Go beyond compliance to make a real impact on workplace culture and employee engagement.

As we’re getting close to the end of the financial year, I was asked recently about my thoughts on top trends coming into the new year. In no particular order, they were money, changing legislation and artificial intelligence. In my last post, I talked about money. This episode is about keeping up with changing societal expectations and legislation in the workplace.

I’m not going to go through the details of the legislation, but I need to clarify that the information I’m providing is general in nature and not specific to your circumstances. It should not be relied upon or used as an alternative to legal advice. AmplifyHR is not a legal firm, and I’m not a lawyer. So I’m not giving legal advice; I aim to provide general information on an employment-related topic.

The legislation changes for this year are pretty significant, the most significant that I’ve seen since the Fair Work Act was legislated in 2009. These changes include:

  • prohibiting pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts 
  • sexual harassment and discrimination changes
  • positive duty obligations
  • paid family and domestic violence leave 
  • psychosocial risk codes of practice
  • flexible work arrangements
  • parental leave changes

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Getting Your House in Order

There’s quite a bit in there so the question becomes, what does this all mean? It means you need to get your house in order with: 

  • policies
  • updated contracts
  • training for employees
  • risk assessments

There are cultural considerations as well, like the accessibility and availability of different kinds of leave. 

Paid Family and Domestic Violence 

These changes reflect changing societal expectations. We now accept that, unfortunately, family and domestic violence occurs and that, as workplaces, we have a role to play in supporting people. We can do this by enabling people to take the time they need to get out of a dangerous situation, attend court hearings or police matters, or whatever they might need. 

These changes reflect changing societal expectations.’

The question I’m asked most about this leave is: what are the evidence requirements? But we need to remember that prior to this being paid leave, it was unpaid leave and has been for a few years now. So the requirements haven’t changed. 

Instead, this is really a cultural question for your business. Do you want to be strict on evidence requirements for this type of leave? By its nature, this kind of leave will probably be taken at the last minute in an emergency. How strict do you want to be? 

Recently, I was working with a client whose managers were asking him, ‘What evidence do we ask for with this family domestic violence leave?’ And the CEO said, ‘I’d rather not require evidence for family and domestic violence leave. There’s probably less than 1% of people who might exploit it, but that’s worth it for the others who genuinely need it but might not take the leave if it is too difficult to get evidence to support it.’

That was a really powerful thing for the CEO to say to the management team, to underscore the culture of the business. It says, yes, we can ask for evidence under the Fair Work Act, but in our business, we’re not doing that. 

Rather than rely solely on the evidence requirements for this type of leave, it might be more beneficial to consider the support mechanisms your business can provide. It’s important to take into account the overall culture of your organisation and ask yourself, ‘If someone needs to take this leave, what do we do to support them in that situation?’

‘If someone needs to take this leave, what do we do to support them in that situation?’

You can be quite proactive in this. You can train your managers in this type of leave, including what it means and what happens when someone wants to take it. You can also alert employees to ensure they know this leave is available if they find themselves in a family or domestic violence situation or are supporting someone in that situation. 

Parental Leave

There have also been changes regarding the government paid parental leave scheme and requests to extend unpaid parental leave beyond the initial 12 months. Couples have had the option to take up to 24 months of unpaid parental leave between them. The new changes mean that if one person took 12 months, and they want to extend that, there are additional steps a business needs to take to genuinely consider and approve or decline the leave, with these changes coming into effect in July 2023.

Again, there’s a cultural question here for businesses to answer. How difficult or easy do we want to make it for people to access this leave? If you want to create a workplace that engages and retains employees, which means they are as productive as possible, you will think about making things easy. 

When you’re developing policy, think about the cultural impacts and what kind of support and training you can give employees and managers to administer these new requirements. Sure, you could sit back and not do anything, simply stick to the obligations within the Fair Work Act, but that doesn’t operationalise things for your business. 

Sure, you could sit back and not do anything, simply stick to the obligations within the Fair Work Act, but that doesn’t operationalise things for your business.’

Sexual Harassment Discrimination

Another area where societal changes are being reflected by workplace legislation is in sexual harassment discrimination changes. Arguably, it started with the Me Too movement, but we’re seeing other strong messages that sexual harassment is unacceptable in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is now a valid reason for dismissal. Related to this are ‘positive duty’ obligations on the business to proactively prevent sexual harassment and discrimination from happening in the workplace in the first place. 

It’s important to reflect on how this works in your business culture. You need to ask:

  • how does this fit in with our culture? 
  • how do we reflect this in our policies? 
  • what do we want our training to look like?
  • how do we undertake investigative processes?

Flexible Work 

Another big change this year is flexible work arrangements, which have just come into effect in June. This is about putting some onus back on the workplace to make flexible arrangements. You can’t just say, ‘computer says no’.

You’ve got to work genuinely with your employees to accommodate flexible work arrangements. This connects with hybrid working arrangements. Under the Fair Work Act, certain employee categories can request flexible work arrangements. For example, carers, people over 55, or people with a disability.

But you might have employees in your business who don’t fit any of the Fair Work categories and would still like to access flexible work. This creates another cultural consideration. How are you going to manage hybrid work? For example, do you set a standard where your hybrid work is two days in the office and three at home? And will you consider requests for more flexibility?

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Taking a Proactive Approach

When making decisions about flexible work and eligibility for leave, you need to consider whether you will adhere strictly to the Fair Work Act requirements or take a more proactive approach

This is the time to decide on the workplace culture you want to foster. Do you just want to follow the legislation and stay compliant, which is great (I hope you’re all compliant!), or do you want to go further? And if you want to go further, how do you go about it?

Making it Personal

One option is to offer a personal take to your team by saying, ‘This is important to me, and this is important to the business, and here’s why’. You can include quotes or statements in your code of conduct and your policies from the owner, the CEO, or senior management. Explain why these things are important in your business. 

You might, for example, say that the business has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and provide guidelines for what employees can do if they see something or something happens to them.

Making it Easy

You can also consider actions you can take beyond the legislative requirements. For example, as discussed above, you might decide not to ask for evidence for paid family domestic violence leave, or perhaps only in exceptional circumstances

The same may apply to extended parental leave. How much evidence will you ask applicants to provide? Do you mirror the legislation, or do you make it more generous? What about your flexible work policies?

Takeaways

A lot is going on this year; if you haven’t looked at your policies in the last 12 months, it’s time to review them. It’s usually recommended that businesses review their policies every two years, but because of all the changes this year, reviewing early is a good idea. If you haven’t trained your teams and managers about workplace behaviour, like harassment, bullying and discrimination, then now is the time to do it. 

Compliance is the foundation of workplace culture. If your business is not compliant with legislation, building a great workplace is impossible. Think about it like a house. You’ve got to build your foundations on compliance.

Then once you’re meeting your obligations, you can start to build your culture, which becomes your walls and your roof. That’s when you have a solid house. 

If you’re unsure how solid your house is, we can help you get your HR sorted at AmplifyHR. So visit us at the website, or connect with me on LinkedIn, and we can start a conversation.

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