Four workplace issues to address for a compliant 2019

Workforce Guardian’s Charles Watson examines four workplace issues that should be addressed by your business in 2019.

1 Casual worker conversion

From 1 October 2018 national system award covered regular casual workers became entitled to request conversion to full-time or part-time permanent employment.

Employers have until 1 January 2019 to provide their existing casual workers with a copy of the new award provisions for consideration.

For casual workers engaged after this date, the employer must ensure all casuals, whether regular or not, receive a copy of the relevant award provisions within the first six to 12 months of their first engagement.

Under the new provisions, casual workers are not obliged to convert to permanent employment, nor is conversion to permanent employment an automatic process, however, employers must not unreasonably refuse such requests.

Casual employees are not limited to a once off occasion to request conversion.

When a conversion request is made, the employer should ensure that:

  • The request is in writing
  • Consultation with the employee should occur (remember to advise the employee they will lose their current 25 per cent casual loading)
  • After consultation, any refusal so should be detailed in writing to the casual worker within 21 days of the request.

If the request is approved, the casual worker should be issued with a new employment agreement, or a variation to their current agreement.

Employers should seek advice about their casual arrangements and the first port of call may be to thoroughly vet your casual arrangements.

2 Family and domestic violence leave

All federal system awards now contain a term providing national system award covered workers with access to five days unpaid leave per year.Workers can take the leave if they need to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence and it’s impractical to do so outside their ordinary hours of work.

Although award-free workers are not covered by such terms, employers should remain sensitive to this issue whether they are covered or not.

Businesses should consider how to manage this issue if it arises in the workplace and not take any adverse action against a worker as a result.

A further development on this issue is a Bill before federal parliament seeking to extend the award entitlement so as to grant five days unpaid leave to all other workers covered by the Fair Work Act.

At the time of writing this item the Bill was before the parliament but had received support and recommendation from the relevant Senate Committee.

If you don’t already have a related workplace policy and appropriate procedures in the workplace, it is strongly recommend to get on the front foot and implementing them.

It’s the best method for ensuring management understanding, consistency in application and overall good practice within your business internally and when tendering for contracts.

3 Flexibility entitlements

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides that workers, who are parents or have responsibility for the care of a child of school age, or under the age of 18 with a disability, with a right to request flexible working arrangements.

Examples include changes in hours of work, patterns of work and work location. An employer may only refuse such a request on reasonable business grounds such as cost or negative effects on productivity.

Applicable from 1 December 2018, modern awards now contain a specific clause detailing how an employer must deal with such worker requests.

Of particular importance is employers must discuss the request with the worker, ‘genuinely try to reach an agreement’, and respond to the request in writing within 21 days. This means employers now have additional obligations in relation to such requests.

Further, if a worker disputes the outcome, they may enliven the dispute resolution clause within the relevant award. This may result in them referring the matter to the Fair Work Commission.

We recommend businesses, and responsible managers, review this particular clause and understand its full implications, and develop an appropriate strategy for considering and responding to such requests.

4 Seven-day shift workers

A particularly relevant award amendment to the Cleaning Services Award 2010 (clause 29.2), and effective from 17 September 2018, is the removal of time served qualifications for a shift worker to be entitled to the additional weeks annual leave.

That qualification was seen as being inconsistent with the National Employment Standards and the progressive accrual of annual leave.

A shift worker is a worker who works a roster, and over the roster cycle, may be rostered to work ordinary shifts on any of the seven days of the week, and who is regularly rostered to work on Sundays and public holidays.

Seek advice, keep good records and I hope you have a successful 2019.

Charles Watson is general manager of Workforce Guardian 

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