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Month in Review – October 2016

Take a look back at the stories that have made headlines over the past month in the employment law and human resources sphere and how these might affect your business.

National Safe Work Month

Every year, October marks the Safe Work Australia National Safe Work Month initiative. It is a great time to think about what your workplace does to encourage safe work practices and ensure you are meeting all employer obligations under relevant Work Health and Safety legislation. The Safe Work Australia website offers lots of resources for employers and employees, such as industry specific safety tips and an overview of model WHS laws.

In the News

In an announcement that has upset many, the government reconfirmed its intentions to make changes to the paid parental leave scheme, where eligible new parents who already receive paid leave from their employers would no longer also be able to receive the full 18 weeks from the government. Contributor Alecia Thompson wrote about these changes and how Australia compares to the rest of the world.

The government also unveiled official plans to establish a Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, aimed at identifying further improvements in law, law enforcement and investigation and other practical measures to identify and rectify cases of vulnerable employee exploitation.

Research shows that almost 1 in 2 LGBTI Australians hide their sexual identity in the workplace, mainly due to fears that being ‘out’ might damage their career and career prospects.

A study of workers aged 15 to 24 found that young women believe sexual harassment is ‘normalised’ in their workplaces, occurring on a daily basis from bosses, colleagues, customers and clients.

Facebook released ‘Workplace by Facebook’ an enterprise communication tool, similar in basic appearance to Facebook, for greater workplace productivity and connection. Contributor Brian Powles considered how technology like this is creating a ‘new workplace’.

A survey by recruitment company Robert Walters found that employees rank workplace culture as the decisive factor when seeking a new job and more than half felt that it had been misrepresented in job interviews.

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton has set an ambitious 50:50 gender equality target to be achieved by 2025.  Achieving this target would prove a radical change for the company, in which women only make up 17% of their global workforce.

The Fair Work Commission has released its annual report for the period 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, finding that pilot programs introduced over the past year have been successful in settling matters and finalising them quicker.

In the Courts

The Federal Circuit Court penalised a Brisbane medical surgery and its directors more than $50,000 for coercing a doctor to withdraw a complaint to the FWO and adverse action claim after they stopped paying him.

The FWC found that, while the actions of an employee in accessing and storing hardcore pornographic material on his company phone and laptop might be considered misconduct, the employer had no policy confining the use of its equipment to work-related activities and as a result, ordered the employee be paid 8 weeks’ pay in compensation.

The FWC upheld the sacking of a senior manager jailed for child sex abuse, finding that a clause in his contract requiring him to not engage in conduct that might adversely affect the reputation or goodwill of the employer or bring it into disrepute clearly applied to conduct outside of working hours as well as conduct at work.

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission has reversed the decision of Corrective Services NSW in dismissing a senior prison officer who had assaulted three inmates while suffering from a mental illness, ordering that the prison officer be reinstated.

The Victorian Supreme Court has found that a restraint of trade clause preventing the CFO of Just Group from leaving to work at rival fashion retailer, Cotton On was broader than what was reasonable to protect the employer’s legitimate interests.

The FWC upheld the dismissal of a cabin crew supervisor for sexually harassing his colleagues. Despite his claims that he was a victim of the airline’s workplace culture, the FWC found that he was liable for his own conduct and that it was seriously in conflict with his role to lead by example when it came to the company EEO Policy and Code of Conduct.

The Full Federal Court held that an employee required to split her shifts between clinics separated by more than 20kms was entitled to claim a car allowance for her travel, arguing that they knew the distance between the clinics and still set start and finish times that required her to travel in under an hour.

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