subject to multiple pieces of legislation and other industrial instruments that interact with each other. Finding answers to very specific employment law questions is not always an easy task, and the laws in this area are dynamic. Care needs to be taken as even seemingly simple questions can lead to surprising outcomes. Anglican Care recently learnt this the hard way.

1. What is the law?
The Fair Work Act 2009 provides the following:
S 130(1) – Restriction on taking or accruing leave or absence while receiving workers’ compensation:
“an employee is not entitled to take or accrue any [annual] leave or absence (whether paid or unpaid) under this Part during a period (a compensation period) when the employee is absent from work because of personal illness, or personal injury, for which the employee is receiving compensation payable under a law (a compensation law) of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory that is about workers’ compensation.”

In NSW, that “compensation law” is the Workers Compensation Act 1987, and, until recently, it was considered by most practitioners that the NSW Act did not permit the accrual of annual leave whilst on workers’ compensation. However, the recent Federal Circuit Court decision of NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association v Anglican Care [2014] found that employees who are on workers’ compensation leave in NSW are entitled to accrue annual leave. This decision has caused many annual leave balances to be adjusted upwards - in some cases by a very significant degree.
Typically employers will take out workers’ compensation insurance which, once all paid sick leave has been exhausted, will cover the remaining time taken. Employers now need to be mindful that these periods of workers’ compensation do, in fact, come with a cost in the form of annual leave accrual. Importantly, this can cause a significant increase in termination pay outs for those employees who have had lengthy absences on workers’ compensation. Where a Modern Award provides for annual leave loading to be paid out open termination, the cost of such accruals to employers can increase by 17.5%.

2. Watch this space
With each new government, industrial relations are placed under a new spotlight – and the Abbott government is no exception.
The Coalition’s Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, which was passed by the House of Representatives on 27 August 2014, includes an amendment that prevents employees from accruing annual leave whilst receiving workers’ compensation. Consequently, if the Senate passes the Amendment Bill then the effect of the decision in NSW Nurses and Midwives Association v Anglican Care will be reversed, and many employers with long-term workers compensation recipients can breathe a sigh of relief.
In the interim, employers in NSW should be aware that, when employees are on compensation leave, their annual leave continues to accrue.

3. Further advice and guidance
Employment law is a complex field that is constantly subject to change. Entitlements can be given or taken away, often without proper notice to the general public, and employers can be caught out even when they have previously had good advice on their obligations.
Danny King Legal is an employment law firm, and we frequently advise clients on all aspects of the complex relationship and recruiting obligations between employers and employees. Get in touch to discuss your situation, get advice on how to get the most out of your investment in wages, and minimise your exposure to employee claims.
T: +61 280 680 941

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Employers and Emergency Events - A Guide for Employers affected by emergency measures

Recent events in Sydney have been devastating for us all. Alongside the tragedy, fear, and remarkable resilience of the human spirit, comes the economic reality of the fall-out. When events occur that trigger emergency measures – such as acts of terrorism, extreme violence, or natural disasters – many businesses are impacted by the emergency measures put in place to deal with the crisis and its consequences.

Our own personal experience has prompted us to address the question: what happens to my employees? Our office was evacuated shortly after the Martin Place siege began – but what happens next? We were faced with the challenge of how to handle our own employment entitlements and responsibilities, in an uncertain physical space. 
So the key question for employers (like me) is: what am I supposed to do in this situation?
If you are wondering the same thing, in the community spirit of banding together, we are sharing our findings.
The immediate safety of your staff must always be the primary concern, and you should ensure that you have emergency management procedures in place. You should make sure every member of staff is aware of who they need to contact, where the meeting area is, who is responsible for ensuring that everyone is accounted for - that sort of thing. Once the urgent matters are addressed, care should be taken to support the emotional reaction to very upsetting situations. Make time to listen to your staff and seek out help for those in distress.
Employment Entitlements during Emergency Events
Employers faced with a situation where they cannot continue to work normally, or who have employees who cannot be usefully employed, may have several options to choose from, including:
Inviting employees to take paid leave (e.g. annual leave) or, where the applicable award or agreement allows for it, instructing employees to take paid leave;
Re-directing employees to other work sites or offices where possible;
Organising flexible work arrangements, such as working from home; or
Standing down an employee if authorised to do so under the applicable award, or if the requirements under the Fair Work Act are met. 
Standing down employees (without pay)
Employers should first look to the relevant Modern Award, as some awards contain provisions for taking leave or standing down in emergencies. Similarly, Enterprise Agreements and employment contracts may contain specific provisions concerning stand down.
We note that many awards do not have a standing down provision, including: the Clerks - Private Sector Award 2010; Legal Services Award 2010; Live Performance Award 2010; Broadcasting and Recorded Entertainment Award 2010; Graphic Arts, Printing and Publishing Award 2010; and the General Retail Industry Award 2010.
Where employees are not covered by an award or agreement, then s524 of the Fair Work Act will apply. The critical element of this section is that the employee “cannot be usefully employed”. In emergency events, the most applicable circumstance is detailed by s524 (1) (c) – namely, that the cause of the stoppage of work is one “for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.”
Other Entitlements
Following an emergency event, employers should also keep in mind that employees may be entitled to seek other forms of leave, including:
Personal/Carer’s Leave if the employee suffers injury or illness or needs to care for someone who is consequently sick, injured or has been affected by an unexpected emergency – note that this includes stress related illnesses;
Community Service Leave if the employee is part of a complying community or emergency service initiative; and
Compassionate Leave if someone close to the employee has consequently passed away. 
In general, the best approach for employers to take when faced with distressing events is to communicate with their employees. Ask employees for their input and together find the most suitable way to cope with the situation and move forward.
First points of reference for Employers:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What are the five reasons you don’t need a HR Manager in your business?

Let’s face it starting a business is hard, real hard - running it successfully is possibly even harder. There is so much to do in so little time and so much that you want to achieve with limited resources - and let’s face it, with limited cash. You have enormous dreams that you are desperate to make a reality.
The issue is that you need to maximise all the resources at your disposal, to squeeze the most out of them as you can. A critical but often under-utilised area within most small businesses is often your most expensive one - your employees. So I thought that we would explore the five reasons not to get any HR support:
  1. You are an exceptional recruiter - many people think recruitment is easy, working with  your ‘gut feel’ until you hire your first ‘dud’. There is also a misconception that recruitment is a quick process. Trouble is, if you have 2 weeks’ notice written into your employees’ contracts, it’s highly unlikely that you will replace a departing employee in time.  The other issue is that employers don’t ask behavioural or cultural-fit questions, they focus on the technical ones - but they rarely test whether the candidate can actually do what they say they can
  1. You are an employee relations lawyer – you are completely across all the employment relations legislation such as the Fair Work Act, Anti-discrimination Action and Workplace Health & Safety and you have implemented compliant policies, which have been shared  with your team )plus they have signed to acknowledge that they will abide by the policies). A quick test for you - what is flexible working and who is entitled to ask for it? What is a valid reason to say no?
  1. You are a trained psychologist – employees are human and as employees they also bring their individual complexity, and their personal life to work. Throw is some office conflict and you need a counselling background to navigate the issues and more importantly, the solutions. Most business owners tend to fear the time when the tears start and a box of tissues and a lengthy session is needed to get the employee back to work
  1. You are a sports coach - you are a high performance sports coach used to developing and implementing strategies to maximise the high performance of your athletes. Coaching and the constant development of your employees’ skills is your forte. You are used to progressing employees through the ranks. Remember people don’t leave organisations they leave managers
  1. You enjoy firing employees – you know how to terminate employees for non-performance, gross misconduct, misconduct and also when and how you can make a role redundant. You have the documentation, understand what payouts are required and also have the stomach for it.
The problem is that you need to have all of the above covered plus have a knowledge and understanding about finance, social media, legal issues, marketing, sales and business development plus your core offering. Tough ask I think.
If you have all of this covered then you don’t need me or my team (and you are probably not reading this article anyway as your business is booming). Well done! If not, don’t stress - this is all fixable.
How would you rate your knowledge in the field of employee management?

Natasha Hawker owns Employee Matters Pty Ltd an HR Consultancy that assists small to medium businesses with their HR functions to make them more efficient and profitable. Their offering includes HR Management, Recruitment, Training, Coaching, and Exit Management – find them at