Brett Feltham, Gadens
Brett Feltham, Gadens

Mitigating the risk of casual employees being deemed permanent is a "major issue" many HR professionals are grappling with, and it should be their top priority this year, a lawyer says.

In the aftermath of last year's WorkPac v Skene ruling, in which a worker engaged as a casual was found to have permanent employee entitlements, the Federal Government introduced new regulations to prevent "double dipping".

This is positive news because "it gives us a fix", but HR professionals need to understand how to ensure that fix works from a business perspective, Gadens partner Brett Feltham tells an HR Daily Premium webcast.

This includes carefully considering the proper classification of employees from the outset, and keeping in mind that this can change over time.

"So you need to constantly monitor the casual workforce, and recognise that there may be a point where some long-term casuals actually become employed on a more regular and systematic basis, and that in fact what should happen is they should change from casual to part time," Feltham says.

HR professionals also need to review and amend existing casual employment contracts to allow them to use the offset provisions in the new regulations, he adds.

"If you've got a significant casual workforce, I would be attacking this issue pretty promptly."

Feltham highlights other areas that need HR's urgent attention:

  • Modern slavery legislation – there's a misapprehension among many HR professionals that this does not apply to their organisation, when it is "certainly an HR issue".

    The Modern Slavery Act requires entities with annual consolidated revenue of at least $100 million to submit an annual modern slavery statement, but any organisation providing products or services to such a company might be required to supply it with information that demonstrates it isn't engaged in modern slavery.

    "So you might not, strictly speaking, have to do a statement but you may have to have input into the information that goes into someone else's statement," Feltham says;

  • Proposed whistleblowing legislation – the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018 passed through the Senate in December, and is due to be heard in the House of Representatives this month.

    While the reforms are not yet law, they are expected to pass, with the potential to commence in July, so Feltham says HR professionals need to be prepared to ensure employees are aware of their rights and that senior managers and officers know what to do if someone makes a complaint;

  • Labour hire licensing – currently, Queensland is the only state with licensing laws in effect, but schemes are slated for other jurisdictions, and the Federal Labor party has announced its intention to introduce a national regime.

    Some HR professionals might consider this isn't relevant to them, but, "it is absolutely relevant to you if you use the services of a labour hire provider, because... you are going to be required to ensure that you're actually dealing with someone who is effectively registered".

Feltham delves deeper into these areas in the full webcast, also discussing the rise of employment-related class actions, developments in the gig economy, the workplace sexual harassment inquiry, and more – upgrade here if you're not already a premium member.