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How to Avoid HR Disaster in 2014

Tips for Accountants and Bookkeepers

If your firm was one of the many that found itself investigated and penalised for breaches of the Fair Work Act in 2013, chances are you're already (painfully!) aware of the most common HR mistakes made by accountants and bookkeepers that result in heavy fines.

But for all of you who've so far escaped investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and prosecution either in the Fair Work Commission or the Federal Court, here are the 5 things Workforce Guardian believes you need to know to avoid HR disaster in 2014:

1. Make sure everyone has a signed contract of employment

The easiest way to protect your firm from HR tragedy is to ensure each and every employee has signed an up-to-date and legally-compliant contract of employment. Remember that employees covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 are entitled to the 10 National Employment Standards (NES), and many will also be covered by Modern Awards that impose additional terms and conditions of employment (more about that below). Signed contracts ensure there are no 'misunderstandings' regarding a person's employment status, wage or salary and other employment-related benefits.

2. Make sure you know who is - and isn't - covered by a Modern Award

While most accountants in private practice are 'Award-free', your firm's admin/clerical employees are almost certainly covered by the 'Clerks-Private Sector Award 2010'. Additionally, some financial planners may also be covered by the Banking, Finance and Insurance Award 2010. You'd be amazed how many firms are exposed to incredibly hefty fines and prosecution simply because they've failed to ensure all Award-covered employees are receiving all their Award-based entitlements.

3. Check your employment records

Want to save your firm from $510 on-the-spot fines for each and every breach of your record-keeping obligations? If so, now is the time to review your time and wages records and payslips to ensure they are fully-compliant with all the record-keeping obligations imposed by the Fair Work Act 2009. A large number of firms still aren't maintaining the necessary records and, if you don't, you face instant fines and possible prosecution. Remember that Fair Work Inspectors have the right to enter and inspect your firm's records whenever your doors are open to the public.

4. Roll out basic policies

Our current employment laws make it very difficult to discipline and dismiss under-performing or misbehaving employees. One of the easiest things you can do to protect your firm is implement clear policies covering bullying, harassment, acceptable behaviour, drug and alcohol use and workplace health and safety. Having at least these basic policies in place will enable you to hold your employees to account and set minimum expectations. It's also worth remembering that the new bullying laws took effect back on 1 January 2014, making it easier than ever for employees to bring claims against your firm. There's never been a better time to ensure you have good policies in place.

5. Learn how to discipline - and fire - employees

Each year, more than 15,000 Australians file 'unfair dismissal' claims against their former employer, and the Fair Work Commission expects more than three thousand employees will also lodge bullying claims in 2014 alone. If you want to save your firm a huge amount of time, energy and expense, spend some time now to learn how to properly, legally and effectively discipline and dismiss your employees.

Why not invite your clients in for a series of presentations about employment law compliance and best-practice (presented without charge by the experts from Workforce Guardian - booking form) and use the opportunity to also learn more yourself about how to lawfully manage and dismiss your own firm's employees? That's what we at Workforce Guardian call a win/win situation!

Here's to a prosperous and successful 2014.

Author:  David Bates BA (Govt) LL.B (Hons),  Managing Director,  Workforce Guardian

Disclaimer:This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice may be necessary in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. Workforce Guardian Pty Ltd (www.workforceguardian.com.au) is not responsible for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information in this article, nor for any error or omission in this article.

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