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4 HR compliance lessons we learned in 2015

Whether it was hostile bullies or encouraging employees to work for free, 2015 saw a range of human resources (HR) incidents take place across a multitude of industries. Highlighting the ever-growing need for more effective compliance management software, these events were costly, time consuming and – perhaps most significantly – damaging to the company’s brand.

What lessons can we learn from some of the most notable HR blunders in 2015?

1. Have processes in place to prevent workplace bullying

A number of high profile workplace bullying stories took Australian media by storm over the last year, but few cases were as prolonged or systematic as the bullying carried out by Woolworths employee Sean Clare.

As ABC News reported, over the course of three years between 2010 and 2013, the 46-year-old verbally was accused of abusing his shift manager Erica Jegers and fellow employee Steven Ricketts. Mr Clare’s hostility came to a head in May 2013 when he allegedly told Ms Jegers “if you were a bloke you would have had your head smashed in by now because nobody likes you.”

In November 2015, Mr Clare pleaded guilty to stalking two of his colleagues at the Moe store, and was sentenced to six months in prison.

What lesson can we learn here? Simply, companies of all sizes must have processes in place to prevent bullying in the workplace and have an efficient system to deal with offenders should such an occasion arise.

2. Don’t ask your employees to work for free

URBN, parent company of major lifestyle and clothing brand Urban Outfitters, raised some eyebrows earlier this year when it invited staff to work weekends over the busy holiday season. This in itself isn’t so strange – except that URBN would not be paying employees for their extra time on the clock.

As Entrepreneur noted, the leaked internal email explicitly explained that employees who chose to work would receive payment only in the form of transportation and lunch.

The key takeaway here, of course, is to ensure that workers across every level of your organisation are aware of their rights and responsibilities within the workplace. Communicating these concepts during the induction stage empowers your workforce and protects you and your company from compliance issues you may otherwise run into.

3. Avoid exploiting vulnerable employees

Convenience store franchise 7 Eleven made headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier in 2015 when it surfaced that the company had been exploiting a number of its employees. An investigation from Four Corners and Fairfax media found that the enterprise had been underpaying wages and manipulating payroll documents. Employees – many of whom were immigrants or international students – who objected to the way they were being treated were threatened with deportation.

According to a whistleblower, the exploitation was an integral part of the company.

“Head office is not just turning a blind eye, it’s a fundamental part of their business,” explained the whistleblower, as quoted by Sydney Morning Herald.

“They can’t run 7-Eleven as profitably as successfully as they have without letting this happen, so the business is very proud of itself and the achievements and the money it’s made and the success it’s had, but the reality is it’s built on something not much different from slavery.”

This case reinforced the importance of ensuring that wages and job roles are clearly discussed and that your organisation has processes in place to protect the rights of your employees.

4. HR managers can be personally liable for breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009

This year it became more apparent that not only can owners and company directors be accountable for breaches of section 550 of the Fair Work Act 2009 – managers, supervisors and others lower in the business hierarchy can be found liable, too.

In an interview with HRD Magazine, Rod Marshall, partner and solicitor at FCB Group explained that “…a number of decisions in 2015, particularly those arising from Fair Work Ombudsman prosecutions, have seen lower-level managers personally prosecuted and fined for breaches of civil remedy provisions”.

The lesson here is to ensure all relevant parties are informed of their legal duties to avoid breaching legislation, as well as minimise the risk of employees escalating a workplace issue to the legal domain.

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