HR Heartbeat: Diverse holidays, wage waiting game, and...

Here’s the update on the impending national minimum wage update, an unfair dismissal that never was, diversity and discrimination, and more.

First published on Sunday, Apr 07, 2024

Last updated on Friday, Apr 05, 2024

4 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.

Diverse holiday calendars

Hiring diverse employees is one thing, ensuring that the unique qualities that set them apart continue to be valued and celebrated in the workplace is another.

Respecting your employees’ beliefs, nationalities, and religions is a huge part of how comfortable and productive they can be at work. This extends to recognising that there may be important cultural and religious events your employees will want to take part in that aren’t accounted for in general public holidays. Events like Lunar New Year, Ramadan, Easter, and NAIDOC Week are among them.

Discriminating against your employees based on their religion or nationality is illegal.

The Fair Work Act 2009 also gives employees the right to be absent from work on public holidays, which means it may be best practice to apply the same logic to employee requests for time off during a religious or cultural holiday.

While you may request an employee to work on public holidays, the employee can turn down unreasonable requests or offer a reasonable refusal to work on the day.

There are a few steps you must take to avoid legal issues, take care of your employees, and unlock all the benefits of a supercharged, diverse workforce.

Making sure your leave policies and employee handbook documents are up to date and comply with the law is one such step. This will help you manage leave requests fairly and adapt your processes to suit the unique needs of your employees. Visit BrightBase for HR policy templates that help halve your admin time.

Discrimination in the news

A report on religious discrimination, faith, and belief at work and in hiring practices from the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is back in the headlines.

During the last election, the government promised to introduce Commonwealth-level legislation on religious discrimination. But there have been divisions in Parliament.

The ALRC recommendations included:

  • Religious schools being treated like any other Australian school. Besides allowing them to prefer employing people of the same religion where reasonably necessary and proportionate to the school’s objective of building a community of faith.
  • Forbidding all schools to discriminate against students and staff based on the attributes protected under the Sex Discrimination Act. This includes sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, and intersex status.
  • Expanding anti-discrimination protections to a larger range of workers other than employees and contract workers.

Some states and territories have already made discrimination unlawful towards employees and job candidates on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital/relationship status, or pregnancy. However, according to the current Federal legislation, religious schools can still discriminate against employees and job candidates on these grounds.

As events unfold, make sure you’re treating your candidates and employees lawfully even in the trickiest situations. If in doubt, turn to BrightAdvice for round-the-clock advice from a team of qualified employment relations advisers.

No unfair dismissal to see here

A recent claim came to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from an employee who believed his employer’s refusal to renew his fixed-term contract constituted an unfair termination. He argued that this was a violation of his general protections.

He started as a casual worker with his employer before becoming a part-time support worker through three, consecutive fixed-term contracts. The final being shortened because of uncertain service reallocations.

It was acknowledged that the employee was aware that the expiration of his fixed-term contract could end his time at the company. But he suspected that the decision not to offer further contracts was influenced by concerns about his performance and complaints from his colleagues.

After a review of the evidence and overall employment situation, the FWC concluded that the employee and employer had a mutual agreement to extend the last fixed-term contract by three months, which marked the end of his employment. The claim of unfair dismissal didn’t stand since the employee was never terminated and the application was rejected.

Wage waiting game

We have more insight into the wants of the different stakeholders in the Annual Wage Review for this year’s National Minimum Wage.

The government has made it clear to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that they want an increase to wages that at the very least matches inflation to make sure there are no cuts to wages in real terms.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has set its sights on an ambitious 5% increase to minimum wages.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the other hand, is asking for an increase of no more than 2%. And Ai Group is recommending a 2.8% increase, taking account of tax cuts and the increase to the Superannuation Guarantee to 11.5% from July 1.

In the December quarter of 2023, inflation was at 4.1% but monthly growth in prices has been trending down at 3.4% in January and February compared to the same period the year before.

Last year, the National Minimum Wage of $23.23 was decided. At the time, this was a 5.75% increase to minimum wages.

Now that all parties have made their submissions, it’s a waiting game to see what the percentage increase will be.

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:

How is the national minimum wage increase decided?

Each year the Fair Work Commission reviews the wages for employees in the national workplace relations system. This review covers employees who are and are not award covered. At the end of the review the Commission issues orders that set new minimum rates of pay. The National Minimum Wage Order comes into operation on 1 July of each year and generally applies to the employee's first full pay period on or after 1 July for the relevant year.

Our employee resigned and is claiming that we have unfairly dismissed them, what do we do?

When your employee makes an unfair dismissal claim, you are usually required to provide an employer’s response using the Fair Work Commission’s approved form. In the form, you can state whether you have any jurisdictional or other objections to the employee’s application. One jurisdictional objection that can be made is that an employee is not eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim because they were not dismissed, or they resigned voluntarily. You can also object to an employee’s unfair dismissal application later in the process if you do not object in your employer’s response. As the grounds for objection are limited to specific scenarios, it’s best to speak with an adviser or lawyer for specific advice relevant to your circumstances. You can also look at data and documents recorded under your employee’s profile in Bright to support your objections, including any acknowledgements of resignation.

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