Prevention is better than the cure

Ryan MartinTaking proactive steps early in the relationship with our Workplace Relations team can often save SMEs big dollars in the long run.

It’s no surprise that with a membership base across the depth and breadth of WA, our Workplace Relations team assists employers of all sizes with complex employee and industrial relations issues every day.

But what still surprises me is the number of businesses who only contact us once they have a problem.

We certainly have larger corporate Members who contact us to ensure they have legally compliant employment contracts, policies and procedures or to participate in training their workforce on safety and other workplace laws.

But for the most part, the first time we engage with SMEs is when they have a problem.

They often don’t have a dedicated HR team who can spend the time and resources needed on dealing with day to day employee issues.

Then, when they do need our assistance for say an unfair dismissal, we are often dealing with the business owner who simply doesn’t have the time to deal with the problem so engages us to do so, which can get very expensive.

So why is it that most people do not engage with us as soon as they join CCIWA and ask what it is we can do to help their business succeed?

I put this down to the dentist rule. Most people only come and see us when they absolutely have to. Like dentistry, by the time there is a problem it is probably going to cost a lot more to fix.

Of course, we can step in and provide the expert assistance required to diffuse a situation. This can be through:

  • mediation
  • a workplace investigation
  • to provide representation in an unfair dismissal in the Fair Work Commission.

But where processes have not been in place that provide a framework for a strong defence, the expense is higher.

All the documents and training in the world will not stop a disgruntled employee from bringing an unfair dismissal claim.

But businesses who have spent the time on ensuring they have the documentation and processes correct save a great deal of time and money because they can show they followed a fair and lawful process before making the decision to terminate an employee.

What is also not a surprise is that following the litigation – or whatever other time-consuming process that we have assisted with – the Member will often see the value in our other services.

They will then engage us to draft or fix documentation, complete workplace audits and calculations to ensure staff are being paid correctly or to train their managers on how to lawfully and effectively performance manage their poor performing staff.

If performing well in their roles your workforce can be one of the most valuable assets to your business. If they are not performing or productivity is down due to workplace conflict, then your workforce can quickly become the biggest drain on your time and resources.

So, if you are an SME, I strongly recommend that you put documentation and processes in place to ensure that you are mitigating your risks and train your managers or supervisors on how to properly follow those procedures and why they are important.

The top five to start with would be:

  1. Anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment policy
  2. Grievance handling procedure
  3. Performance management policy
  4. Computer, email, internet and social media policy
  5. Leave policy

It is also very important that you have policies that deal with workplace health and safety.

You should probably book in to see your dentist too.

Ryan Martin is the manager of CCIWA’s Workplace Consulting.

If your business needs a policy and procedure health check, contact CCIWA employment lawyers and workplace consultants today. 

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