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BlandsLaw webinar - Wednesday 30 October 2013 at 1pm

We're not talking about your expanding waistline (you look great). We are talking about the five essential things that you need to know about employment law - your obligations as an employer, and protection for your business - as your business grows.

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With a few busy months ahead for many businesses holding work social functions and Christmas parties, it is a good time to consider the issues around drugs and alcohol in the workplace. From a legal risk management perspective, best business practice around these issues involves the implementation of workplace policies that cover not only drugs and alcohol, but also performance management, occupational health and safety, discrimination and termination. It may be useful at this time of year to remind employees what policies are in place and when these apply.

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Federal Circuit Court says company has case to answer for underpayment by subcontractor.

A company has failed to have a case summarily dismissed by claiming that it was not responsible for underpayment to workers by its subcontractor. The case was brought before the Federal Circuit Court by the Fair Work Ombudsman, and involves a South Australian company, Integrated Trolley Management (‘ITM’), one of many companies around Australia engaged to collect trolleys at various supermarkets. ITM subcontracts its services to Coastal Trolley Services (‘CTS’), who in turn subcontracts to South Jin Pty Ltd (‘South Jin’), the employer of the underpaid workers. The claim was made against South Jin as the employer and against CTS for accessorial liability.

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Employees can get themselves into all sorts of trouble through the misuse of social media in the workplace. But is social media really to blame? Not in all cases - as this cautionary tale illustrates.

The Fair Work Commission recently rejected an unfair dismissal claim from an employee who used LinkedIn to solicit work for his own private business. The employee showed that he had disclosed to his employer, an architectural design practice, that he did small design projects for private clients outside his normal working hours. The employer had accepted this.

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A Queensland tribunal recently found an employer was liable after it failed to properly investigate a sexual harassment claim brought by one of its employees. (McCauley v Club Resort Holdings Pty Ltd (No 2) [2013] QCAT 243 (13 May 2013))

The case involved a sexual harassment claim made by a food and beverage attendant against a chef with whom she worked. The attendant claimed the chef had made derogatory comments to her over a number of days and made growling noises in her ear and around her neck. 
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The Federal Circuit Court has imposed a record $238,920 penalty on a company providing an airport shuttle service from Newcastle to Sydney airport, for underpaying its drivers. 

Interestingly, the Fair Work investigation arose not from an employee complaint, but as part of a national compliance campaign focussed on sham contracting. The penalty imposed was made up partly of breaches relating to misrepresentation of employees as contractors, and partly for failing to meet award requirements.

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While there is no general entitlement to unpaid leave under the Fair Work Act 2009, there are some provisions that deal with the question of when unpaid leave can be taken. In other cases it is a matter for agreement between the employer and employee.

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We regularly provide advice around redundancy and know from practice that it can be an area fraught with pitfalls. To meet the test for genuine redundancy under the Fair Work Act the redundancy process must include the employer exploring, with the employee, any available redeployment options. Related to this concept is that of ‘alternative acceptable employment’ which may affect the redundancy pay.

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Social media in the workplace: practical tips for best practice policies

Internet Law Bulletin (Lexis Nexis) – June 2013

Andrew Bland and Sarah Waterhouse look at the rise in employment law decisions involving social media, particularly in unfair dismissal cases, and examples of emerging case law including the recent appeal in Linfox Australia Pty Ltd v Glen Stutsel. This paper – aimed at legal advisors in the areas of workplace and internet law – proposes that a comprehensive and effectively-implemented policy for employee use of social media is an essential legal risk management tool. It also provides practical hints on what to include in a social media policy for employees.

Click to download article > Internet_Law_Bulletin_June_2013 SM articles

 

The recent federal court decision in CFMEU v Bengalla Mining Company Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 267 held that a warning letter issued for an employee’s unauthorised absence did not amount to adverse action. This case is important as it demonstrates that clearly communicated workplace policies, and consequences for breach, may mean the difference between allowable disciplinary action and unlawful adverse action.

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The recent Fair Work Commission decision in Mr Georg Thomas v InfoTrak Pty Ltd T/A InfoTrak [2013] FWC 1134 highlights the importance for  employers of considering both the substance and the process surrounding redundancy.

In this case, Mr Thomas, an Operations Manager of an IT company, brought an unfair dismissal case alleging that his redundancy was not ‘genuine’ because his employer had not discussed it with him or considered him for alternative positions.

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The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has recently commended McDonald’s Australia for conducting a self- audit on its employees’ wages and other entitlements, leading to improved workplace relations for the 90,000-strong restaurant chain.

McDonald’s had agreed to participate in the self-audit following an unsuccessful attempt to have an enterprise agreement approved by Fair Work Australia. Although the enterprise agreement was approved on appeal, McDonald’s agreed to enter into a Deed to achieve two compliance activities:

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We live in a country that unfortunately experiences catastrophic bushfires, flooding, cyclones and other similarly damaging natural events. If your business  is negatively impacted by a natural disaster, what are your obligations towards your employees during this difficult time? We briefly consider three scenarios affecting the employment relationship in the event of such a disaster.

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Harmonisation background

In late 2012 an Exposure Draft of proposed new federal anti-discrimination legislation was released by the government. The draft bill seeks to harmonise federal anti-discrimination legislation. Currently there are multiple different federal Acts[1] each of which deals with a different ground of discrimination. The proposal seeks to consolidate all these into one piece of legislation which will cover all the different grounds within one standard legal framework.

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