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Providing hints, tips and ideas that help you maintain high performing workplaces that are customer focussed and free of conflict

4 steps for managing your independent contractor risks

Rae Phillips - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do you engage independent contractors at your place? For many of us, this is a perfect way to access skills and knowledge you need in the business on a short term basis. There are also risks - here are 4 steps for managing your independent contractor risks.

1.  Consider the relationship 

Before engaging any independent contractors,you need to consider the type of relationship you want to create. 

Ask yourself, why am I engaging this particular employee? What type of work will they be doing? What role are they filling? What gap are they plugging? How long do you need them for? Do I need someone with specialised skills or knowledge? And, can we do the work in-house?

2. Draft the contract carefully

It is critical that you get advice on what  the independent contractors contract should – and shouldn't – contain.

The contract must reflect the relationship with the worker and the organisation and be clear about the expectations, roles, and interaction that they will have. It must also be clear that the worker is not a direct employee.

3. Know your obligations 

There are often obligations that apply to workers even though they're not employees. For example, the work health and safety laws, which apply in all states bar WA and Victoria extend health and safety obligations beyond the traditional employee/employer relationships to all workers onsite.

4. Keep an eye on things 

When the work arrangements are in place, you must regularly check that the relationship is still the one you intended to create, and hasn't changed over time. 

Many of the issues we see in this situation is that the nature of the relationship changes over time, this could mean that you have an independent contractor working with you who can be deemed as an employee. 

The implications of getting independent contractor arrangements wrong are far reaching. You can very easily become vicariously liable if a person who you consider to be an independent contractor was found to be an employee and then have a range of entitlements that you may have to pay out. There's penalties that can be imposed [and] tax implications. It's far and wide.

Is this something that could be helpful at your place? Contact Inspire Success for further information             Inspire Success is all about making HR SIMPLE - no matter what size your business is.

Our favourite ways to introduce flexible work practices

Rae Phillips - Saturday, April 12, 2014

Improving employee engagement will improve productivity and profit at your place. One of the things we can do to help is to make sure our workplaces provide flexibility. Flexibility at work means different things to different people, so have a look at this list of our favourites:

Job-share: When two or more people share the responsibilities, hours, salary and benefits of one full-time job.

Part-time: When an employee works less than full-time capacity and has reasonably predictable hours of work. They receive the same entitlements as a full-time employee but on a pro rata basis.

Employee-choice rostering: This allows employees to elect or choose shifts on a permanent or rotating basis that best suits their caring responsibilities.

Working from home: Involves employees working away from the office, usually at home. It can occur on a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent basis.

Flexible working hours: When a set number of hours per week or month are determined with flexibility about when they are achieved.

Hours’ bank: Additional hours may be worked and stored in a ‘bank’ for quieter periods.

Annualised working hours: Involves rearranging the hours that staff work throughout the year to meet seasonal or fluctuating workloads. These hours are paid at a standardised weekly rate, even though the hours actually worked may vary during the year.

Compressed workweek: Usually involves working full-time hours over fewer days. For example, 3 38 hour x 5 day week may be worked over 4 days.

Seasonal start and finish time: Usually applicable to outdoors industries – summer work starts at dawn and finishes early while winter work starts later.

Purchased annual leave: Enables an employee to purchase additional leave during the course of the year. That means an employee would receive an additional 4 weeks’ paid leave per year as the employee’s 48-week salary is paid over 52 weeks. This can also work on 2- or 6-week purchase plan.

Extended unpaid leave: When an employee has exhausted their leave entitlements but still requires more time off. Additional leave days are granted without pay or loss of job and are usually for short periods.

Make up time: Where time away from work is made up at another time, usually within close proximity to the occurrence. No pay changes occur as a result

Change travel and overnight stays: When travel is reduced or timings changed to accommodate employee requirements, e.g. they do not have to travel during school holidays.

Sabbaticals: This is an extended period away from work to pursue study or other development activities. Some employers pay employees while on sabbatical, while others do not pay but allow the time away.

Is this something that could be helpful at your place? Contact Inspire Success for further information            Inspire Success is all about making HR SIMPLE - no matter what size your business is. 

Thanks to 

Charles Power of the 

Employment Law Practical Handbook for many of these ideas.

Benefits for Small Businesses of Outsourcing your HR

Rae Phillips - Monday, April 07, 2014
Small business owners might think that outsourcing HR functions only benefits large companies. The perception is that outsourcing is designed to help only these larger operations streamline their business functions and cut down on costs. But in today’s economy, there is an increasing need for small businesses to consider the financial and other potential practical benefits of outsourcing human resource functions to a trusted provider.

Some of the advantages of small business HR outsourcing may include:

1. The ability to focus on business productivity: Instead of spending time handling routine administrative tasks, employers can focus on more strategic functions of the business that can have greater rates of return.

2. An enterprise-class solution: Small businesses may be able to enjoy enterprise-class benefits from HR outsourcing, which can help them save costs and compete more effectively with other small businesses and their larger counterparts.

3. Access to latest technology at a manageable cost: Growing enterprises may have minimal resources to invest in infrastructure and state-of-the-art equipment to run their businesses. With an outside expert running some of the functions, businesses may enjoy better technological systems without necessarily having to own them. This may help cut down on their operating costs.

4. Help with compliance: This is one area where many small businesses struggle to keep up, especially with the changing laws pertaining to hiring and firing, insurance and bullying claims, work health and safety and payroll, penalty and overtime requirements. The greatest challenge is that failure to comply can lead to serious financial consequences. Outsourcing HR functions to a trusted provider can help business owners understand and take action to comply with these laws and regulations.

When you’re ready to outsource HR functions, consider a company’s experience, “How long have they provided these services, and for how many businesses?”, their financial stability, “Is their financial information a matter of public record?”, and do they offer personal service, “Can I work with an HR professional on-site?”, "Can I call them only when I need them?"

Is this something that could be an issue at your place? Inspire Success is all about making HR SIMPLE - no matter what size your business is. Contact Inspire Success for further information 

Finding the right talent for your place

Rae Phillips - Saturday, March 22, 2014

Recruitment can be expensive and time consuming but choosing the right employees for your organisation is essential for your success. Recruiting the wrong people for your organisation can lead to increased staff turnover, increased costs for the organisation, and lowering of morale in your existing workforce. 

Therefore, your recruitment and selection processes need to be efficient and well managed. Here, we look at recruitment and selection from the start - deciding on the recruitment criteria, where to advertise, what questions to ask and then selection through evaluation forms.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

1. Create a position description for the role:  This is the most critical part of your recruitment and selection process!

Here you evaluate the need for the position so that you don't recruit just for the sake of it. What do you really need the role to do? Why not ask the others in the team? Get a list of tasks drawn up and then group them into areas of responsibility.

Ask the team to highlight the tasks that are done daily, weekly, monthly. Cross check them with other roles so that there is support but not double ups.

How are you going to measure if the person in the role does a good job? What will the key results areas be? Quality - how well the job is done; Quantity - how many of the gadgets are made; Time - how long it takes to get the job done.

At this point, decide who in the team can help you with the interview process. A peer in the interview helps to settle the candidate and gives a different perspective to yours.

2. Identify the key recruitment criteria:- .

Now that you know what needs to be done, we need to work out what skills, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes are needed for the position. What is essential for the role (a qualification, previous work on the same type of machine, ability to work weekends) and what is nice to have (previous experience, additional training.)

The key recruitment criteria are actually your ideal person specification. If you get everything on the list, your spec has been filled, that's why its important to decide what you are prepared to 'miss out' on if necessary. You can always train for skills and knowledge, but a bad attitude is always a bad attitude.

3. Decide where to advertise:

There are a lot of options open to you when advertising, but the key is always to remember who your audience are. Where does your ideal candidate look for work? If the answer is in the newspaper on Saturdays, then advertise there - but there are many other options that are quicker, cost less and are more effective. Here are some ideas. Remember, to find good people in this employment environment you have to stand out and be innovative:

ONLINE - look for industry or regional job boards. Google the role name and see where similar positions are advertised, get some hints from there.

OFFLINE - try the places people go to get relevant qualifications, or where they hang out. Put signs up, create postcards with the vacancy on them and hand them out.

4. Develop the Interview Questions:

If you interview without a standard set of questions you are setting yourself up for failure. You cant compare candidates fairly if you ask them different questions or they experience a different type of interview. You also cant provide evidence for your recruitment decisions if you dont make notes for each part of the process.

Take the key recruitment criteria you started with and form questions relating to each one. Your first interview would include some questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate (or not!) their skills and experience in each of these recruitment criteria. Behaviourally based questions are the best way to make this assessment (Tell me about a time when…). The second interview would include questions that enable you to explore these areas further or allow someone else in the team to get involved and give feedback on how they would fit in.

5. Create your Evaluation process:

Evaluation should also be developed around the recruitment criteria to ensure that you are getting feedback from the interviewers and referees that is consistent with the areas that are most important to you in the role. An evaluation form for each candidate allows you to score how well they rated in each of the criteria and end up with a number. Its much easier to make objective decisions when you have a score to bring you back!

For example, if technical skills are important these can be verified through interview questions, reference checking, and/or through skill testing. Psychometric testing is another option that you may choose to use and have aligned with your key recruiting criteria. 

The beauty of this approach is that once the candidate is employed, they can see the relevance of the selection process to the position they now hold, as evidenced by the position description that they will receive. It closes the loop on the recruitment life cycle and then sets up the performance management process for the employee as they progress in their new role.

These 5 steps are critical to creating your bespoke recruitment process, designed specifically to attract and select great applicants into your business.

Is this something that could be an issue at your place? Inspire Success is all about making HR SIMPLE - no matter what size your business is. Contact Inspire Success for further information 

Top 10 tips to minimise risk at your work party

Rae Phillips - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Whether you love it or dread it the holiday season is here. Shops are decorated, Christmas tunes are playing, turkeys are plentiful, and the kids are making their lists for Santa Claus. Your work Christmas party is booked, the time and date highlighted in your employees’ diaries. It’s a time for everyone to have some fun together, to celebrate the end of a year and get ready to welcome in a new one together.  You want your team to enjoy themselves and the party to be a relaxed and enjoyable get together. However, a relaxed and sociable environment mixed with alcohol means that there is an increased chance of risky and/or inappropriate behaviour, which you, the employer will be held liable for, even if the event is not held on work premises.


The obligations of employers serving alcohol falling into four key areas:

  • Duty of care - encompassing a common law duty to provide a safe workplace;
  • Sexual harassment - while not isolated to functions, this is "obviously an area that is exacerbated by drug and alcohol taking", and is the biggest area of risk at end-of-year celebrations, Connolly says;
  • Occupational health and safety - "Under OHS legislation an employer has very serious and primary obligations to ensure the health and safety of employees (and others), and excessive consumption of alcohol and/or drug taking can have a direct impact upon that obligation"; and
  • Workers' compensation - "If there's an incident at a work function, it will be work related and workers' compensation will be applicable, which has a direct impact upon premiums but most importantly the expense, cost and time of having to rehabilitate an injured worker."

In most legal contexts, the Christmas party (and any work function) will be considered as part of the 'workplace' even when not on the work premises. As such, all the duties and obligations of the employer that apply in the office/workplace continue to apply for the duration of the function or party.

Here are our top 10 tips to minimise risk at your work party:

  1. Ensure all your HR and Work, health and safety policies are up to date – with particular focus on discrimination, bullying, harassment, workplace behaviour, alcohol and drug use. Ensure you have a clear grievance resolution procedure in the event that there is an incident at the party. Circulate these policies, discuss them at weekly team meetings, ensure the messages of these policies are clearly understood by all employees and any questions they may have answered. This will ensure your employees know what is expected of them in terms of behaviour at all times
  2. If using an offsite venue ensure it is inspected and deemed to be safe with clear emergency exits
  3. While alcohol is usually the norm at parties, have non-alcoholic drinks available also. Provide plenty of water so employees consuming alcohol can slow down the pace if required. When supplying/serving alcohol ensure normal responsible service of alcohol standards are adhered to.
  4. Do not allow any types of drinking games, high alcohol consumption prizes etc
  5. Food and plenty of it should be provided at the party
  6. Let your employees clearly know the start and finish times
  7. Consider providing transportation for employees after the party ends, like a mini-bus or Cabcharge vouchers (or at least inform employees of transport options available). Providing transportation is not obligatory for employers but can be a very effective risk minimisation measure
  8. Ensure responsible managers clearly understand substance abuse and alcohol policies and that they know to step in should any situation get out of control
  9. Check your insurance covers Christmas party activities
  10. Clearly advise employees beforehand that any festivities continuing after the Christmas party conclusion time are not endorsed by the employer and are on the employees’ own time.

With organisation and good preparation, you can ensure that it is a happy, safe and incident-free holiday season. Enjoy!

And if you have any issues - don't hesitate to contact Inspire Success - we are on call during the holiday season!

From Clerk to The Strategic Management of Productivity and Culture

Rae Phillips - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I just had a look at the Workplace Forecast Survey which has been conducted by the SHRM for a decade, providing insights to the trends in the US relating to workplace issues for human resources and business professionals. As one of these so called HR professionals, I find it interesting that the past couple of years has shown issues that are recurring and are not only issues for the US.

HR’s emerging role in an increasingly competitive and complex business environment.

Overwhelmingly, the workplace issues are relevant to us in Australia and relate to a more competitive business landscape and the rise of emerging economies; the impact of information and communication technologies and a more complex legal environment, with regular changes to the laws relating to employee rights and employer legal compliance. In addition, problems with finding skilled workers, the aging workforce and a greater demand for work life balance are not only issues in the US, but face us in our small, medium or large businesses in Australia and other countries around the world.

These issues are huge! How does a HR professional provide support to the business to address them? I started reflecting to when I started in this profession more than 20 years ago, when the core HR function was generally payroll and following up forms, and aside from those skills, the key recruiting criteria for HR staff were generally more aligned with the soft skills – making sure that the employees had someone to go to if they had a problem. Wow has it changed!

Ruing the DAY!

Over those years, I think it is interesting to see how the HR role has evolved. I remember during the start of the 1980’s when business was good and lunches were long, when everyone smoked (and drank, in my industry!) at work. The way to a promotion was to work long, hard hours, with little or no regard for penalties or overtime. In the late 1980’s we all hit a road block with the changing economy, the removal of the Training Guarantee and the float of the Aussie dollar, and had to provide support to the leaders in the business to downsize. Where did we cut? The middle of course! And hasn’t that proven to be one the biggest mistakes we made? For the past 15 years many of our businesses have struggled with inexperienced managers who just never got the support and leadership they needed during that time.

In hindsight, I would challenge any of my peers to suggest that we had the skills needed at the time to provide the right advice – just in time or strategic. We were in our roles because we could manage a payroll and were incredibly organised, not because we could ask insightful questions of the boss to assist (him) to make the right decisions for the business, that would help get it out of the current problems and then into a good position in the future.

So where have we moved to now?

As a member of AHRI, we have access to their myriad of resources and their information aligns with the SHRM and other reading I have done.

From what I see, the key skills required of HR professionals now relate to Change Management and developing Organisational Culture. There is no way you can now pick someone, off the workplace floor, so to speak, and give them the HR role. HR Professional means at least one degree, often double, post graduate study, often a Masters and regular top up training to keep up to date. The role has evolved into one of strategic business partner, and if your business doesn’t think of it this way, then there are many dangers lurking – you are wasting money on recruitment, on exit, setting your business up for all sorts of fines and penalties and most of all, not allowing your business or your people to grow to its/their full potential.

The businesses I see that truly do have a partnership approach have a sharp HR professional who is able to demonstrate significant value to the business. They understand the business, the industry and its ebbs and flows and have moved the function from administrative to strategic, helping the leader to shape the business and prepare for acquisitions.

Working with Skills Shortages in Multigenerational Workforces

 Around the world there are now more multigenerational workforces than ever before. On top of that, our workforces are multicultural and moving globally more than ever. It is a challenging task to support operational teams in their leadership and management of these teams, understanding the engagement element of work and how technology can underpin this.

As you know, technology now is cheaper than ever, easy to use and providing high performing solutions to so many businesses. For the HR professional of today, this has necessitated a review of most workplace functions and an analysis of what new roles and skills are required. This applies to all types of business, it is not only the problem of the big corporates – all business should be looking at how they can improve their competitiveness through technology and doing things differently. Your people are a big part of this.

So what about the Recruiting Piece?

Years ago, we would pay a fortune to put an ad in the paper, receive hundreds of applications by mail, sort them manually, call them to see if they would accept what you were paying and get them in for a free trial. This was carte blanche across industries and businesses. (We have seen that some businesses are still trying it on, but it doesn’t continue for long!)

Hasn’t this landscape changed? In our experience now, it is rare to use print media, those costs now reduced by 90%, we use many varied modes (mostly online) to source applicants and we are able to use technology to assist in the review and shortlisting process. There are now many more difficulties finding the right person, and because of the skills shortage, the process can take much longer. But I like to look at this from a different perspective. Instead of buying into this war for talent, and having to compete with salaries, sign on bonuses and the like, why not look at yourself as an employer? Focus on the reasons why someone would want to work at your place – build your employment brand, and offer compelling reasons to work with you. And there’s something else for the HR professional – be a marketer!

The ELEPHANT in the Human Resources Room....

What about retention I hear you ask? I see that more and more business is getting the whole concept around building a good place to work and making it easier for your people to want to stay.

What worries me here is that the pendulum is shifting in many industries to over compensating and providing too much to employees who just end up with higher expectations. The more you give the more they expect right? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that retention of your key employees is critical in maintaining balance in your team, keeping IP within your business, achieving outcomes for stakeholders and reducing costs relating to recruitment and training, but I would counter that we have to return to a position where employees and employers must regain an equal share of the responsibility for the employment relationship.

It is about meeting Profitability and Expectations within your Culture

A commercially sensible, mature HR Professional is critical in working with the operational teams to setting the expectations. This information is then used as part of the induction and on-boarding process to bring people into the team and the work quickly, without mistakes or accidents and in a way that the customer does not see a chink in the supply chain.

So now you are in the market for a sharp, highly educated and well-rounded HR Professional right? They understand how the current and potential economies will impact on your business and planning; they are switched on to the changing legal frameworks relating to work and workplaces and they look for ways that they can build the performance of the business, deliver on the priorities of and reduce the stress for the Boss and the senior team.

Moving forward 

We wonder how the HR role will further evolve? With our ongoing climate of change, we can only imagine that skills to assist in building, energising and engaging workplaces to adapt, will always be something that is critical. Our challenge will be finding those people to help our businesses!

Public Holidays and Penalties Christmas 2013

Rae Phillips - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

As an employee or employer, you need to know your entitlements and obligations for public holidays during the festive season. The following days are public holidays under the National Employment Standards:

  • Wednesday 25 December (Christmas Day)
  • Thursday 26 December (Boxing Day)
  • Wednesday 1 January (New Year’s Day).

Note: in South Australia part-day public holidays have been declared from 7pm - midnight on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

What do employees get on public holidays?

Casual employees aren’t entitled to be paid for a day off for a public holiday. Part-time and full-time employees who get the public holiday off are generally entitled to be paid their base rate of pay for the hours they would have ordinarily worked. For more information go to What employees get to make sure you understand your rights and obligations.

What’s the rate of pay for working on a public holiday?

Some employees are entitled to be paid a higher rate (penalty rates) when they work on a public holiday. Whether or not an employee is entitled to penalty rates depends on a number of things, including the industry and the job. Visit Finding the right pay for tools to help you calculate minimum wages and penalty rates.

Shop trading hours

It’s quite common for there to be restrictions on trading on some public holidays, such as Good Friday or Christmas. This is regulated by each state - see Shop trading hours on public holidays to find out where you can get more information

If you need help with any of this, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or Inspire Success.

Thanks to the Fair Work Ombudsman for this information

Shut downs and being on call over the holiday season

Rae Phillips - Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Does your business shut down over Christmas and New Year period? Many Modern Awards have clauses which allow the employer tell their employees to take annual leave when they shut down their business for a day or more. Employees do have an entitlement to public holidays during shutdown periods. You can ask your employees to take paid annual leave during a shut down if:

  • The relevant award or agreement allows it, or
  • Your business is not covered by an award or agreement.

If an employee does not have enough leave you can discuss with them the option of them taking unpaid leave or annual leave in advance. 

While Christmas can be a quiet time for many businesses you may want to keep things ticking without the need for employees to be on site for the full working day. Or you may need to have things in place so that if an emergency /incident occurs there is a procedure in place to manage it. A good way around this is to have employees on call. Taking advantage of technology can make this a handy option nowadays. Having your on call employees organised in advance of the Christmas shut down period means that any calls that come in can be managed quickly and efficiently without an employee having to sit in the office all day. If required, having employees on call ensures the best customer service for your clients.

How to pay employees on call:

A call-out allowance is payable to employees who are rostered to be on call. It is best to refer to the relevant award/agreement for the amount of the allowance. Fair Work Australia refer to it as an “Availability for Duty” rate. Where an employee is on availability duty, the employee must be paid availability for duty allowance of a % of the weekly standard rate per week and if required to work must be paid at the appropriate rate for actual time worked. Availability duty means that the employee concerned must be available to the employer by means of telephone at any time the employee is receiving the availability for duty allowance.

Further information on “availability for duty” allowances are available from Fair Work Australia or contact Inspire Success and we can advise you. 

3 things you can do to reduce your employment costs

Rae Phillips - Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Are you coming in to a challenging cash flow period at this time of the year? Is your biggest expense your staff? Are you thinking about restructuring your business and reducing your head count? Did you know you can implement some innovative cost saving ideas before you do that? 

Businesses wanting to survive and thrive in the new year recognise that losing staff now means they lose their competitive edge in the future. There are simple things you can do now that really make a difference to your bottom line.

Here are 3 things businesses are implementing NOW to reduce their people costs:

1. Review your staffing mix.

Do you need to have everyone set up as permanent? Why not consider a mixture of casual, part time, full time, limit term contracts and trainees? Does anyone want to take unpaid leave? You could save 20% of your wages cost by changing your 5 day workers to 4 days!

2. Reduce your liability.

Keep salaries down and look for compelling alternatives to pay rises. In this environment, staff are often prepared to negotiate. Limit salary increases and paid overtime. Defer or reduce bonus payments. Keep annual and long service leave accruals to the allowable minimums.

3. Focus on Retention.

What is unique about your workplace? Why should your team stay and help you succeed? Offer work practices that are flexible for both of you. Rework superannuation salary sacrifice arrangements to assist with their cash flow. You could reduce your wages cost by 10% if you work on 9 day fortnights for a fixed period!

Make it easy for your people to get on with work during this time. Talk to them more than you ever have before. Lasting relationships are built in hard times – this is true for your staff, your suppliers and your customers!

I challenge you to look from a different perspective and implement one or some of these strategies to prepare your business and team for great times to come. No one wants to let staff go, why not give these ideas a try before you get to that point?

NB: there are legal issues associated with changing employees terms and conditions. It is critical you research and plan before having conversations like this with your people. Contact Inspire Success on 1300 620 100 to talk through your situation.


Cyber bullying: Don't underestimate your obligations

Rae Phillips - Friday, October 04, 2013

When an employee is the victim of cyber bullying or abusive phone calls that originate outside of their employment, an employer shouldn't simply dismiss the affair as a "personal" problem, according to Ashurst lawyer Taboka Finn.

Finn says that if an employee is being stalked or abused via their work email address or phone line, an employer should be concerned, regardless of who the perpetrator is.

"The problem is, because it's somebody external to the workplace, an employer might conceive of the issue as a private matter or unrelated to the workplace."

Particularly if the perpetrator is known to police, and has no past or present connection with the workplace (for example as a client or employee) it might be tempting to consider it a police matter and stay out of it.

But an employer's duty to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks would still apply, she says.

Employers' health and safety obligations to employees are "interpreted and conceived broadly" by the law, Finn explains.

"They include things like, not just physical harm but emotional and psychosocial hazards, so I really think it's more prudent to treat this kind of situation as a workplace situation," she says.

"Employers should be aware that providing a work email and a computer system and access to the internet does have risks."

Email, online forums and social networks can all be used to harass employees, she notes.

When to involve the police

If harassment escalates to threatening or stalking "it may step into the criminal sphere", Finn says.

There are some grey areas in deciding when to involve the police, but if threats are made and the employer knows about it, action is required.

"If there are threats and the person believes those are legitimate or true or have some feeling that they might happen, then that's not a grey area anymore; that's a police area," she says.

"I suppose the grey area would be more if somebody's just emailing calling you a 'dumb bitch' all the time - it's not really a criminal issue but it still can raise other OHS aspects for employers, because they've also got a duty to look after their employees' health and wellbeing.

"Your domestic violence and your family violence situations are where it gets a bit murky, because there's a tendency to perceive them as private," Finn says.

"I think, as a general rule of thumb, if you know about it, you should take appropriate action.

"With family violence situations there's going to be more of a level of sensitivity, you've got to respect your employees' privacy - but at the same time, the same rules apply: don't ignore it, act swiftly, act appropriately, make sure support mechanisms are in place, and where appropriate, refer it on to the police."

Even if an employee begs their employer to stay out of it, the employer might want to think twice, she says.

"You've got a duty to monitor your employees' health and wellbeing. So long as you're complying with that obligation and doing what you can to make sure your systems aren't being used to make it worse, I guess there's no obligation to report to the police." But if the situation involves serious threats of violence, it might be prudent to report it anyway.

"If it were serious threats to violence, that exposes you... if somebody is physically assaulted or seriously injured physically, you could be liable if that's a result of your non-compliance with OHS obligations."

The employer might be able to prove they were asked to stay out of it, but "I don't think it would get you very far", Finn says.

Once the police are involved, employers should follow their lead. But they shouldn't consider the problem solved.

"Continue to be mindful of [your] usual obligations... make sure you monitor your employees' health and wellbeing, and take steps to support [them].

"This doesn't mean employers should be intensely questioning or monitoring everything that the employee does," Finn adds.

"I think that would be taking it too far. Some of these matters are personal and people want to keep it out of the workplace and that's their right."

Prevention of this kind of stalking or harassment is problematic - "because we all use email so much, it's hard to control all external factors" - so the real issue is keeping an eye on things and being willing to take action if problems arise, Finn says.

Even so, employers should at least ensure that workers connected to the internet are aware of the risks presented by email, online forums and the like.

If problems arise, employers might be able to assist a worker practically by blocking certain emails or changing their contact details.

"It's also important to provide access to support for employees who have been harassed or received inappropriate emails," for example, via an EAP, Finn says.

It goes without saying that taking action against someone who is a victim of external harassment - for example, sacking them under the guise of poor performance to get rid of the problem - would be a mistake, and could lead to legal action, she adds.

"I certainly think victimising a person for having this kind of situation arise in the workplace would be inappropriate."

(May 2013, hrdaily)

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