Navigating Employment Law Trends for 2024

Insights from Legal Expert

Article from HRD

As we step into 2024, lawyer Tony Wood emphasizes that employers should prioritize compliance as the most crucial legal advice. In the realm of Australian employment, industrial relations, and safety, compliance with awards, industrial instruments, enterprise agreements, and national employment standards stands out as a complex challenge.

Wood, a Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, notes that even reputable employers with good intentions have struggled to keep up with the evolving industrial landscape. The Fair Work Ombudsman, responsible for prosecuting and investigating compliance, has become more stringent and better funded, expecting employers to self-report non-compliance.

One prominent issue has been compliance with statutory minimum pay and conditions, with several major employers publicly disclosing underpayments. Payroll compliance has been a neglected area for some, but Wood predicts increased expectations for improved performance.

To mitigate these challenges, Wood advises all employers to conduct regular audits and reviews from a risk perspective.

2024 is anticipated to be a demanding year for employers, with heightened employee expectations. Workers now have access to a broader range of legal avenues, including claims for discrimination, general protections, disputes, grievances, and whistleblower complaints. These issues often arise from unaddressed problems within a business or a lack of effective communication.

Additionally, there will be an enhancement of union powers, and employers will need to address ‘same job same pay’ issues, ensure compliance with positive duty, and conduct workplace cultural/effectiveness reviews related to sexual harassment, bullying, and psychosocial health and safety.

The year 2023 saw significant statutory reforms in the Australian employment system, setting the stage for more substantial changes in 2024. Larger businesses, in particular, will face complexities in enterprise bargaining, potentially leading to longer disputes.

Wood underscores the importance of worker engagement and transparency for employers. Building trust between workers and management correlates with increased productivity and reduced disputes. Employers who are transparent and trustworthy are more likely to foster meaningful engagement with their workforce.

One positive outcome of these changes is a heightened awareness of workplace risks, especially concerning mental health. Employers are placing greater emphasis on psychosocial health and safety, resulting in increased awareness and transparency. Ultimately, employers stand to benefit from these improvements, avoiding costs associated with worker compensation claims and other legal challenges.

In conclusion, 2024 will present a range of challenges for employers in Australia, particularly concerning compliance and employee relations. Staying informed, prioritizing transparency, and fostering worker engagement will be essential in navigating these legal trends.

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