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  • HR Heartbeat: The latest updates on the Closing Loopholes Bill, leap year advice, and...

HR Heartbeat: The latest updates on the Closing Loopholes Bill, leap year advice, and...

This week’s edition of HR Heartbeat is all about preparing you for irregular events that can throw spanners in your people management processes. Plus, get an update on the Closing Loopholes Bill, and more.

First published on Thursday, Feb 15, 2024

Last updated on Friday, Feb 16, 2024

6 min read

Have you heard the latest news?

Everything you need to know about the latest trends impacting employers all over Australia. Keep up to date with the HR Heartbeat.

Let’s get into the headlines.

(Ever)more absences?

The highly anticipated Eras Tour kicks off this weekend in Melbourne before heading to Sydney next week.

And considering the staffing chaos this created last year when tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of her tour, employers beware!

Our absence management software revealed that 67 Swifties took time off just to snag tickets (and those are just the ones who were upfront about the reason for their absence). Discover all the other absence-inducing events of 2023 in our Bright Rewind.

Make sure your absence policies and shift management tools are ready to take on whatever comes your way in the next two weeks.

Learn expert tips on how to stay on top of your people management in our blog post, The Era of Unexpected Absences (Taylor’s Version).

One small step for payroll, one giant leap year

2024 is a leap year.

What does that mean for you—other than an extra 24 hours in February?

Well, it could affect your payroll because your employees may be working an extra day in this month’s pay cycles.

Read all about it in our blog post, Are workers entitled to an extra day’s pay in a leap year?

Closing Loopholes: The Sequel

The Closing Loopholes Bill continues in 2024, and we’ve got an update for you…

The second part of the bill has passed parliament and will be sent back to the House of Representatives to sound their approval on amendments before it’s passed into law.

One of the most hotly contested amendments has been the right to disconnect, which entered the legislative process late in the game. Concerns range from its lack of consultation to the unclear implications it may have.

The proposed amendment aims to allow workers to disconnect from work outside of their allotted hours without being punished for not responding to unreasonable communications from their employers.

What factors decide what constitutes reasonable contact? How an employee is contacted, how often the contact happens, whether the employee is being paid, and their familial responsibilities. As of now, no criminal penalties will apply to employers who breach these potential laws.

Stay tuned to find out when this Bill gets Royal Assent and will come into effect.

“Systematic pattern and deliberate nature”

That’s how Fair Work Ombudsman, Anna Booth, described the underpayment allegations against the operators of two eateries in Adelaide.

The regulator alleges that the operators underpaid 36 of their employees, who were mostly international students under the age of 25, a total of $407,546.

Individuals were underpaid amounts ranging from $74 to a whopping $58,592.

This case includes allegations of multiple breaches including unlawful deductions, failure to provide payslips, and providing false or misleading records to workers—on top of the alleged underpayments.

Another startling allegation is that the operators of the eateries had a “strike” system in place wherein workers got a strike against their name for each mistake they made. Once they accumulated six strikes, they were unlawfully required to buy food and/or beverages for the two operators and any staff members working at the time.

While this particular case seems like a purposeful flouting of the law, plenty of businesses fall into trouble with the Ombudsman without even realising they were breaking the law.

The employment relations landscape is always changing, and small businesses especially may find it a challenge to keep on top of evolving laws. That’s why our BrightAdvice phone line is available 24/7 for our clients to get prompt, up-to-date employment relations advice directly from experienced advisers.

That wraps up this edition of HR Heartbeat. Stay tuned for more headlines and all the latest updates that will keep you in the know with all the major employment changes coming your way.

If you’ve got questions about the top HR headlines from this week, ask BrightLightning:

Can I dismiss because of absences?

Potentially. The Fair Work Act protects employees against being dismissed for being sick or injured and using their paid personal leave, and dismissing an employee for these reasons may put you at risk of an unfair dismissal claim or a general protections claim. If the employee is casual or has not completed the minimum employment period, then you may be able to dismiss them without the risk of an unfair dismissal claim being lodged. If the period of sickness has gone on for longer than 3 months consecutively, or their total absences have totalled more than 3 months in a 12-month period, then their absence will no longer be considered temporary, and you may be able to direct the employee to attend a medical assessment to determine if they have the capacity to continue working.

What do I do if I have underpaid my employee?

If you have identified that you have underpaid an employee, there are a series of steps you should follow:

1) Work out the details of the underpayment, i.e., when and how long the employee was underpaid
2) Work out the total amount you paid the employee during the underpayment period
3) Determine how much the employee should have been paid for the underpayment period. You should also check if there is additional tax and super that you need to pay on top of additional wages. Subtract the amount you actually paid the employee from the amount they should have been paid. The difference is the amount that you owe to the employee. 4) Discuss the underpayment amount with the employee. Explain what caused the underpayment, what you have done to fix it going forward, how you have calculated the amount the employee has been underpaid, and when the employee will be back paid the amount owing.

What are the changes to migrant worker protections as a result of the Protecting Worker Entitlement amendments to the Fair Work Act?

Breaches of the Migration Act 1958 do not affect the validity of employment contracts or contracts for services for the purposes of the Fair Work Act. This means migrant workers will be entitled to the protections of the Fair Work Act, (i.e., claims unfair dismissal or general protection) even where the individual may be in breach of their visa conditions.

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