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Navigating Important Workplace Issues And Trends In 2021

Published April 15, 2021 (last updated May 19, 2021) -
A Business owner successfully navigating workplace issues in 2021.

COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on businesses in 2020. Many companies struggled to remain afloat due to the economic slowdown and restrictions, which in turn forced many businesses to lay off staff, reduce outlets, or even close down.

That said, the struggle to adapt to the new norm is an uncharted path for many employers. Some are at crossroads on how to handle employees, provide support, and run the business safely. Here are some of these challenges facing employers in 2021.

Transitioning Back Into The Office

Snap lockdowns are still an effective containment measure with every new community COVID-19 outbreak. Once businesses re-open, any work-from-home protocols introduced to mitigate the impact of closing the business may no be longer necessary and businesses may require employees to transition back to the office. Employee safety in the workplace and compliance with public health directions are some key aspects to consider when reopening. 

As part of your workplace health and safety obligations you must take reasonable steps to manage risks within your workplace as far as reasonably practicable. The higher the risk that is posed, the greater the obligation on you to take steps to effectively manage the risk. BrightSafe can help you manage your health and safety obligations with risk assessment templates, and the  Responsibilities Navigator, which allows you to set up task reminders, delegate responsibilities, and save task records.

You should conduct a risk assessment and consult with your employees in order to put measures in place to eliminate or minimise the risk of infection.

COVID-19 Hangover And Vaccination

The Federal Government recently launched vaccination drives countrywide. Employers are stuck with the question whether they can compel employees to be vaccinated in the interests of workplace health and safety.

Generally, an employer can issue a direction for employees which they must follow if it is reasonable and lawful in the circumstances. Employers have a duty as part of their workplace health and safety obligations to provide a safe workplace as far as reasonably practicable, so a direction to vaccinate may be lawful and reasonable if there are no other reasonable methods to eliminate or minimise the spread of the virus.

An employer must consider many factors to determine if the direction is lawful and reasonable:

  • The risk of infection
  • The nature of the work and the customer and/or stakeholder demographic
  • The ability to implement other measures to minimise the risk of infection
  • Whether the direction is consistent with Federal, State or Territory directions (if any)
  • Whether you have an immunisation program and/or infection control policy in place
  • Whether the employee has a valid medical reason or genuine political or religious belief for refusing the vaccine

To establish whether the direction is reasonable, the employer must undertake a risk assessment and consult with employees to determine and implement the appropriate control measures. However, in the absence of a public health policy or legislation/regulation requiring a vaccination, a direction for an employee to vaccinate is unlikely to be considered reasonable and the employee could lawfully refuse to follow it.

Include an immunisation program as part of your workplace infection control policy, and if you cannot direct an employee to be vaccinated, then actively encourage it. BrightSafe has a VaccTrak App that allows you to monitor which employees have been vaccinated, as well as online e-learning modules to educate your employees regarding health and safety, coronavirus awareness and vaccine awareness.

BrightSafe helping you build a safer business

BrightSafe is an online health and safety software that supports you to manage your health and safety obligations, helping you build a safer business.

Managing Excessive Leave Accrual

Many employees don’t take their leave for various reasons, more recently those reasons have included border closures and other government restrictions, so some employees have accrued excessive amounts of leave. This could be expensive for the business if the employment ends and the employer is required to pay it out the accrued leave. So, how can a business reduce this liability?

An employer can require an award and agreement free employee to take excessive paid annual leave if the requirement is reasonable. Some awards or registered agreements also allow employers to direct employees to take excessive annual leave if certain conditions are met. The award or agreement will define what is excessive.

The direction is only permitted if done so in accordance with the terms of the award or agreement. In many cases there are additional procedural steps that must be undertaken prior to making a direction. Some awards stipulate that, prior to making a direction, the employer and employee must first try to reach an agreement on how to reduce the leave entitlement.

In the event that an agreement cannot be reached, there still may be other procedural requirements. For instance, the employer may be required to give written notice directing the employee to take leave. There may also be timeframes in which leave must be taken and restrictions on the amount of leave an employee can be directed to take.

BrightHR can help you keep track of your employees’ leave entitlements by monitoring absences and shifts schedules, as well as working hours as they clock in and out with Blip. You can generate timesheet reports and store wage and time records securely in the cloud.

Employment Relations Changes

IR Reforms To The Fair Work Act

The Federal Government has passed legislation to clarify casual employment, enshrining the definition of a casual and casual conversion in the Act.

Discrimination And Harassment

There are proposed changes to address gaps in the Sex Discrimination Act. The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Prohibiting All Sexual Harassment) Bill 2021 was introduced as a result of a 2020 report that found that one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years.

If you need help understanding employment relations issues that affect your workplace, call us for free initial advice on 1300 651 415.

The information in the above article has been compiled on the basis of general information current at the time of publication. Please note that the contents of this article and website and any information provided by our Fair Work Help Line do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. Your specific circumstances or changes in circumstances after publication may affect the completeness or accuracy of this information. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may have. To the maximum extent permitted by law, we disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions contained in this information or any failure to update or correct this information. It is your responsibility to assess and verify the accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability of the information on this website, and to seek professional advice where necessary. Nothing contained on this website is to be interpreted as a recommendation to use any product, process or formulation or any information on this website. For clarity, Employsure does not recommend any material, products or services of any third parties. 

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About Employsure

Employsure is one of Australia’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 25,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why Is It Important To Understand Workplace Trends?

    Workplace trends are gradual changes to the working environment. It is important for business to monitor any factors that may affect the way they do business, so they can prepare in advance and allocate resources accordingly.

  • What Are Some Workplace Trends In 2021?

    Most emerging workplace trends are driven by the pandemic, for example:

    • Safer Work Environments
    • Greater Workplace Flexibility – e.g. more flexible rostering and working from home options
    • Virtual Company Culture – online meetings aimed at inclusivity of employees working remotely
    • Increased Focus on Mental Health and Wellness
    • Increased Online presence necessitating better cybersecurity
  • When Do We Bring Work Back Onsite?

    It depends on what Government and Health directives are in place and the nature of your business. You may find that your employees work well from home, and that it is more viable for them to work remotely instead of hiring premises.

  • Can An Employee Refuse To Return Into The Office?

    It will depend on the circumstances. Talk to the employee to discover the reason why and try and find a solution. An employee may be able to reasonably refuse to return to the office if the employee’s health puts them at an increased risk if infected, and the risk cannot be adequately managed.

  • Can I Require An Employee To Be Vaccinated?

    It will depend on the circumstances, but in the absence of a public health policy or legislation/regulation requiring a vaccination, a direction for an employee to vaccinate is unlikely to be considered reasonable and the employee could lawfully refuse to follow it.

  • Can I Take Disciplinary Action If An Employee Refuses To Get Vaccinated?

    It will depend on many factors, including:

    • whether there is a government directive or legislation regarding vaccination that applies to your business
    • whether the direction to vaccinate can be considered lawful and reasonable in the circumstances
    • whether you have a vaccination policy and an immunisation program in place, and
    • the reasons for the employee’s refusal.

    Call us for free initial advice to help you understand when disciplinary action may be appropriate on 1300 207 182.

  • How Should I Direct An Employee To Take Excess Annual Leave?

    You can only direct an employee to take excess annual leave if the applicable award or registered agreement allow for it.  The provisions in the award or agreement will generally outline the circumstances in which the employer can direct the leave to be taken, as well the process that needs to be followed.

  • Is It Illegal To Force Employees To Take Annual Leave?

    An employer can only make employees take their accrued annual leave in certain circumstances, ie. if the employee is award free and it is reasonable, or if the applicable award or registered agreement allow for it.

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