June 28, 2021

Disruption: Workplace Clarity

COVID has, and continues to, disrupt workplaces around the world. Employment and workplace laws have adapted to consider new and unprecedented circumstances. Meanwhile, it’s the companies and employees at the coalface (pardon the pun) who have had to navigate and comply with changing government requirements, all while managing employee workplace health and safety issues alongside productivity and operational viability.

Within this context of ongoing disruption and workplace health and safety, it is critical for workplaces to have clear policies and procedures in place and, importantly, to communicate them to their employees.

Here, I have highlighted three key areas that will be of particular importance for employers (and their employees) in the mining and resources sector.

1: Workforce vaccinations
While vaccinations in Queensland are currently only compulsory for those working with positive COVID-19 patients and as recently announced, aged care workers from mid-September 2021, they remain voluntary for the rest of the workforce. The situation is very much in a state of flux, meaning both employers and employees need to remain abreast of new government directives and health orders.

In my recent article on workforce vaccination in the mining and resources sector, I explored a range of possible scenarios in the context of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and how these might play out for employers.

While it’s unlikely vaccination will become mandatory for all workers, as some employees have sound medical reasons that prevent it, employers will be well advised to implement proactive measures and incentives that encourage voluntary vaccinations. This is important when considering the wider implications of potential shutdowns and community outbreaks, as well as the risk to employees entering possible COVID hot spots or conversely, employees introducing COVID to the workplace or a community.

Unclear policies and procedures around COVID testing and illness that result in confusion or wrong-doing (even inadvertently) could result in significant setbacks in terms of operational shut downs, possible workplace health and safety breaches and resulting consequences, and of course, negative PR should your business be involved in an outbreak event or a breach of COVID protocols.

2: Travel restrictions
As we’ve witnessed over the past 18 months, government mandated lock downs are imposed swiftly and can be unpredictable in terms of their duration and the range of permissible activities. Exemptions can sometimes be granted for critical FIFO workers, however quarantine is usually still a requirement. Where workers are able to fulfill their duties from home, technology can help ameliorate some of the impact to a business.

Preparing for the likelihood of ongoing disruption should involve a robust review of HR policies and employment agreements to take into account situations such as working from home, working altered hours, changes in duties, childcare or home-schooling arrangements and the possible impact of border closures.

Again, policy and procedural clarity is key to effectively managing your workforce and averting confusion and potential contravention of laws that can lead to unfair practices that can escalate to time consuming and costly disputes and legal consequences.

3: Leave arrangements
Along with thoughtful and flexible policies, employment agreements will likely need amendments or redrafting to take into account extra paid or unpaid personal leave and other leave options, which may be governed by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or a Modern Award. Importantly, employers cannot force employees to sign new or amended employment agreements, so cooperation is key. Provisions for quarantine leave, stand down or lock down leave are not currently governed by the Act.

This may also interact with working from home requirements, obligations, and responsibilities laid out elsewhere in the employment agreement.

Each of these issues involves some degree of uncertainty, as well as complexities that are unique to the mining and resources industry. It’s therefore important to clarify these matters to avoid unnecessary confusion, unfair practices and contravention of the law to avert any possible legal actions, while acting in the best interests of your team and the community in which you operate.

Next steps
If you are concerned that your procedures and policies are out of step with new and evolving workplace matters, at the very least you should check the date they were last reviewed. If they predate 2019, they will not include COVID provisions.

That’s not to say all your procedures, policies or employment agreements require redrafting, but it is likely they’ll need amendments that bring them into line with current and emerging circumstances and changes in legislation.

A business, company, mining professional or executive who chooses to ignore COVID issues, fails to act on advice and make the necessary changes, will at best fall behind their competitors and peers in adapting and remaining efficient and competitive in changing workplaces and legal compliance, and at worst (even if unintentional) may breach government policy or the law.

Naturally, avoiding the consequences of being shut down and/or substantial fines, rectification costs or legal action, is to be proactive. To find out more, please contact Robert Lamb on +61 (0) 7 3007 2000 or email contact@resourcesunearthed.com.au

Resources Unearthed is a solutions hub that provides integrated financial, legal, property, accounting and business advisory services for executives, professionals and business owners in the mining and resources sectors.

The information in this article is intended only to provide a general overview and has not been prepared with a view to any particular situation or set of circumstances. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. While we attempt to ensure the information is current and accurate, we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the information in this blog as it may not be appropriate for your individual circumstances.

Further Reading
To read other articles in our Disruption drives change series please click the links below:

Shoring up your business future by Craig Barry, Accountant, Tax Specialist and Business Advisor
Where there’s advice there’s a way by James Marshall, Financial Planner and ESS Specialist


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