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:
- 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.
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?
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?