Risk Business

New workplace rules: Is your business at risk?: Despite employing half Australia’s private sector workforce the small business community is struggling with the burden of understanding and complying with frequent changes to workplace

According to NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright, up to one third of NSW small
businesses are unaware of the most recent legislation, the Fair Work Act.
“The Fair Work Act was introduced in July 2009 and employers are taking huge risks by not doing
their due diligence, understanding their obligations and making the required changes,” said

Fair Work legislation came into full effect on 1 January this year with the introduction of Modern
Awards and the National Employment Standards. It consolidated hundreds of federal and state
industrial awards into 122 Modern Awards and introduced ten new National Employment Standards.

The National Employment Standards included an extension of parental leave to 24 months, flexible
work arrangements for parents with young or disabled children and an entitlement to redundancy
payments for all workers.

According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Peter Anderson, these
changes have seen the wage costs of more than 200,000 small businesses rise.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyer Josh Bornstein agrees that the legislation has led to challenges.

“Legal practitioners, but more importantly employers and employees, are still adjusting to the new
provisions. It remains quite difficult to navigate and considerable uncertainty exists for people who
are affected by the laws.”

While media exposure at the time the legislation was launched ensured that employees and
employers had a ‘snapshot’ awareness of workplace rights, employers and employees still have
questions. The Fair Work Ombudsman received over a million calls in the twelve months following
the release of the legislation, a nine per cent year-on-year increase.

According to the Ombudsman, most callers were workers seeking information about wages,
conditions and termination rules.

Head2Head HR Director Trish Bell understands why employers and employees might get confused.

“What many employers and employees don’t understand is that businesses with greater than 14
employees are subject to unfair dismissal laws, and the National Employment Standards provide an
employment safety net of minimum entitlements for all employees. Some of the National
Employment Standards are reworked pre-existing minimum entitlements, but a number are new and
will have an impact on employment practices. Employers cannot contract out of these provisions”
she explains.

“We’ve helped business across regional Australia adhere to the new laws. No business can afford to
risk non-compliance. Taking time to implement human resource systems now can result in huge
savings later in productivity, time, legal costs and staff morale. And it doesn’t have to be difficult.”

Bell recommends three tools small business can introduce to help protect their business:

  1. Employment contracts that reflect the new National Employment Standards
  2. Accurate and current job descriptions for all staff
  3. Workplace policies that focus on safety, discrimination, harassment and bullying.

“Businesses that act now will avoid potential litigation later,” says Bell.

“These human resources building blocks help protect business, clearly identify the workplace culture
and provide transparency for both management and staff.”