As 2013 comes to an end, it's time for Australian employers start actioning their end of year employment checklist.
1. Annual Shutdowns
Many Modern Awards require employers to provide a minimum of four weeks' notice of an annual shutdown. Notice must accordingly be provided immediately to Award-covered employees in order to comply with these provisions.
Civil penalties apply for breaching Award provisions relating to leave and other notice requirements.
Employers should also check leave provisions in Enterprise Agreements, employment contracts and leave policies for notice requirements for Award free employees.
2. Reminders of Required Standards of Behavior at End of Year Functions
To minimise vicarious liability risks, pre-party reminders should be sent to employees:
identifying the required standards of behaviour relating to sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and work health and safety during the end of year party and in respect of 'kris kringle' gifts, dress codes and party entertainment
clarifying expectations in relation to the permitted consumption of alcohol and the applicability of Appropriate Workplace Behaviour policies, Codes of Conduct and corporate values during times of alcohol consumption
reminding employees that excessive consumption of alcohol in the presence of clients, suppliers and members of the public can have adverse consequences in terms of the employer's reputation, breaches of confidentiality and ongoing working relationships and setting appropriate guidelines in respect of client, supplier or third party functions.
3. Work Health and Safety Considerations
A risk assessment of the end of year party should be undertaken to identify whether factors such as the location and nature of the end of year party warrant additional safety measures such as transportation and security arrangements.
A risk assessment should also be conducted for workplaces operating on 'skeleton staff' arrangements over the holiday period and appropriate measures implemented to minimise identified risks.
4. Probationary Employees
Employers should identify whether the probationary period of any new employees will finish during the holiday season. Appropriate action should be taken now to ensure that probationary employees do not inadvertently 'fly under the radar' and become eligible to bring an unfair dismissal claim in the New Year if their employment is ultimately terminated.
5. Preparation for Anti-bullying Measures Under Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
Employers can take the following steps in the final weeks of 2013 in preparation of the commencement of the new anti-bullying measures on 1 January 2014.
Delivering training to ensure workers understand the difference between bullying and reasonable management action.
Reviewing policies to ensure they contain clear definitions of prohibited conduct and an effective complaint handling procedure.
Providing performance management training and guidance for managers.
Responding to complaints in a timely and effective manner.
'Up-skilling' internal staff to conduct effective and defensible workplace investigations or identifying experienced and accessible external investigation resources.
The above actions will assist employers in welcoming a happy, safe, harmonious and legally compliant New Year.