What Employers Can't Ignore In 2024

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Home > Blog > What Employers Can't Ignore In 2024

The last twelve months have been a particularly busy time for employment law reforms and a number of major changes have been made. Employers have always had a responsibility to stay abreast of the latest laws pertaining to their people and business operations, but responsibilities have recently deepened and the bodies which have powers to investigate and penalise employers have broadened. Here’s what employers can’t ignore in 2024.

Family and domestic violence leave

All businesses must offer a minimum of ten days’ paid leave to employees experiencing family or domestic violence. This is a legal requirement under the Fair Work Act 2009.

People managers and human resources practitioners should undergo training on how to identify and manage situations where an employee may be experiencing the effects of family and domestic violence. Some issues such as offering wraparound services, the handling of sensitive information and how family and domestic violence leave is recorded on documents such as pay slips, will need to be addressed in a specific way, so it is crucial that training is offered to relevant people within the organisation to avoid mismanagement.

A positive duty to prevent workplace sexual and gender-based harassment

New positive duties have been imposed on employers under amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). The amendments require employers to take measures which are reasonable and proportionate to eliminate workplace sexual harassment and associated unlawful conduct.

Given the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) powers to enforce compliance of the positive duty, employers should prepare themselves to face additional scrutiny from external regulators and should arm themselves with as much evidence as possible that they have been addressing the additional responsibilities and mitigating any and all risks so as to prevent harm.

To ensure compliance, businesses would be prudent to review guidance from the AHRC, to thoroughly review policies, procedures and any training currently offered to staff with regard to respect in the workplace and take proactive measures to address any gaps or risks in the current offering – at an absolute bare minimum.

The right to disconnect

With businesses increasingly requesting their staff work more days in the office, employees are pushing back on their ‘right to disconnect’. In late 2023, a decision by the Fair Work Commission found that employees do have a legal ‘right to disconnect’ and with the topic covered in the second tranche of the ‘Closing Loopholes’ reforms, employers may soon find they can no longer expect direct access to employees outside of work hours. The ‘right to disconnect’ gives employees the power to ignore calls, emails or messages from their employers after work hours without the fear of retribution, insofar as ignoring the communication is reasonable under the circumstances.

Factors which may be relied upon in establishing what is reasonable could include the employee’s role, salary, award (if relevant), family obligations or whether they have a formal flexible working agreement in place. Employers should review their current flexible working policy and if they do not have one, consider implementing one alongside guidelines for seeking an official flexible working plan. The employer’s workplace culture may also be scrutinised to assess whether psychosocial factors such as excessive workload and unrealistic expectations from senior leaders and managers are driving employees to work unreasonable hours.

‘Gig economy’ updates

The ‘Closing Loopholes Bill’ deals with the ‘ordinary meaning’ of employer and employee, and the Fair Work Act will now cover ‘employee‑like workers’ so that gig workers may be entitled to workers’ rights including minimum wage, penalty rates and superannuation.

Businesses can remain compliant by keeping up to date with the relevant awards that apply to their employees and the minimum pay rates, penalty rates and overtime related to those awards. It may also be necessary to conduct a review of the employment contracts of those covered by an award to ascertain whether any legislative updates have impacted agreements which are currently in place.

Employee right to pursue unpaid Superannuation

At the beginning of the year, amendments to the National Employment Standards (NES) mean that superannuation is now included as an entitlement.

In order to meet compliance, employers should review current payroll processes and provide the updated Fair Work Information Statement to all new employees before they commence their role or as soon as possible during onboarding.

Updates to Workplace Health and Safety laws

The passing of the first tranche of the Closing Loopholes Bill means that harsher penalties will be imposed under the federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Where workplace negligence or recklessness causes a death, it will be dealt with using the offense of industrial manslaughter, which takes effect on 1 July 2024. Officers and persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), will now be subject to maximum penalties of $18 million for bodies corporate and 25 years’ incarceration for individuals.

With so many significant changes to employment laws in Australia either already in place or coming into effect in 2024, employers should take the opportunity to assess their overall employee offering, ensure compliance across all policies and practices, and implement measures to mitigate risks and reduce harm in the workplace. If your business is seeking a gap analysis in order to be brought in line with the NES and relevant legislation, get in touch with our HR Consultants in Cairns today.