The Risks of Non-Compliance

In Australia, we work in a very complex employee-relations environment, where the majority of business owners are still largely unaware of their risk, and more-so, completely oblivious to their financial risk in terms of fines from the Fair Work Ombudsman for breaches. This is despite some very high profile cases of late, such as 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut.

Some of the most common breaches that we see on almost a daily basis, especially in the small to midsize company level, are the following:

  • Employees are unaware of what Modern Award they are employed under = BREACH
  • Employees are unaware of the location of the Modern Award(s) in the office (e.g. intranet, staff kitchen) = BREACH
  • New hires are not receiving their National Employment Standards – Information Sheet = BREACH
  • Employers are not consulting on major workplace changes = BREACH

So why is this proving so difficult for employers and business owners to get right?

The main issue is that they lack the current knowledge required to stay compliant. For example, many business owners are unaware that it is a requirement for an employee’s employment contract to state the correct Modern Award they are hired under and, also, their role classification under that Award. Often the employer has decided to do the HR component themselves, for their business, as a cost-saving measure.

Why is this so important?

It is fair to say that Fair Work are losing their patience with employers and their current levels of compliance, given that the Fair Work Act has been in since the 1st January 2010. Unfortunately, ignorance is not an acceptable defence.

The fines are significant – currently $54,000 per breach, for a company and $10,800 per breach for an individual. Yes, that’s right – you personally could be fined if you knowingly or unknowingly contravene the Fair Work Act.

To give you a sense of how determined Natalie James (Fair Work Ombudsman) is for employers to start to take their legal obligations more seriously, there is currently a bill before Parliament to increase these fines tenfold!

The main issue here is that employers and business owners generally don’t have the specialist knowledge, or expertise, when it comes to assessing the current levels of compliance in their business. What they really need is a diagnostic tool with assessment processes to ascertain their current levels of compliance, to surface their exposure to risk and where they should apply ‘best practice’ procedures across the employee life cycle. Imagine the relief they would feel, being able to say to their Exec or Board, “we have completed an HR diagnostic and for the first time we have a solid understanding of our performance, but more importantly, what we need to prioritise for a compliant workforce.

If this sounds a little like your business, get in touch – we can certainly help you become informed – and with that become a leader of best practice in employee management.

Why don’t we feel like we have a legitimate seat at the Board?

Throughout my 23 year career in HR, we have had allegations of being ‘soft and fluffy’, or ‘chicks with slides’ – obviously not commercial enough, so we have struggled to get the Board to ‘invest’ – financially, emotionally or strategically in the ‘people’ side of the business. Investment is for the financials, marketing or IT.

In my view, this is dangerous, as we move more and more to a services economy. Often, we are one of the very few females in the Exec team and sometimes it is hard to be heard, in the same way, and for the same amount of time, as our male colleagues.

Why is this the case?

I think that there are several reasons for this:

  1. We are playing by a different set of rules to the majority
  2. Our education often didn’t cover the preparation of a financial business case for HR programs or initiatives – we have learnt this as we have gone, but it was not innate
  3. Data assets have been hard to develop, are typically narrow in their scope and are very time consuming to produce – let’s face it, most of us are struggling to get right the basics of accurate figures for attrition, headcount, absenteeism and leave liability
  4. The investment in HR tools tends to be narrow – often just talent management tools and there are multiple systems in situ that are not compatible
  5. We have been through numerous ‘back to back’ restructures, reorganisations, downsizing, outsourcing – you name it we’ve done it. So we have struggled to get back to ‘business as usual’ and best practice
  6. Our leaders change frequently and we are regularly back to establishing our credibility, trying to communicate our current program of work to deliver their new desired outcome
  7. Change has been the only constant in our world

Yet we are fed a daily dose of ‘HR must get data’, ‘predictive data is the future, etc. Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Report states “two in three Australian organisations rated digital HR as an ‘important or ‘very important’ trend but aren’t making it a priority for action’. Jeff Nelson, group HR director of Aviva stated  “Identifying HR metrics and using them to track trends is the bread and butter of HR analytics.”   SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) saysAn effective HR metrics reporting practice provides measurable value to the organisation”

Back to my point, if we don’t jump on this now, we are going to be left behind.

I think it goes beyond this too – we need to get our heads around a total HR offering and how we can communicate this to the Exec and our people to show the value we are delivering every day.

What are the gaps between business units or differences between companies within our group of companies? Where is the risk? What are the costs associated with those risks? And just as importantly, where are the opportunities?

Where is our solution? How can we make the conversation more strategic?

Finally, how can we deliver this information in a format that will justify our business cases and get us the results that we want?

These are the questions that we need to be asking ourselves and our team, if we are to get that legitimate seat at the boardroom table.

Are you there yet?

Are you sure you’re not sitting on a time-bomb of unknown risk?

You know what most Boards are continually trying to do – get results, increase profits and de-risk the business. So how is HR supporting these strategic imperatives – we try and hire the best people and manage performance, but how do we strategically influence the risk profile of the business? We try to keep the business away from the Fair Work Commission but are we able to effectively assess & report on the employee risk profile of the business? I don’t think so…

I believe that HR can informally talk about some of the inherent risks in the business, but this is undocumented and not hugely helpful to the Exec team. Can you show where your business is following employee ‘best practice’? Do you know where the dollar risk estimate sits? Do you know what the risk appetite for the business is? Again, I think not…

It’s now more important than ever to assess your risk with a new bill – Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 sitting before Parliament. This bill proposes increasing fines tenfold – that is from $54k per breach to more than $500k for ‘deliberate and systematic’ IR breaches. Now I am not suggesting that you are likely to fall into this category but I have yet to come across a completely compliant business in our complex ER landscape – have you?

It’s going to be even more imperative for you to be able to assess and report on your compliance and risk profile, to convince your Board that you have completed a diagnostic assessment of the business. That you believe the business is covered or that you have identified areas that require further attention.

Minter Ellison HR & IR specialist Gareth Jolly stresses “As most prosecutions generally involve multiple breaches, penalties often come to hundreds of thousands of dollars. This could now become millions where deliberate breaches are concerned.”

So what would be the value of a diagnostic tool?

  • Ability to assess the employee risk sitting in the business
  • Identify and de-risk the business
  • Justify your business case for action
  • Share progress against your starting point – prove your success
  • Get a valued and financially effective seat at the Exec table
  • Change the conversation from transactional to transformational
  • Use as your defence (if you need to) your proven attempts to identify, assess and address the risks and potential breaches

Are you comfortable that you have a complete picture of your employee risk profile? If you need help Contact Us today for a free initial consult about your business.