Employees have gained the ‘right to disconnect’ and casual and gig workers look to have won new protections, under changes that will be introduced by the Closing Loopholes Bill (No 2).

The Bill, which passed through the Senate on 8 February, also provides a new legislative definition for ‘employee’, and gives unions the right to enter a workplace within 24 hours where they reasonably believe a worker is being underpaid.

While the Bill will return to the House of Representatives for approval, it seems likely to become law given Labor’s majority.

With that in mind, we look at some of the key changes Closing Loopholes 2 will bring to your workplace.

1. The right to disconnect

Perhaps the most headline-worthy reform the Bill will introduce is the ‘right to disconnect’, which will be enshrined in the Fair Work Act’s General Protections provisions. This new rule allows employees to refuse to respond to – or even monitor their email and phone calls – outside of working hours, unless it’s unreasonable to do so. They can also ignore attempts from a client or customer to get in touch.

Whether or not an employer’s attempts to contact an employee outside of hours is reasonable or unreasonable will depend on several factors, including:

While the Bill says that any breach should first be dealt with at the workplace level, the right to disconnect’s status as a General Protection means that an employee could potentially bring an adverse action claim in the Fair Work Commission. They can also bring a claim asking for a ‘stop’ order against an employer contravening this right.

2. New definition of ‘employee’

One of the biggest issues in employment law over the past decade has been determining a worker’s true status – including whether someone is truly an employee or contractor. The Closing Loopholes Bill No 2 looks to overcome this by introducing new definitions of employee and employer into the Fair Work Act.

The definitions say that the “real substance, practical reality and true nature of the relationship” must now be considered – putting to rest recent High Court decisions that gave primacy to the employment contract.

That said, contractors who earn over a ‘high income’ threshold ($167,500) can opt out of the test. Conversely, contractors who earn under the same threshold will be able to bring an unfair contracts claim in the FWC, something that currently must be done formally in court.

3. Casual workers

A new definition of ‘casual worker’ will also be included, under which an employee will only be deemed casual if they’re entitled to a casual loading and the employer makes no ‘firm advance commitment’ to continuing, indefinite work.

Again, the Bill says that whether or not an employer makes a ‘firm advance commitment’ can only be answered by examining the practical reality, real substance and true nature of the relationship.

The Bill also introduces new ‘casual conversion’ provisions, which will place the onus on employees to request becoming a permanent member of staff. Once the employee has hit certain milestones, including working for six (or sometimes 12) months, an employer can refuse only in particular circumstances, including on ‘fair and reasonable operational grounds’.

4. Intractable bargaining

In 2022, the government introduced changes that gave the FWC the authority to make an ‘intractable bargaining declaration’. This effectively gave unions a mechanism for winning pay rises without having to reach an agreement with an employer.

The Bill effectively changes these provisions so that any arbitrated outcome can’t be less favourable to an employee or union covered by an existing workplace agreement.

5. Underpaying workers

Another area the Bill covers is worker underpayment – something that was already centre stage in the original Closing Loopholes Bill, which introduced a new crime for wage theft.

Under Closing Loopholes 2, the penalties for wage theft will be increased to a maximum of 10 years prison and a $7.825 million fine.

The Bill will also allow unions to apply to the FWC for exemption from the usual 24 hours’ notice to enter a workplace, if they reasonably suspect a member of their organisation is being underpaid.

6. Gig workers

Finally, the Bill introduces new minimum entitlements around pay and conditions for workers in Australia’s expanding gig economy. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the right for workers on a digital platform to apply to the FWC where they have been ‘deactivated’ or removed from an app.

These changes are being introduced to protect what the government believes are some of the most vulnerable workers in today’s economy.


In short…

While the Closing Loopholes Bill No 1 introduced sweeping new protections for Australia’s employees, Bill No 2 goes further still. Employers should make sure they’re across any changes and they don’t inadvertently fall foul of them.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how the changing trends in HR impact your business, get in touch.

Many businesses are allowing employees to work remotely, at least sometimes. But how often should you be making your employees come into the office – if at all? 

The reality is that the perfect answer will vary sector by sector and business-by-business. With that in mind, this guide looks at how to work out how often you should let employees work remotely and how often you should make sure they come into the workplace.


Be guided by your own needs

The starting point for working out how often people should come into the office should always be why you need them in the office in the first place. 

Sometimes, that will be dictated by the nature of the work itself. Obviously, frontline retail or hospitality workers need to be physically present. But for other sectors, it can be a bit more nuanced. 

That said, there will often be collaborative tasks that are best performed in person. Being together can also be great, even necessary, for team bonding. Then, of course, there are client meetings or inter-company meetings, where face-to-face contact gives people a better feel for reading the room through body language and other nuances.

In fact, MIT’s Human Dynamic Labs invested heavily in exploring this very topic. It found that the most valuable communication was unequivocally done in-person. It also found that up to 35% of variation in team performance came down to how often team members spoke face to face. 

That’s something you should keep in mind when working out how often to bring employees into the workplace.


Employee satisfaction is important too

On the other hand, all of the research shows that happy employees are also productive employees. So, weighing against MIT’s findings is the fact that most employees enjoy working at least some of the time from home. 

McKinsey research showed 65% of employees would choose to always work from home if it were possible. It also found that employees offered the opportunity to work flexibly almost always took up the opportunity. Those who didn’t tended to be older or on lower incomes. 

But even many of those who wanted to work from home full-time often reported there were obstacles in the way of becoming fully productive. 


Choose the model that suits you 

With that in mind, hybrid work – where an employee is at home sometimes and in the office others – seems to be the logical solution for many workplaces. And last month, we wrote about the three types of hybrid working: the fixed model, flexible model and the office-first model. These differ in the following ways:

To some extent, the model you choose will also dictate how many days a week you insist your employees come into the office.


How your business can answer the question 

As this shows, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often employees should be in the office. The ideal balance varies based on the type of work you do and the type of office you run. 

A good starting point is always to spend some time working out which critical tasks require in-person collaboration and which can be carried out just as effectively from outside the workplace. Then, factor in the creativity and value that come from face-to-face interactions.

For instance, if you find that 40% of your workplace tasks are best performed face to face, you may find that three days a week lets you get these done but also allows for some informal interaction. Alternatively, if you want a less rigid structure, you could decide to ask employees to be in the office for two set days and then decide whether they want to come in at other times. 

Given how rapidly workplaces are transforming, more than anything, it’s adaptability that’s key. So, embrace change, listen to your employees, and stay open to finding the balance that fosters both productivity and job satisfaction. 

After all, in the end, it’s not just about how often your employees are in the office—it’s about creating an environment where they can thrive, no matter where they work.


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about implementing an office-first approach in your workplace, get in touch

Can an employer legally ask an employee to take a pay cut? It’s a question I get asked by employers all the time. That’s not usually because they want to be mean or claw back money from their staff; it’s often down to a matter of survival. In many sectors, business currently isn’t what it was a year ago, and some companies simply can’t continue to pay out the same wage levels they have been.

With that in mind, this article looks at the legalities of whether or not you can ask an employee to work for less pay. 


The baseline: An employer can’t cut pay without an employee’s consent

At a basic level, it’s illegal for employers in Australia to unilaterally cut an employee’s pay without their consent. In other words, you can ask, but they don’t have to accept – and there’s not much you can do about it.  

Generally, you’ll always need the employee to agree. And you’ll need them to do this in writing. Otherwise, you’ll be breaking your contract with the employee and face the prospect of an unfair dismissal or redundancy claim – something that could prove far costlier than keeping the employee on at their current pay rate.

With that in mind, here’s how you should go about it, if need to cut your wages bill. 


Don’t cut below the minimum rates

You always need to be mindful of an employee’s minimum pay. As a starting point every Australian employee is entitled to the National Minimum Wage (currently $23.23 an hour – the highest rate in the world). Beyond that, however, you also need to make sure you’re complying with the minimum conditions of any Award or agreement applying to your staff. 

Go below these rates and you’re likely to face serious legal issues, including the prospect of heavy fines. 


What about bonuses?

Bonuses are often a different matter. That’s because they usually come down to meeting key performance indicators. It’s always sensible to draft bonus agreements so that an element of it, is tied to the performance of the business or business unit, as well as the individual. That way, if times are genuinely tight and you haven’t met your business objectives, you’re not liable to pay out. 


Reduce hours rather than pay

One way that could keep everyone happy is to reduce hours rather than pay. For instance, when the COVID pandemic first struck, it was quite common for employers to ask employees to work a three or four day week. Some employees actually preferred this arrangement, and remain on the same conditions today.

But, again, as with pay cuts, reducing the working hours of permanent employees, wouldn’t usually have been possible without their consent. If an employee had said, no – there was little an employer could do except dismiss them for operational reasons (and potentially face the cost of redundancy pay).

Many employees, however, decided to accept a four day working week, or reduced hours, rather than be without a job. 


Can you cut a casual worker’s pay? 

Casual workers have their minimum wages set in exactly the same way as permanent staff – i.e. through the National Minimum Standards, as well as Awards and Agreements. They also enjoy the same protections around pay rates. That said, the nature of their employment means they’re paid by the hour, rather than via a salary.

A genuine casual employee has no reasonable expectation of ongoing, regular work. That means you can usually vary their hours without their consent – something many employers will do when times are tough. The exception, however, is long-term casual employees. That’s someone who has been working the same pattern of hours over the past year or more. 


Be upfront with employees

Whatever action you want to take, it’s always important that you communicate your situation to your staff to get your employees’ consent. In fact, many Awards and Agreements have formal consultation provisions that you’ll need to follow whenever you’re attempting to change an employees working conditions – sometimes even if it’s as much as changing their roster of hours. 

Our experience is that most employees want what’s best in the long-term. If your business is suffering and you legitimately can’t keep paying the same rates, many employees will agree to having their employment conditions modified. The key, however, is to be upfront. Explain what is happening and why you need to take action. And work with the employees themselves to come up with a solution. You may be surprised by what you can achieve.


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about implementing an office-first approach in your workplace, get in touch.

AI is starting to carry out many HR tasks traditionally performed by humans – and it’s likely to add many more to the list over the next few years. 

We explore whether your organisation should take the ‘human’ out of human resources and opt for AI instead.

How can you use AI in Human Resources?

There are many obvious areas where AI can make a real difference to human resources – and, in many cases, already is. This is especially true of those parts of the HR process that require continual repetitive tasks and processes.

For instance, Clara offers to be a virtual assistant, handling all your scheduling. Applications like Jemini promise to take care of payroll processing. Even accounting software such as Xero uses AI to time track, roster and interpret Awards and Agreements, making sure employees receive their entitlements and employers meet all their obligations. 

In these functions, AI can help take the pain out of work, recognising patterns and performing functions that automate what are generally mundane tasks. In turn, this frees HR professionals to focus on more strategic, human-centric aspects of their roles.

But there are some not-so-obvious ways AI could potentially begin to help in the human resources space, too.

So, do we need humans in HR at all?

With AI now capable – or likely to soon be capable – of so much, it’s tempting to ask whether we need humans in human resources anymore at all. But, for the moment, here are a few areas where I think people can still outperform the robots.


Humans v AI: not an all-or-nothing choice

While the discussion around AI in HR often falls into a binary narrative, it’s not necessarily an ‘either/or’ choice. Instead, it’s more likely that the future of HR for most organisations involves a mixture of humans and machines. 

AI is likely to be used to handle data-driven and repetitive tasks, freeing humans up to focus on the more strategic, interpersonal and complex side of HR. Rather than substituting humans altogether, it can provide valuable and often hidden insights that allow a human resources professional to interpret them in light of the organisation’s broader goals and ambitions. It can also handle most of the run-of-the-mill and low-level inquiries that take up a large part of many HR professional’s days.   

As the role of AI changes, so will the role of HR. Those organisations that carefully assess and invest in AI to complement human-based services are the ones most likely to succeed. 


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how AI can complement and support your HR function, get in touch

We’re living longer than ever before. In fact, the number of Australians over the age of 85 has more than doubled in the past 20 years.  But could our long lives have real implications for the future of work? 

We explore what Australia’s growing longevity could mean for the future of work.


How much longer are we living?

When Australia first introduced a national age pension in 1908, it paid a living allowance to many (but not all) people after they’d reached the age of 65 and stopped working.* It was, of course, means-tested, but to be eligible, you also had to meet race requirements and be ‘of good character’. 

At the time the pension was introduced, the life expectancy for Australian women was short of 56, and for men, it was less than 51. In other words, most people didn’t even come close to living to pension age.

Fast forward to today, and although the pension age has been lifted to 67, most of us make it well beyond this.  Today in Australia, life expectancy is over 81 for men and over 85 for women – close to 30 years longer than when retirement age became enshrined in Australian law. 

The number of people who make it way beyond this is growing faster still. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of Australians over 85 grew by 110%.  And this is going to become more extreme very quickly: a baby girl born today has a 40% chance of reaching 100. 

Let that sink in for a minute…


Should we be working longer just because we’re living longer?

As life expectancy increases dramatically, many argue we should be working longer too. 

One main reason for this is economic: how can we expect to fund longer retirements without making the working-age population pay? Many also point to the many benefits that working brings when it comes to both mental and physical health. The mental stimulation, social engagement and sense of purpose that come from paid and meaningful employment have all been proven to contribute to both happiness and healthiness and that, in turn, contribute to, well, an even longer life still.

On the flip side, those who argue we shouldn’t be working longer often tend to say that, in the coming years, increased automation and the rise of AI will mean less human labour will be required to produce the same output. 

There’s also a reasonable argument that a long retirement and fewer working hours could mean people begin to enjoy a better quality of life.


Let’s assume, for the moment, we may be working longer…

Despite the pension age being 67 (and the preservation age for super being 60), we’re still retiring at an average of around 55 for women and 59 for men. If we assume a symmetrical distribution for that average, that means for every man who retires at 65, there’s one who retires at 53. And for every woman who retires at 65, there’s one who retires at 45.

But, if this changes, and we need to accommodate a growing number of older workers, what kind of changes are we likely to have to make? 


The future is flexible: gig, remote and part-time work

As more people begin to work past traditional retirement age, we’re likely to see non-traditional work models surge.  

For instance, flexible working may have already taken off during the pandemic, but if we’re to accommodate an ageing workforce, we’ll probably have to become more flexible still. 

More and more workers are likely to want to carry out at least some of their work remotely. Others will want to work reduced hours, dropping from the traditional five-day week to four or three.

We’re also likely to see the gig economy become important for older workers, with project-based work and short-term engagements – particularly in the most skilled occupations – becoming the norm.

As this happens, we could well see a real rise in productivity as we move more towards project or results-based rather than time-based work. The increased autonomy associated with flexible working could also mean people stay happier and therefore more productive until much later in life.  


Workplace redesign: making space for every age

Not all work will be carried out from home, however. And there are genuine advantages to having people in the office – at least some of the time.

However, a multigenerational workforce will mean a multigenerational workplace. And achieving this won’t just be limited to installing better lighting and ergonomic chairs.

Instead, expect flex spaces to become the norm. Having the freedom to switch between various work settings has been proven to reduce physical and mental fatigue. This is especially beneficial for older workers who may find the traditional nine-to-five desk setup draining. Quiet rooms can serve as temporary relief spaces for those who might need a break from the standard office hustle.

Older employees are also more likely to have specific health requirements. This could lead to a new emphasis on creating a healthy workplace, with features such as standing desks and high-quality air filters becoming more common. Larger organisations could well begin to offer in-office health services. (Some already do.)


Lifelong learning to become the new norm

We’re already past the days of learning a trade or profession and sticking with it for life. But if the workforce gets older, ongoing education is likely to take on even greater importance. In fact, older workers are likely to have to upskill and reskill and learn new skills continually as technology changes.

Much of this is likely to take place online, and we could see a real uplift in the digital workplace educational sector.  Ongoing education could take on greater importance in the employment contract, potentially becoming a condition of work for many of us across the board.

On the flip side, having older workers in the workplace will also mean more potential mentors and role models in the workplace. So younger workers are likely to be learning just as much too.


Automation and AI

Technology such as automation and AI are also likely to play a vital role in helping us work longer and more productively. In physical sectors, such as manufacturing, it could take some of the strain, allowing us to stay employed for longer. It could also help make the working day more efficient, suggesting ways to cut down on unnecessary movement (for instance, in the context of a warehouse or delivery vehicle), thereby helping reduce fatigue.

In a more white-collar setting, AI and automation can potentially reduce the need for repetitive work, allowing older workers to focus their efforts on where they bring the most value – to the high-value brain work.


Workplace policies

Finally, an older workplace is also likely to mean a new emphasis on anti-agism policies, both at a legislative and organisational level.

This may include age-sensitivity training sessions aimed at combatting age-related stereotypes to encourage a more inclusive environment. We’re also likely to see greater emphasis on work/life balance – something crucial for older workers. This could mean fewer working days or curtailed hours for everyone, not just older workers.


Want more?

The fact we’re living longer is likely to mean many of us will choose to work longer too. And that’s likely to shake up the workplace in some interesting ways. 

If you’d like to know more about the impact this is likely to have on your workplace, get in touch


* In 1910, the pension age for women was reduced to 60 on the grounds that, despite living longer than men, they tended to be “incapacitated for regular work at an earlier age”. 

Hybrid work isn’t just a trend—it’s becoming the new norm. But offices still matter, especially when it comes to collaboration. 

One European study, the Okta Hybrid Work Report 2023, found that despite going hybrid, many companies aren’t cutting back on their office space. Instead, they’re redesigning it to make it capitalise on the benefits that can come from being together.

In an age where people expect productivity to matter more than presenteeism, they’re also adopting an ‘office first’ approach to hybrid working that gives employees some degree of flexibility but also captures the many benefits that can come from working with colleagues face-to-face  

With that in mind, we look at whether ‘office first’ should become the new normal for Australia’s workplaces, including yours.  


Three types of hybrid work models

The Okra report found that hybrid working now generally broke down into three models.


Fixed Model

In this model, remote working follows predictable patterns. Employees have set days where they work from the office and also days where they work from home. For instance, many employees work every Monday and Tuesday at the office desk and remotely the rest of the week. This schedule doesn’t change; it’s fixed. 

This model is great for planning but can also be a bit restrictive for those employees who favour variety and flexibility. It’s a model that’s favoured by organisations with more traditional views on work-life balance, including many of Australia’s large corporates. 


Flexible Model

In this less prescriptive setup, employees get to pick where they work each day, depending on what they feel suits them best. Got a day of deep work? Stay home. Need to collaborate? Head to the office. This model suits people who like to control their own schedule, but it demands a high level of self-management and requires very high levels of trust.

It’s often favoured in highly skilled professional settings, where productivity can be easily measured through methods such as billable hours. 


Office-First Model

Under this model, employees are expected to be in the office most of the time, but they can still choose to work from home for a portion of their time, maybe a day or two each week. It’s not as prescriptive as the fixed model, though – if an employee doesn’t have to be at the office on a set day to do collaborative work, they can choose to be at home. 

The goal of the office-first approach is often to keep teams aligned and maintain company culture. If management says it’s a day for everyone to be in the office, employees need to be there.


The case for Office First

In the post-pandemic world, the report found that it’s the office-first model that was gaining the most traction among Europe’s employers. That’s because it tends to make collaboration easier and more spontaneous. 

If an employee is stuck on a project, they don’t always have to schedule a video call or wait for an email reply. They can instead simply walk over to a colleague’s desk for quick help. This face-to-face interaction can not only solve problems faster but also foster a sense of community and team cohesion. Having everyone in the same space reinforces company culture, something that can get diluted when people are scattered remotely.

The report found that another advantage was that mentoring and career development often thrive in the office environment in a way that’s just not possible online. In-person interactions give employees a chance to observe how their leaders manage challenges or even just run a meeting. These subtle, everyday learnings can be hard to pick up in a remote setting. 

For those new to a field or looking to climb the ladder, being physically present can offer invaluable lessons and networking opportunities.


The broader organisational impact of choosing a hybrid work model

The report noted that in European organisations, choosing the right work model is often a collective, board-level decision involving multiple stakeholders, not just a matter for HR.  

This C-suite collaboration makes it essential for various departments to align their objectives and challenges and to reach some agreement on what is going to work best in the interests of the whole organisation.

In doing so, many take the view that employee wellbeing comes first. And this doesn’t necessarily mean allowing employees to work remotely whenever they feel like it. Instead, the emphasis on collaboration that comes from an office-first approach can significantly enhance team dynamics and overall productivity. This, in turn, offers a well-rounded employee experience that prioritises both wellbeing and work outcomes.


How to decide if office-first is right for you

Every workplace now has to choose which model suits the kind of work they do. For some, such as manufacturing, hospitality or retail, the nature of the work means that face-to-face has to happen. For others, though, it’s more subtle. 

Before jumping on the office-first bandwagon, we recommend considering several factors and how they impact your business.

By weighing these factors, you’ll get a clearer picture of whether an office-first model benefits you.


Implementing an Office-First approach

If people are used to having the freedom to choose, they might find some resistance to moving to office first. If that’s the case, here are our tips for transitioning effectively. 

Announcement: Clearly communicate the shift to an office-first model and the rationale behind it.

Transition Period: Offer a grace period for the team to adjust to the new setup.

Office Layout: Redesign the office space to maximise the benefits of in-person collaboration. Show everyone why being in the office matters so much. 

Flexibility Clauses: Despite being office-first, consider built-in flexibility for special circumstances.

Review: Periodically assess the effectiveness of the new model. Make tweaks as needed.

Implementing office-first isn’t just a policy change. It’s a cultural shift that demands clear communication and a thoughtful approach. By considering the nuances and involving your team in the decision-making process, you can make the shift as seamless as possible.


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about implementing an office-first approach in your workplace, get in touch

The ‘Closing Loopholes’ Bill could be about to change Australia’s workplace laws in the most significant way since the Fair Work Act was introduced. 

If the Bill passes through both houses, the Albanese government will be able to implement its workplace relations agenda, changing everything from the rights of casual workers to the laws around industrial manslaughter and from minimum employment conditions through to the definition of employment itself.

We explore how the Closing Loopholes Bill will impact your organisation if it becomes law.


What is the Closing Loopholes Bill?

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 aims to introduce some of Labor’s workplace relations-based pre-election promises, as well as some of the outcomes agreed at last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit. 

While the Bill may not be law yet, it will likely pass through parliament in some form after February next year, after a Senate Committee Report. (Although independent Senator David Pocock, whose vote is likely to be needed, supports splitting the Bill)

That means all organisations should start preparing now. Here are some of the key provisions you need to know about. 


A re-written (and more onerous) definition of casual workers

Over the past couple of years, several high-profile court cases attempted to define what constitutes a casual employee. Then, in early 2021, the Morrison government stepped in, legislating that the written contract – rather than the patterns of behaviour – should be paramount.

The Albanese government wants to change this – by introducing a new test that considers the totality of the relationship between employer and employee. The idea behind this is to end what the government calls “the permanent casual” to look at “what’s really going on”. If passed, the test will require employers to continually assess their workforce and the nature of the way they engage employees to make sure they are genuine casuals.

This could impose a real burden on employers in sectors that rely heavily on a casual workforce, such as retail and hospitality.


A new definition of employment itself?

Another area the government is targeting is the distinction between employer/employee and principal/contractor. Again, this has been a long-litigated and contentious area of employment law.

Under the government’s proposed definition, we’ll see a return to a test based on many factors, effectively expanding the definition of who counts as an employee. This also reverses recent High Court authority, including WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato [2021] HCA 23 and Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd [2022] HCA 1, both of which adopted a narrow definition of who was an employee.

Tied in with this are new ‘same job, same pay’ provisions. These give the Fair Work Commission authority to make orders preventing employers from undercutting the wage provisions of enterprise agreements by using labour-hire workers.

If passed, the new provisions could also impact several sectors, especially those that rely heavily on contractors.


Stronger penalties for underpayment

New ‘wage theft’ provisions in the Closing Loopholes Bill will make deliberately underpaying employees a criminal offence. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman will handle any initial investigation and has the power to make ‘snap’ entries. If they find something amiss, the Commonwealth DPP can take legal action based on information from the Australian Federal Police. Prosecutions can start up to six years after the alleged offence, and the penalties are severe – up to 10 years in jail for individuals and fines that could go as high as $7.8 million for companies.

But there is a safety net. The FWO is offering a “cooperation agreement” for businesses that self-report wage theft. This agreement serves as a ‘safe harbour,’ protecting you from further prosecution. 

So, while the Bill brings more accountability and stringent rules, it also provides an avenue for rectification for those businesses and individuals that find they have breached the Act.


Greater protections for gig economy workers

The FWC will also be able to set fair minimum standards for ‘employee-like’ workers, such as those working through ride-sharing and food delivery apps. They’ll also be able to hear claims concerning unfair deactivation or termination from a service.

This further regulates one of the most controversial and vulnerable workplace sectors and one that is growing more important to the overall economy. 


New rights for union workplace delegates

There are new rules around workplace delegates’ rights and protections, including in employer disputes. Workplace delegates will be allowed ‘reasonable access’ to workplace facilities, as well as to communicate with current and potential union members about industrial matters. 

A general protection will also apply to workplace delegates. This includes preventing employers from unreasonably refusing to deal with them. Employers are also prevented from obstructing workplace delegates or misleading them.

Workplace delegates also receive paid time off for training in their role, unless they’re employed by a small business.


Tougher anti-discrimination laws

Stronger protections will apply to workers who face discrimination as a result of family or domestic violence. This aims to bring the Fair Work Act into line with federal anti-discrimination legislation.


Industrial manslaughter

Industrial manslaughter laws already exist at the State level. The Closing Loopholes Bill will introduce a federal industrial manslaughter office that could land an individual 25 years in jail. Meanwhile, companies could face fines of up to $18 million if they’re found to be reckless or grossly negligent. 


In short…

These are just some of the changes that the Closing Loopholes Bill aims to introduce. If enacted, it will bring about new responsibilities for most employers and change the definition of many workplace tests.

That’s why it’s vital you stay on top of the legislation, especially if you have a high number of contractors or casual staff. 

If you’d like to know more about the impact this is likely to have on your workplace, get in touch

The start of a new financial year also brings new changes to Human Resources. We explore five key ones likely to impact your workplace.

1. Super changes once again

From 1 July 2023, the Superannuation Guarantee Contribution (SGC) is going up again. This time to 11%.

The SGC will continue to increase by 0.5% every year until we reach 12% in FY2026.

The other change to super includes an increase to the contribution base to $62,270 a quarter. This effectively means once someone’s salary hits $249,080 a year you no longer have to make super contributions on that portion of their salary over the contribution base.

The concessional contributions cap remains unchanged at $27,500.00.

2. The new minimum wage is in effect

From 1 July 2023, the National Minimum Wage goes up 5.75%, an increase of $70.20. That means the least you can pay anyone is $23.23 an hour or $882.80 a week for a 38-hour working week. For a casual, the minimum hourly rate is $29.04 per hour.

3. Unfair dismissal threshold raised again

High-income earners don’t have access to our federal unfair dismissal laws and generally speaking, can’t bring a claim in the Fair Work Commission. The cap for what constitutes a high-income earner has been raised again, from $162,000 to $167,500.

Just remember, exceeding the threshold doesn’t mean an employee has no rights if you terminate their employment. They can still access the Fair Work Act’s General Protection provisions.

The maximum amount of compensation the FWC can award has also been raised by $2,750 – from $81,000 to $83,750.

4. Changes to tax-free thresholds on redundancy payments

From 1 July 2023, the tax-free redundancy thresholds have increased to $11,985 plus $5,994 for every year of service. For a genuine redundancy, these thresholds are important when working out what an affected employee’s take-home payments are likely to be.

5. Expect more legislation changes in the new financial year

It’s fair to say that 2023 saw some of the most significant changes to the Fair Work Act since its inception in 2009. And it appears these tranches of changes are not ending any time soon. Shortly we are expecting to see the Protecting Worker Entitlement Bill to pass through royal assent.

We will keep you updated on these changes as they come through.

Are you FY24 ready?

As FY24 begins, there are plenty of Human Resources -related changes that businesses need to be on top of. If you have any questions regarding the changes or are keen to find out how they could impact you or your business, speak with one of the Catalina Consultant team members today.


Employers often use restraints of trade to try to stop employees from taking their confidential information to a competitor and gaining an unfair advantage over them. But just how enforceable are they? 

A recent New South Wales Court of Appeal (NSWCA) found that whether a restraint of trade is enforceable depends on whether you’re trying to protect a legitimate interest, as well as factors such as their duration and an employee’s seniority.

The background to the case

The case started with a familiar scenario – a senior sales manager left his employer to work for a competitor. However, his employment contract contained three clauses: a confidentiality clause, an ‘exclusive employment clause’ (this said he must devote his time and attention to the employer during business hours and promote its best interests), and a restraint of trade.

The restraint of trade clause was one of the typical ‘cascading’ ones that employers sometimes use that allow for ‘12 months’, ‘9 months’, ‘6 months’, etc, in the hope that a court will enforce the most reasonable duration.

When the employee left and worked for a competitor, the employer alleged he broke all three of these clauses in his contract. 

He then failed to comply with the notice of termination clause of the contract, which provided for three months that he would not work in direct competition. Instead, he started working for the competitor within four weeks of leaving. He also helped the competitor poach a more junior employee who was subject to a similar restraint of trade clause. 

The proceedings

The former employer brought proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW (the NSWSC)  alleging the employee – and the employee he poached – had breached their employment contracts. It received interlocutory orders (that is, temporary orders), which prevented the employees from working for the competitor until the court decided the case.

The court eventually handed down a decision in the employer’s favour. It found:

The employee appealed the NSWSC’s decision in the NSW Court of Appeal. 

The appeal: Are restraints of trade enforceable? 

The Court of Appeal noted that restraints were only enforceable insofar as they protected an employer’s reasonable interests for a reasonable amount of time.

In this case, the employer had a legitimate interest in protecting its confidential information from a competitor, including its marketing plans and potential weaknesses in its product. As the employee was senior and privy to this information, it was, therefore, reasonable to restrain him from a competitor for nine months.

However, it also noted that the employee he helped poach was more junior and did not have any awareness of the company’s confidential information. It wasn’t reasonable to restrain him from working for a competitor because he could not damage its legitimate interest. 

The Court of Appeal also found that the employee breached his notice of termination provision. He had also breached his contractual and fiduciary duties to his former employer when he helped poach the employee.

The Court of Appeal also found that because the competitor had encouraged the employee to breach his fiduciary duty, it, too, was liable.

What the case means for you as an employer

There are times you can rely on restraints of trade to protect your confidential information, but they need to be proportionate, and they can’t be used as a ‘catch all’ to try to limit who employees can work for. You’re also far more likely to find they’re enforceable against senior employees.  

It’s always a good idea to have restraints drafted properly by your legal adviser. It’s also often a good idea to use ‘cascading’ clauses – based both on duration and geography – so that a court will enforce appropriate terms rather than ‘striking out’ an unreasonable restraint. 

Also. if you’re hiring an employee from a competitor and they have a restraint, proceed with caution. If possible, have your legal adviser check their restraint over before you sign them up.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about restraints of trade, get in touch.

Alternatively, you can read the full decision here


Labour shortages and rising wages mean employers need to do more with less. So, if you’re one of the many business owners who find they have too many HR tasks and not enough staff to complete them, here are six HR tasks we think you can automate, outsource or eliminate.

1. Managing leave

Many employers still rely on an employee to stay on top of everyone’s leave entitlements. But these days, managing leave entitlements – including sick leave, annual leave, carer’s leave and long service leave – can all be automated. 

When it comes to sick leave, some of today’s HR software can automatically follow up with employees, make sure they’ve submitted a doctor’s certificate (which they can do via their phone) and then notify team leaders and managers of their absence.

Best of all, modern HR software can let you identify trends in people’s sick leave – which can be great for identifying mental health issues and minimising potential psychological harm to employees.

Using an automated system to track annual leave can also give you complete visibility over when people will be absent. It can also reveal when you’re likely to be short-staffed, based on your workflow – and even potentially recommend critical times employees should be encouraged to take leave. 

Not only is there no need to have someone doing this all manually anymore, but by automating, you could eliminate risk while also giving yourself a strategic advantage.

2. Timesheets and payroll 

If you have someone processing timesheets and payroll manually, now’s the time to rethink your approach. 

There’s excellent software out there that will do this for you much more efficiently and cost-effectively. It will automatically ensure you’re complying with relevant tax, superannuation and employment laws, submit what you need to the ATO, and generally make your life as easy as possible.

Or, if you want a more comprehensive offering involving a human touch, you could outsource it. 

3. Hiring new employees

Hiring new employees is a function we often fundamentally associate with HR, but it could be one best performed by someone else. After all, it’s something that’s vital to your business and its ongoing success, but it also requires specific skills and processes. And depending on the size of your business, it can chew up a lot of your resources.

These high-impact, low-volume tasks are often the very best ones to outsource. There are specialists, such as recruitment companies or a virtual HR provider like ours, who can tap into their network, offer impartiality, and help you select the best candidate. We can even work with you to develop a strategic plan for attracting and retaining talent for the long term, so that you know what you need ahead of time.

4. Performance reviews

Performance reviews have traditionally been another fundamental part of the HR process – and a part that can take an extraordinary amount of time. They’re also one aspect of the relationship between management and employee that can be sensitive, fraught with risk, and carry long-term implications for workplace productivity and culture. 

That’s why this is another part of the HR process that often makes sense to eliminate from your in-house function and outsource, saving time and money. 

5. Compliance

Making sure your organisation complies with employment and HR laws can be complex. It can also be something that can consume your HR professionals, keeping them away from the areas in which they excel. 

The good news is that these days, HR software will make sure you’re complying with some of the rules and regulations you need to. And, for a high-level, or strategic view, you can always outsource.

6. Writing policies and procedures

Again, writing policies and procedures is laborious, and it’s also easy to get things wrong – potentially opening your organisation up to legal exposure. And yet, writing complex, sometimes specialist policies and procedures often falls to generalist HR professionals. A better approach is often to outsource this work to people who specialise in the area so that you know you’re following best practice and setting yourself up for success.

Looking for ways to eliminate more HR functions?

HR covers a range of functions from the strategic through to the detailed, and it’s often virtually impossible to hire people with all the skills you need. By outsourcing some of the tasks and automating others, you can make sure you’re always running the most efficient and cost-effective HR function possible. 

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how these changes specifically impact your workplace, get in touch

The Albanese government has pledged to criminalise wage theft. We explore what it means for you and your business.

Why wage theft is an issue

A PWC study found that Australians were underpaid $1.35 billion a year due to wage theft. The report also found the practice was especially rife in industries such as construction, healthcare and social assistance, hospitality and retail. 

There have been several recent high-profile cases involving actual or alleged wage theft that have involved companies as large as Wesfarmers and Woolworths – which shows just how widespread the problem could potentially be. 

The government says wage theft should be high on the agenda because it disproportionately affects vulnerable workers, including women, young people and migrants. It also says that wage theft is so rife that some employers have even built it into their business models.

To combat this, it will attempt to change the Fair Work Act to penalise employers and individuals who actively engage in wage theft. The government has also indicated that this is likely to include the possibility of imprisonment in extreme circumstances.

Existing wage theft laws

Section 539 of the Fair Work Act 2009 makes it a civil offence to knowingly underpay employees, punishable by up to $133,200 for individuals in the case of serious offences. But the government’s proposed new laws propose to go further.

In doing so, they are likely to be more similar to some state-based wage theft laws, including those of Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. The Victorian laws, which came into effect in early 2021, make it a crime for employers to:

The penalties for individuals who commit these offences in Victoria can be a fine of up to $218,088 and up to 10 years imprisonment; for companies, it can be a fine of up to $1,090,044. We should expect the same to happen federally. 

Staying on top of underpayment

While the new wage theft laws will be aimed at those who deliberately engage in wage theft, you can still be penalised for inadvertently underpaying your staff – and may face the prospect of having to make significant backpay.

For that reason, you should always stay on top of your minimum payment obligations, which tend to take the following hierarchy:

Some employers may face the prospect of having multiple instruments or agreements specifying different rates. In this instance, it pays to remember that individual contracts can’t usually provide rates lower than those that would otherwise apply.

Want more?

Australia’s wage laws can be complex, but it’s vital you’re across them. It’s also obviously important, both ethically and legally, that you never wilfully underpay staff. 

If you‘d like to know more about your obligations, get in touch

With unemployment at its lowest rate since the 1960s, many employers face a recruitment market they’ve never before experienced, referred to as an “employee’s market”. Gone are the days of multiple quality applicants and prolonged interview processes. Instead, for some, it has become a matter of getting someone – anyone – just to do the job and keep the business going. But even though it may not feel like it, there are still opportunities to recruit long-term staff and build a quality, high-performing team, even in times like these. We explore how you can do it.  

1. Take a step back

In an employee’s market like this, the reality is that recruiting often involves negotiating with a party that’s coming from a stronger position than yours. So, as with any negotiation, take a step back and think about why it is you need to recruit in the first place. What tasks will you need them to perform? How can they perform them? And what contribution do you ideally want them to make to your workplace? Now, when you’re recruiting, you have an idea of your bottom line.

2. Be flexible

When the employee holds the aces, you may have to look at what delivers on your needs rather than what’s ideal. If they want to work remotely a bit more often than you’d ideally like, it could be the price you have to pay to secure a decent employee.

Think outside the box when it comes to working arrangements too. For instance, could you be better off hiring two part-time employees rather than one full-time? Could you offer perks that make you a preferred employer? Again, when it’s about your bottom line rather than just going through the motions and doing what has always been done, you open yourself up to all kinds of new ideas.

3. Look in new places

In an employee’s market like this, you often need to get on the front foot and look for new employees rather than waiting for them to come to you.

So how are you trying to attract new hires? And where do you put the message out? There was a day when job ads went in the Saturday paper. Now, they can come from anywhere. Think about where your potential recruits are likely to be What do they read? What sites do they visit? And what social media do they consume?

These days it’s much easier to target the right people than it has ever been, so there’s no excuse for not connecting. 

4. Look forward

People are often more willing to move to a company when they have a clear path for them. So before you go to the market, think about where your new employee’s career could take them, and sell this to them. If you really want to recruit good talent, let them into your strategy. Show them where they fit in now and where you see them within the organisation going forward.

5. Sell yourself

Some organisations take the approach that marketing is limited to selling to clients, but the best companies know it also involves selling themselves to prospective employees. Why else would some of the biggest companies devote serious time and effort to recruitment advertising? 

If your website isn’t telling your business’s story with potential new employees in mind, change that now. Why not tell the story of some of your best employees and why they’ve come to you, and showcase the kind of career potential recruits could have?

6. Be prepared to offer more 

While pay isn’t everything, it does matter. When you go into any recruitment process, you need to know the most you’re willing to pay. If you’re hoping to attract and retain people, that may be a little more than you’d initially hoped.

But even if it’s expensive in the short term, attracting the best employees should be worth it – especially in the long run.

7. Think retention

While it’s important to go on the attack and recruit new staff, it’s often just as vital to play defence and keep the staff you already have. After all, like you, your competitors are probably trying to attract key personnel. Where better place to find them than from your workplace? Focusing on keeping current employees content reaps dividends when it comes to attracting new staff too. Outsiders notice when a workplace is a happy one, and they can tell when employees are discontent.

Read this if you need help on retention strategies that don’t involve paying more.

8. Enlist outside help

A lot of businesses shun recruiters and headhunters, thinking that their cost doesn’t justify the expense. But, it’s times like these – when labour is short, that it often does. If you can’t recruit internally, now could be the time to enlist outside help to find a decent candidate.

9. Reorganise

Finally, if you can’t fill a job, you’ll have to work with what you’ve got. But rather than just sticking someone else on it and doubling their work, maybe it’s time to reshuffle responsibilities.

Don’t just pick apart the job you need to be filled and section off parts of it, look at a range of jobs, who does what and see how the load can be shared around and better managed. That may involve automating or using technology in some other capacity, but it may also mean changing roles and titles and asking others to step up. The sweetener, of course, will be that you’ll have saved money on recruitment – which could even go as a pay rise to those with new responsibilities.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about recruiting in today’s marketplace, get in touch.

The new Albanese-led Labor Government promised to make employment one of its major priorities. Central to this promise was its recent Jobs Summit, in which unions, employer groups and others came together to discuss and – hopefully – address many of the issues impacting Australia’s workplaces right now.

We look at the four issues employers need to be across as a result of the Summit.

1. A change in bargaining

The relative decline in wages has been a major issue affecting Australian employees for some time. Even though the economy has been in a state of consistent growth for 30 years (except for the pandemic), workers haven’t always seen their wages go up.

In fact, despite strong employment figures, wage decline actually seems to be gathering pace, with the average Australian’s real wage falling 2.5% over 2021.

Employers and unions both agree that the current system of enterprise bargaining has failed to deliver the right ingredients to address this wage decline. However, they’re offering different solutions to fixing it.

The ACTU wanted to see multi-employer bargaining introduced, which would mean negotiating with several employers at once rather than on an individual basis. Employers groups opposed this approach and wanted further talks.

The government has backed the unions and will begin introducing legislation to support the change.

2. Better off overall test also overhauled

Unions and employer groups found common ground when it came to the ‘better off overall’ test. This is the test the Fair Work Commission uses when assessing an agreement to make sure a worker is better off under its terms compared to those of the relevant Award. 

All parties agreed the test, which was introduced by the Rudd Labor government, was unnecessarily complicated. Changes will include giving the FWC more flexibility in applying the test, as well as removing the need to it consider hypothetical scenarios.

3. Gender equality on the agenda

Female participation in Australia’s workforce is significantly below male participation. The latest data shows that 71.0% of workforce-aged men participate in the labour market compared to 62.3% of women. The well-publicised gender pay gap is also widening, with the latest data showing a 14.1% difference between men’s and women’s wages.

In response, unions and employers agreed that childcare was a priority. Many called on the government to bring forward its pledge to further subsidise childcare (one of its election promises). Currently, that won’t happen at least until after the October Budget.

Beyond this, many are arguing for further discussion on ways to make work more flexible and accommodating to women, who still often find themselves responsible for the lion’s share of family and domestic duties. This is likely to be an area that receives considerable attention over the next few years.

4. More migration

You only have to walk through any Australian shopping centre to see the effects of our current workforce shortage – with help wanted signs now adorning many stores. However, this same problem permeates virtually every sector, and employers especially wanted something done about it

In response, the government has agreed to temporarily lift Australia’s migration quote from 160,000 to 195,000. To support developing local skills, it has also agreed to increase the number of fee-free TAFE places by 180,000.

So what can you do now?

Our employment sector is likely in for a shake-up over this term of government, and the Jobs Summit points the way to the direction that’s likely to take.

Employers should make sure they stay across the detail and adjust to the changing employment landscape. 

Want to know more?

If you’d like to know more about the Jobs Summit and how it impacts your workplace, get in touch.

A growing number of employers are introducing ‘life leave’ for employees. Should your organisation be doing the same?

We explore what is how, how it works and the potential benefits (and disadvantages) of introducing it into your workplace.

What is life leave?

Life leave is a broad type of leave that lets employees have time off simply to do non-work related things. This could be anything from being at home so that work can be done on your property, having a day off for your birthday or even just taking a mental health day. 

Different types of life leave

There’s no single template available which means different employers implement it differently. 

For instance, EY Australia introduced unpaid life leave for its employees in 2019, giving them between six and 12 weeks to ‘explore interests’ outside of work, such as travel or study. In contrast, in 2020, CBA introduced three days’ paid life leave for its employees. 

CBA’s policy had its critics because, at the same time, some employees’ sick leave entitlements were reduced from 15 days to 12 days. CBA also only allowed employees to take the life leave entitlement if they’d used up their entire annual leave entitlement of previous 12 months and had less than a total 20 days’ accrued annual leave. 

Still, an internal survey released by CBA showed an overwhelming majority of employees – as many as 80% – welcomed the move. 

Why wouldn’t you just increase annual leave?

Annual leave is different from life leave because it is a statutory entitlement for all employees regulated by the National Employment Standards (NES). 

That means the NES provide for the situations under which an employee is entitled to annual leave and outline the minimum employers must provide. Importantly, they also specify that it ‘accumulates’ – something which isn’t necessarily the case for life leave. Also, under many Awards and Agreements, employees are entitled to a leave loading when they take annual leave. 

By introducing this new type of leave, employers have greater flexibility and can stipulate whether it accumulates, whether it’s paid or unpaid and whether leave loading applies. 

The pros and cons

The advantages of introducing life leave into your workplace include the following.

There could, however, be some downsides to introducing life leave too.

What alternatives are there?

If it all seems a bridge too far for your workplace but you want some of its benefits, you could always introduce more paid – or unpaid – annual leave. Alternatively, a lot of workplaces we work with have perks such as a day off for a birthday, a day off for family commitments, an extra long weekend or two a year or flexible public holidays. Some even offer unlimited leave.

Should your workplace introduce life leave?

Whether or not you should introduce life leave at your workplace depends on a number of factors, not least of which is the type of work you do. After all, while life leave lends itself to service-based jobs – such as accounting or financial services – it would be a much trickier proposition in industries that require someone to be present – such as manufacturing or retail.

That said, the flexibility that comes with life leave – both from an employer and employee perspective – makes it an increasingly attractive proposition.

If you’d like to know more about introducing it into your workplace, get in touch.

Since COVID, more people than ever are working from home. In fact, it’s probably the single most important impact the pandemic has had on the workplace. But even before the pandemic struck, the Fair Work Act gave many employees the right to request flexible working and employers were obliged to consider that request. In my experience, some employers though are still reluctant to allow flexible working fearing that it leaves employees productive. So if you’re one of them – or if you’re an employee looking to prove your productivity when working from home – here are our tips for greater productivity.

Get off email (and other forms of communication)

Email is one of the main tools that has allowed many people to work effectively away from the workplace. More recently, it’s been joined by a host of other communication apps and methods, including Slack, Zoom, Teams, Jabber and more.

The problem is that the same tools that let us do our job are often the very same ones that distract us from it. 

How often do you find yourself giving up work momentarily to answer a message that’s probably not that urgent or just consistently checking it to see if anything interesting has come in?

One of the keys to productivity is simply to stop checking your messages. Instead, set aside a few times a day where you read and answer them in one batch. 

And, if you’re an employer looking to increase productivity in your workforce, either stop expecting an instant response or set aside a limited time each day (say 1 pm-3 pm) where people need to be available. Otherwise, try to let them get on with their work.

Structure your day

When we’re at the workplace, we have the external cues for when we should be doing certain things. We arrive and leave at set times, usually go on our lunch break at the same time others are taking lunch, and even chat around the proverbial water cooler or take our coffee breaks at a similar time each day. While imposing the same kind of regimentation on our homelife may not seem natural, routine is actually one of the real keys to being productive, healthy and even creative.

So, if your workplace hasn’t set a schedule for when you need to get work done, set one yourself. 

Give yourself a set time for when you’ll take lunch, when you’ll start and finish and when you’ll have scheduled breaks. Then stick to it. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’re likely to get done. 

Make to-do lists

One real key to productivity is to write to-do lists. But these shouldn’t just be spur-of-the-moment notes that focus only on what’s at hand. They should be strategic tools for setting out your monthly, weekly and daily goals.  

That said, you should be careful not to make your lists too long or too onerous: otherwise, you’re going to put yourself under too much pressure and feel like you’re failing when you can’t meet them. 

While it’s true that most of us have to-do lists in the office, in many ways, they become even more important at home. After all, remote working is all about keeping up your productivity to make sure the work still gets done.

If you’re an employer or manager worried about productivity, you could even have your employees submit their weekly to-do lists to you and then check them off.

Eat the frog

Eating the frog’ is a productivity technique that involves choosing the most important (and often unpleasant) task on your to-do list and making it your priority when you start the day. The reasoning is that by getting the thing that needs to be achieved done first, you’ll be devoting your best brain power to it and then leaving less important tasks for when you’re not quite as switched on. You’ll also have the sense of accomplishment that comes from knocking over your big task first.

If you’re an employer, you can encourage your remote employees to become more productive by having them identify their ‘frogs’ and then devote each morning to them.

Get time management technique

Beyond this, there are so many different ways you can organise your day to become more productive. A popular one is the Pomodoro (tomato) technique, whereby you break your day into 30-minute ‘pomodoros’ that involve 25 minutes of work and a five-minute break. You then take a longer break after four pomodoros – or after every two hours.

Another popular time management technique – and the favourite of Benjamin Franklin – is ‘time blocking’. Slightly less onerous than the Pomodoro technique, it involves breaking your day into blocks and then assigning work you’ll complete within them. By providing yourself with your deadlines this way, you should help overcome procrastination and get more done. (Although you will need a certain degree of flexibility, as even Franklin himself admitted.)

There are so many potential ways to organise your day for productivity, and we even found this quiz that can help you find which one’s right for you. And, if you’re an employer worried about your employees’ time management when working from home, why not train them in time management first? 

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about setting up your workplace for productive remote working, get in touch. 

It’s hard for us to believe that Catalina Consultants is now a decade old. It has been an incredible 10 years, with the business growing and evolving from just one person to a multi-skilled team servicing clients around the country. We sat down with founder and Principal Merilyn Speiser to ask her about the highlights of the past decade, as well as what’s in store for the next 10 years.

So, Merilyn, can you cast your mind back 10 years and tell us how you came to start Catalina Consultants in the first place?

I was a partner at a major accounting firm, which gave me exposure to the way lots of businesses worked and I saw the difference between those businesses that had access to quality human resources advice and an HR function and those that didn’t. 

In particular, I saw some good businesses that weren’t large enough to afford a full HR team and had to make a choice about where they spent their money and where they didn’t. This meant they always had gaps in their HR department and this would always cost them one way or another. I thought to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great if all businesses could have access to a full HR department regardless of their size’. That was when the concept for Catalina Consultants was born.

When you started, you were the only employee. How were those early days and when did things start changing?

At the start, I thought I had a good idea but I wasn’t sure what the appetite for it would be. There wasn’t really the same knowledge of outsourcing core business functions, such as HR, as there is now. Most of my work was coming from my accounting and personal network. I had to do everything myself and a lot of the work was more consulting style. I was doing a lot of leadership training, performance and engagement-related work. This was great but it was just a part of what I wanted to do.

Everything changed when I was approached by a national architecture firm that wanted Catalina Consultants to run its entire HR function. They didn’t just want strategic advice or high-level work done. They wanted a provider who could do the admin and keep the lights on as well. There was no way I could do it all by myself and I realised that if I wanted to play in this space I needed to hire someone to help out, even if I couldn’t really afford it yet. 

The next client we took on was an IT company and it was even bigger still. They had four offices and 120 employees and we were asked to oversee everything HR-related, so I hired again. It was such a good decision and everything started growing from there.

I’m really very grateful for those early clients. Without them, there’s no way we would be here today.

What has been the key to your success?

I think we’ve always offered a very different proposition from other outsourced HR businesses. HR comprises many functions and you need employees at a whole range of levels. That’s what we offer. A lot of others simply have mid-to-senior level employees who they place, say, a day a week with a client. I think that’s entirely the wrong approach because it says ‘HR only happens on a Monday’. With us, we’re always with our clients – they know they can contact us whenever they need help no matter what it is. 

That said, we also offer a level of flexibility, so some clients like us to come in and be visible in their workplaces, like a traditional HR practice. Others want only part of our services, such as offering advice that will facilitate the success of their managers. Whatever it is, we can make it work.  

What are the main things you’ve seen change in your business and also in HR over the past decade?

One of the real changes over the past decade is the understanding of what can be achieved remotely. Obviously, COVID played a big part in that, when most professional staff had to work from home. But there was a growing understanding of remote working before that too. It means the conversations I’m having now are very different from the ones I had in the start because I no longer have to convince people that we don’t have to be always physically present to do a great job – although sometimes we are.

Another big change has been that, in the early years, businesses often saw supporting their HR function as a discretionary spend. Now, even small start-ups tend to understand the need for strong HR right from the outset. That can be anything from strategic C-suite advice and guiding the leadership team through to creating the right culture or wellbeing engagement, or even having the right retention strategy in place. 

Finally, I’d say that the rise and use of technology and data have really changed HR and made it more affordable for everyone to understand their drivers and make better decisions. We’re able to now provide even smaller clients with quite a sophisticated data-driven HR function for a reasonable price. 

10 years is quite an achievement. What lies ahead for Catalina Consultants over the next decade?

We’re still growing and evolving and we have so much planned. We’re going to be expanding into Melbourne shortly. The mix of businesses tends to be very different there – with more manufacturing – and our model really lends itself to that sector.

Beyond that, we have plans to start a recruitment arm and a legal arm, as well as IT. These are adjacent services to what we already offer and there is a real synergy between them and what we do already.  Watch this space!

Finally, looking back a decade ago, what is the one thing that you really got right with the benefit of hindsight?

I think the main thing was putting trust in others. When I began hiring people the salaries I had to pay were higher than what the business was earning from contracts but I knew if Catalina Consultants was ever going to get off the ground, it had to be more than me. Every time I hired someone it was a real turning point. There is real strength in numbers in any workplace and everything we did together was far better than I could have ever achieved on my own. For any business, your people really are your biggest asset! That’s ultimately what HR is about.

Many employers see probation periods as something of an insurance policy when it comes to recruiting staff. If things don’t work out in the first six months, they potentially give you the option of ending the employment relationship without incurring significant costs or facing lengthy legal action. 

But with labour shortages, wage rises and mass resignations a feature of the employment landscape in 2022, do employers need to be a little more circumspect when it comes to terminating a probationary employee’s employment? We explore everything you need to know about probation periods in 2022.

The case against terminating employment

Let’s begin by looking at when terminating isn’t the best path. 

Hiring and firing employees is an expensive business. In 2019, I wrote about how to terminate employment when someone is on probation. Back then I noted that one US study found that the cost of losing a staff member and re-hiring generally equates to around a third of their income. In other words, if you need to fire and re-hire someone on $60,000 a year, expect it to set your business back $20,000. 

That study was made in a very different labour market than the current one too. Today, the costs are likely to be much higher, given just how difficult it is to find good employees.

That means terminating someone’s employment – even when they’re on probation – isn’t something you’d do lightly. 

But, still, there are times you really should dismiss an employee, especially where the cost of their continuing underperformance will be much bigger in the long run. 

How do probationary periods work? 

Even when you’ve done all the right things in the recruitment process, you’ll sometimes make mistakes. After all, you can’t be 100% certain about anyone’s work – or how they fit into your organisation – until you actually see it for yourself. Probationary periods are designed to get around this, letting you use an employee’s early time with you – usually between three and six months – to assess whether they’re right. 

If they’re not, well, you have the opportunity to end the employment relationship without the same legal obligations you’d have towards a more long-standing employee. 

That said, an employee still has some entitlements during probation. For instance, they’re still entitled to the 10 National Employment Standards and some of the protections contained in the Fair Work Act 2009

This means you’ll have to provide them with a week’s notice of termination (or at least payment in lieu of this notice period). They’ll also be entitled to be paid for any annual leave they’ve accrued. 

What they usually won’t be entitled to do, is to bring an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission.  However, under the Fair Work Act 2009, employees can’t bring an unfair dismissal for the first six months of their employment anyway – or 12 months where the employer has less than 15 employees.

The key: An effective probation period

The key to getting probation right – especially in today’s environment – is to run an effective probation period. This means not just giving your employee the opportunity to prove themselves but also helping equip them with the skills they need to be a good employee. 

Here’s how I think you should do that in 2022.

Read more here about getting the first six months of employment right.

Can you extend a probationary period?

With labour in short supply, you might be tempted to extend an employee’s probationary period, effectively giving them a second chance. But are you allowed to do this?

The answer is that it depends on what the contract of employment says. Some employment contracts will provide that the employer can extend probation in certain situations. If the employee is covered by an Award or Agreement, you also need to be mindful of this too.

At the same time, always remember that the employment laws, most notably the Fair Work Act 2009, still apply. That means, that if you extend an employee’s contract beyond the statutory probation period, they will have the right to bring an unfair dismissal claim, as well as to all the other entitlements of other employees. 

With that in mind, there may be little point in attempting to extend a probationary period because the employee will have all the same rights as other permanent staff members.  

How to terminate an employee when they’re on probation

While you can terminate a probationary employee’s employment without having to go through some of the requirements of a permanent employee, you can’t just dismiss a probationary employee for any reason you like. 

Even if they can’t access unfair dismissal remedies, probationary employees can access unlawful termination remedies from the moment they start working for you. That means you can’t terminate their employment for a prohibited reason, such as temporary absence from work, union membership, making a complaint or on the basis of race, gender or pregnancy.   

If you are terminating employment for a legitimate reason, you don’t have to wait until the end of the probationary period before dismissing them. When you’ve done your best and you really have reached the point of no return, my view is to act now and begin the process of hiring someone to replace them.

Need a bit of help on how to do that in times like these? Read our Ultimate Guide to Hiring New Employees.

Want more? 

Terminating a worker’s employment can be fraught, even when they’re on probation. And never has there been more at stake than right now. Get in touch if you’re unsure about one of your new employees and need a guiding hand.

Research shows having people from different backgrounds and different points of view can be great for any workplace. As McKinsey noted in its groundbreaking 2014 Diversity Matters study: 

“The unequal performance of companies in the same industry and country suggests that gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are competitive differentiators: more diverse companies lure better talent and improve their decision making, customer orientation, and employee satisfaction.”

But recruiting a diverse team isn’t necessarily as easy as it seems. Even most organisations’ best efforts fall short of hiring for true workplace diversity. 

With that in mind here are our four tips for successfully recruiting for diversity. 

1. Look outside your networks

The traditional way businesses have worked was that people tended to recruit through personal networks, or if they didn’t, they tended to hire people just like themselves. If someone knew you or knew your friends, went to the same university as you or grew up in the same area, you could trust them, right?

One of the main problems with this is that unnecessarily limited the pool of talent available. This restricted the types of ideas and perspectives that came from employees. And that, in turn, restricted the number of people a business would appeal to. 

So, the first step in hiring for diversity is to look beyond your immediate networks. That means advertising publicly – or through an independent party – for any job vacancy.

2. Be objective

A vast body of research shows that the hiring process is biased and unfair,” says the Harvard Business Review. That’s not just because hirers tend to favour people who think and act like themselves without even realising it, it’s also because they tend to be drawn to charisma rather than skill. The sweet-talker who performs well in an interview usually gets hired ahead of the more reserved – and often more competent – candidate.  

One way to help get around this is to create a list of attributes and skills you’re looking for in your new hire and to focus on these rather than on factors that don’t actually relate to how well someone is going to perform a job. 

If you’re carrying out the recruiting process internally, you should also try to pull together a diverse team of people to carry out the hiring process.

Better still, why not create your list of skills and attributes and then give it to someone external so that your own biases play no part in the recruitment process at all?

3. Go blind and hold a test

It’s not just in the job interview that bias can take hold. One place that it can often kick in – and reduce diversity in the workplace – is during the initial CV check. 

A way to get around this could be to have someone remove names and other obvious identifiers from applicants’ CVs before you do a cull. 

Even when you’ve narrowed it down, you don’t necessarily have to go straight to a face-to-face job interview. Depending on the type of role you’re hiring for, you could ask people to perform a work test or to provide a sample of something they’ve done. 

That way your first port of call will be on someone’s quality of work rather than on their background.      

4. Work on your own culture

Sometimes workplaces end up lacking diversity because the culture simply doesn’t attract people from various backgrounds or with different points of view. If that’s your organisation, you need to find ways to make your workplace more inclusive. 

Educate your employees on diversity and its merits and introduce diversity training for your managers. Set diversity goals and hold people to account for meeting them. Introduce workplace activities that appeal to a cross-section of people, not simply one narrow group. 

To make your workplace truly diverse, you need to look within as well as without.

Want more? 

You can read about how we recruit here at Catalina Consultants in this article.

Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about creating a more diverse workplace through your recruitment strategies, get in touch.

There is little doubt wage rises are coming in 2022. With inflation surging and the cost of living taking centre stage this federal election, there’s now little doubt your employees will be seeking a pay rise in 2022. However, a lot of business owners feel ill-equipped to deal with higher incomes, with some telling me they’re already losing staff to competitors willing to offer more.

That’s why I thought it was time to look at non-financial benefits, or what you can do when you can’t afford a pay rise.

Reduced hours/increased time off

If you can’t afford to pay someone more, what about asking them to work less? The opportunity to take more holidays, leave work earlier or have a Flexi day each fortnight holds real appeal for many employees. That means it could be a good way to keep them on board without needing to offer more money.

If you’re worried about the impact this might have on your business’s productivity, you don’t necessarily have to be. A comprehensive Icelandic study found that there was no reduction in an organisation’s level of service when its employees went from working five days a week to four days a week. In fact, many indicators of service provision and productivity actually rose. At the same time, employees’ happiness and well-being improved dramatically.

If you’re going to go down this path though, it helps to make sure that your employees actually want to work less. For some workers, cutting hours may feel like a demotion or backwards step in their career rather than a benefit.

Other flexible working options

It’s not just time off that many employees want, it’s also the opportunity to work autonomously. During the COVID lockdowns, many of us got very used to working our own way. We often also had the opportunity to fit in more time with our families, on hobbies and just generally looking after ourselves. Now, as things return to normal, it can be a difficult thing to go back to the feeling that we always need to be in the office.

By continuing to offer some degree of flexible working even after COVID, your workplace could continue to appeal to employees even without a pay rise – especially if competitors aren’t doing the same.

Providing recognition

One of the main things employees want out of their work is the recognition for a job well done or at least the feeling that they’re not being taken for granted.  Too many employers forget this and expect their employees to keep working their best and remaining loyal, without ever letting them know how much they mean.

Don’t fall into this boat. Make sure you tell your staff how much you value them even if you can’t afford to pay more. Throw after work drinks or regular dinners to celebrate their achievements and acknowledge how they contribute.

Career mapping

While some employees are tempted to move by a short-term windfall, many look to the longer term. If you can offer a genuine and fulfilling career path, they’ll have much more incentive to stay with you. This could be a good time to sit down with the staff you want to keep to find out exactly what they want from their careers and how you can help facilitate it. By following through, you’ll be giving them more reason to stay than just pay.

Know where you stand

Finally, before you say no to a pay rise, you need to do your homework and find out exactly where you stand. If your employees are covered by Awards or Agreements and these provide for a pay increase, you may have no option but to pay more.

You should also review your bottom line, to work out how much is coming in and what’s going out. If you find that you need to increase pay, it may be time to increase your prices…

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how to get non-financial benefits work for your business, get in touch.

It has been a very big couple of years for all of us, with workplaces disrupted and more people working remotely than ever before. I think that has real implications for the way we should be measuring and giving feedback on performance, and during performance reviews.

The ‘no surprises’ performance review

Let’s get one thing straight: the age of the traditional performance review, where an employer tells an employee whether they’re doing well (and hence whether they’re getting a pay rise), is over. Or at least it should be. I’ve always believed that if someone walks out of a review surprised by what was said to them, there’s a problem. And that goes for the manager as well as the employee. That’s because performance reviews should never be a once-off. They should be part of the ongoing, consistent way employers manage and engage with staff. Being a good manager is raising any feedback – positive or negative – at the time it’s relevant, preferably no later than at a weekly check-in. Most importantly, it also means ‘coaching’ your employees. This involves engaging in a two-way dialogue where you listen to their concerns and encourage them to speak up about their challenges and goals. There’s no need to save them up for one every six months, or once a year for a performance review.

Coaching in the time of COVID

A lot of employers already understand this but some have let coaching slide during the pandemic. Others have struggled to take it online. However, this really is when we need it most and technology has actually made it easier than ever to build a coaching culture in your organisation. Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft teams let you meet with employees distraction-free whenever you need to. Moreover, the idea of people being away from the office actually makes it more important (and efficient) to schedule ongoing, regular catchups. By checking in and having regular catch-ups, you’re keeping people engaged with the workplace and their careers. That helps keep morale and productivity high and your business churning along. So if your team is working remotely or you’re running on the hybrid model, schedule a weekly half-hour meeting with every team member and ditch the big performance review. Use it to coach and guide them, keep them engaged and, most importantly, listen to their concerns and aspirations.

What to discuss when you’re coaching employees

Instead of using the performance review to hand out brickbats and bouquets, the coaching approach should centre on four big ideas:

1. Giving people leeway to make mistakes. Use your weekly catch up to find ways people can take on new challenges. Focus on productivity and give them the autonomy to do the task the way they want to (within reason, of course). Just make sure you also offer adequate support.

2. Taking calculated risks. Encourage people out of their comfort zones and stretch them. Just don’t push them beyond their capabilities.

3. Having honest conversations. If you’re not prepared to let them take on work they want to, or if you can’t address their concerns, let them know why.

4. Asking questions. Try to understand what motivates people and where they want to be in their careers. Inspiring and motivating people begins with understanding what makes them tick.

The benefits of the coaching approach vs performance reviews

Once you step beyond the traditional performance review model and move towards a coaching-based model, you’ll potentially open up so many benefits for your business, including:

1. Empowered employees

You’ll give employees the opportunity to align their work with their own private and professional goals. This is likely to mean they’re capable of taking on more responsibility as well as more complex challenges – something that has the potential to deliver real benefits to your business. It lets you set and review goals more frequently, giving your employees the opportunity to stretch themselves and build the skills they’ll need to advance their careers more quickly.

2. More accurate insights into employee performance

Coaching helps remove subconscious bias. As long as five years ago, McKinsey research revealed companies that have ditched the traditional performance review for the ongoing coaching model have access to a more rational, less subjective analysis of employee performance. This even includes automating many measures of performance that were traditionally undertaken through more subjective human assessment. It also includes using apps to collect exact data on how an employee performs.

“By getting rid of bureaucratic annual-review processes—and the behaviour related to them—companies can focus on getting much higher levels of performance out of many more of their employees,” McKinsey notes.

3. Better staff retention

A coaching-based approach lets employees have their ideas heard regularly. And that’s key to helping them know they’re a valued member of your team. Studies show that valued employees are also more likely to be more engaged and therefore more loyal employees – vital at a time when the war for talent is intensifying. Not only does that mean you’re more likely to hold onto key talent, but you’ll also incur less in staff turnover costs.

4. More efficient

Believe it or not, regular ongoing coaching will actually save you time and money compared with a traditional performance review. After all, you’ll cut down on all the unnecessary admin that comes with a performance appraisal.

Want more?

We have a wealth of experience helping businesses like yours build a coaching-based model into everything they do. If you’d like to know more, get in touch.


Staff surveys were once commonplace. However, in an age of big data and automation, they’re no longer standard in many workplaces. We think there are real advantages to going back to basics and asking employees what they think of your workplace and how you could improve it. Here are the five key benefits we think you’ll see from staff surveys.

1. Better staff retention

The war for talent is taking off and it’s harder than ever to retain good employees. An anonymous survey can go someway to helping you overcome that problem. A survey be a great way to find out exactly what your employees intend to do with their careers. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, two senior members of Facebook’s analytics’ team argued that surveys were a surprisingly accurate way to discover how long employees intend to stay with you – and were actually much better than other, more organic ways of trying to track this.

The authors also revealed employees who don’t complete the survey can also be an important source of information. After all, they’re 2.6 times more likely to leave in the next six months than an employee who filled it out.

2. Increased trust

Good employers know that trust is a two-way street. Receiving and taking on board employees’ feedback is just as important as giving it the other way. By giving employees a forum for communicating their ideas while telling you what they really think, you’re creating the kind of environment for trust to grow. That’s one of the things a good staff survey can do.

3. Insights into your business

As a manager or business owner, you don’t ever see everything that goes on in your organisation. Your employees can be the best source of information on what’s happening ‘at the coal face’. By having the opportunity to comment on what’s working and what’s not, they could well be giving you the information you need to refine and improve your processes so that you build a better, more efficient business.

4. Improved morale

When you ask employees to complete a survey, you’re empowering them to have a voice. That in itself can be great for morale, which, in turn, is great for productivity. In the HBR example cited above, Facebook found that 95% of employees completed their workplace surveys. As many as 61% went the extra mile, leaving their own feedback and suggestions rather than simply filling in the numbers or rating their satisfaction. That shows just how engaged with the process employees can be. What’s more, if you show that you’re taking on board the feedback and acting on it, you have one of the foundations you need to create a truly great workplace culture. And great workplace culture is always the foundation for a great business.

5. Identifying small problems before they become big ones

One of the most powerful ways a survey can help your business is that it lets you see trends or ways of thinking so that you can gauge the mood of the group. You can see firsthand if people are dissatisfied or if something’s not working. You can also often identify problems you didn’t know existed and stop them from becoming much bigger ones.

In short, if you make staff surveys a regular part of your HR process, you give yourself the opportunity to run regular health checks on your business and give yourself a vital tool in ensuring you stay on course.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about conducting a staff survey at your workplace, get in touch.

It is hard to stay motivated in uncertain times, and there has rarely been a more uncertain time than this. We look at how you can keep your staff productive and engaged through COVID-19.

By its very nature, business is uncertain. Conditions can change, technological disruption can happen and, as we’ve found out over the past 18 months, a one-in-100 year pandemic can occur. 

The uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has been like nothing most people have experienced in their lives. Restrictions have forced us out of the office, the way we’re working has changed and some of us haven’t been able to work at all. Meanwhile, many careers have been put on hold and the connections that we took for granted in the workplace have disappeared. All of this can reduce morale and become very demotivating for staff. 

So if you’ve noticed your people becoming demotivated, lethargic and unproductive in the face of this uncertainty, here’s what you can do. 

1. Be upfront

One of the worst things you can do as an employer is to pretend it’s all ‘business as usual’. Sweeping things under the carpet and expecting people just to keep going is likely to have the reverse effect, causing many to become disillusioned and disengaged

You need to acknowledge that your people are likely to be fearful and that this is a normal reaction in times like these. So let employees have their say and provide the space for them to voice their concerns. 

Just remember, that you also need to acknowledge that there are many things outside of your control and, while you’ll do your best you can’t guarantee everything. 

2. Ask for feedback (and act on it where you can)

If you want people to stay motivated and keep getting their work done ask them how you can help facilitate this, especially with so many of us working from home. These aren’t normal times and, to some extent, you still need to be prepared to allow people some space to process what’s happening. 

Find out what they would like to help get their work done and what you can offer them to make it happen. That might be something like allowing extra autonomy, providing better tech support, moving meetings to different hours or allowing earlier or later starts.  

3. Control the controllables

While you can’t control everything, you can control some things. You can probably also adjust some of these to help your employees stay motivated. For instance, letting people work different hours, readjusting meeting time to take account of people’s lives or focusing on productivity rather than time spent at the desk, can all help people stay engaged. 

Alternatively, now that we’re returning to the office, allowing people to continue to work from home a few days a week could help people stay positive. 

4. Check in

One of the most important ways to stay motivated is simply to check in regularly. After all, with little water cooler conversation happening right now, we’re missing many of those little interactions where we talk about things other than work. If people are at home, you could arrange a Zoom chat once a week or every other day, where interacting comes first and work second. If you’re back in the office, you could make this face-to-face. Just five minutes can help you feel as though you’re working on the same page and towards the same goals.

5. Keep up the social side

For many people, the social side of working for a team is the best part of it and COVID-19 has largely taken this away. That can be a major demotivator. So do what you can to keep this alive. If your people are working from home, why not arrange a weekly Zoom call for your group where you talk about things. If you’re back in the office, make sure you keep that Friday (or Thursday) drinks going – at least to the extent you can within COVID restrictions. You could even hold virtual trivia nights or other games nights, just to keep up the fun and remind people that they’re part of a good team. 

Read more about how to how to keep workplace culture when working from home.

6. Let them in

No one wants to be working towards a goal and then have it pulled from under them. Few things are more demotivating than constant surprises. In uncertain times, one of the best ways to keep employees motivated is simply to let them know what you’re thinking and where you’re headed. Share your business strategy with them, so they know the bigger picture. Let them know why you’re doing things the way you are and how you intend to do them going forward. The worst thing you can do is to allow unnecessary ambiguity because people will fill that space with their fears.

Read more about keeping employees motivated.

Want more? 

With so much uncertainty, it’s little wonder that people are unmotivated right now but there is something you can do to make it better. If you’d like to know more about what your organisation can do, get in touch.