From a ban on pay secrecy clauses, meaning employees can disclose salaries to one another, to new rights for certain workers to request flexible working arrangements, there’s a raft of new workplace reforms all Australian employers need to be prepared for.

In December 2022, The Australian Government’s Fair Work Act reforms came into effect under the Secure Jobs Better Pay Act, introducing a number of changes that will affect how employers manage staff.

All of the new workplace reforms come with a lot of information for business owners of all sizes to take in. To break down the key takeaways you need to know, Kochie’s Business Builders hosted a Facebook Live event in partnership with HR software platform BrightHRWhat Australia’s changes to workplace laws mean for your business (watch here).

Host David Koch was joined by HR expert David Price, CEO of BrightHR Australia and New Zealand, to discuss the impact of the changes and how to best prepare your business.

In a nutshell: Australia’s new workplace reforms

Pay secrecy and job advertising are two of the most significant changes to take note of. Firstly, new employees, and existing employees with a contract variation, are no longer contractually obligated to observe pay secrecy clauses and can share their pay and employment terms and conditions with others. Secondly, you can no longer advertise jobs with listed salaries lower than the minimum rate of pay, which will weed out unlawful job ads.

Processes around sexual harassment have also become stronger. From March onwards, sexual harassment is deemed unlawful in the workplace. Employers must provide a more robust duty of care to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, calling upon greater preventative measures.

Another change that has already come into effect is that employers can no longer employ an employee on a fixed-term contract that’s for two or more years (including extensions) or a role that’s substantially similar to a previous contract.

From June, pregnant employees and employees experiencing family or domestic violence, will have the ability to request flexible work arrangements.

Another change is that employers can no longer employ an employee on a fixed-term contract that’s for two or more years (including extensions) or a role that’s substantially similar to a previous contract. 

Employees will also gain easier access to enterprise bargaining processes, while more changes are expected to come around casual employment and the gig economy later in the year.

So what does this mean for employers? You have to make sure you’re doing everything by the book, even if means a bit of a crash course in HR. “It’s just so risky to get it wrong,” David from BrightHR says. “A lot of business owners set up a business because they’ve got a passion, they don’t want to be a HR expert or a health and safety expert.”

How to handle pay secrecy

With the added pressure of current staff shortages, employers are finding it difficult to attract talent with the same salaries and conditions they might have previously offered. The new ban on pay secrecy means transparency around pay discrepancies might become a problematic conversation amongst the wider team.

“Whatever the award is, whether it’s industry or job based, it’s going to be out there in the public domain,” David says. “Historically that’s been private, people have lost their jobs for breaching these clauses.”

Without feeling obligated to adjust everyone’s payslips, David says the best way to approach potential complaints or pay-related grievances is to keep an open and transparent line of communication with your staff – beginning the moment you post a job advertisement.

“I think ‘starting from’ is a good starting point, so you give a baseline,” recommends David. “Then you could have a range if you really want to excite people or you can make a decision not to share the range, but a lot of people want to know what they’re going to get paid.”

Duty of care around sexual harassment

Alongside the changes to pay secrecy are reforms enforcing a stricter duty of care around how businesses handle sexual harassment, calling on employers to take active preventative steps to minimise the risk.

“If you look at the definition, it’s unwelcome sexual requests, advances or conduct,” David explains. “Sexual harassment does not have to be repeated or continuous, it can be a one-off occurrence.”

David says the latest reforms have introduced a more formal process in how harassment claims are dealt with across small businesses, something previously overlooked due to lack of resources.

“For big businesses, they’ve got a coverage, usually they’ve got a HR department or a legal team,” David says. “In certain industries that’s the norm, but for a small business, it’s not the norm.”

Keeping your HR processes up to date

While having clear policies are of course imperative for any business, they can actually lead to more complications if not regularly updated and understood by your team.

“Businesses grow quickly,” David says. “Suddenly it’s five years or 10 years or decades passed, and those handbooks haven’t been updated.”

According to David, businesses should take advantage of software platforms that help keep you accountable with regular updates to policies, alleviating many of the pressures of managing a team.

Recently marking its 10th year in Australia, BrightHR provides HR software and support services for more than 80,000 small and medium enterprises around the world. Their online platform streamlines people management and Health and Safety into one place, as well as offering templates and process plans so employers can make the right calls while supporting staff on the ground.

“We’ve got over 100 HR templates and 400 Health & Safety templates and those templates are backed up with an advice line,” David says.

For business owners that may feel overwhelmed by the new reforms and how to best tackle them, BrightHR has a diverse library of information to help.

“We’ve got over 2000 HR questions now that have been asked to us that we’ve put into a bank because some people just want a straight answer,” says David.

If you missed our live chat with David Price, watch the full video on Kochie’s Business Builders’ Facebook page.

To mark BrightHR’s 10th anniversary in Australia, they’ve launched a free e-learning offering and global marketplace, Exchange, to advertise your business and provide extra perks for your staff. Find out more about how BrightHR can help your business and view special offers on their website.

This article is brought to you by Kochie’s Business Builders in partnership with BrightHR.

Feature image: Kochie’s Business Builders

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What Australia’s new workplace reforms mean for your business