Oh no, Have I done something wrong?!?

- March 14, 2013 2 MIN READ

I don’t want to be fatalistic or a scaremonger, BUT you know that you are doing at least something wrong in your business, don’t you? Sure, you are the “ideas person”, the driver of your enterprise and proud of the fact that out of nothing, you have made something pretty special. You are even providing others with opportunities to make money along-side or as a consequence of what you are doing, and have an employee or three hovering in the wings, starting as a “casual” or a “contractor” for now, being paid in sweat equity or when the next big invoice comes in, or on a “trial” basis until you decide that they are worthy of a paid position.

Some readers will have cringed at the above paragraph thinking “oh no, have I done something wrong?”. Other readers might be feeling a little smug because they have jumped straight to engaging permanent employees on clear contracts and know that they are doing better than most in compliance terms. Regardless, I guarantee all readers that, should I peer into their employment governance systems, I will find something that they are doing wrong.

This is not bragging, nor is it a judgemental statement that only lawyers know how to do things properly. Fact is, there are specialist lawyers in employment law for a reason – there is so much to know, so many frequent changes in the various laws that will impact on existing and future relationships, and so many expectations held by the various regulators who will look carefully into your business to ensure you are compliant (like the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Tax Office, Departments of State Revenue, WorkCover, the Anti-Discrimination Board). Even with an in-house lawyer as your first employee, engaged specifically to ensure that you comply with every single relevant law or regulation, there are going to be gaps.

This is actually not as dire as it all sounds – as you can have a personal road crossing assistant hired specifically to ensure that you cross the road whilst using all caution, and risk will still exist. It is a well-intentioned prod for all employers to take control of their responsibilities and actively seek out knowledge to help them stay on the right side of the law – every little bit helps, and it is almost like showing the working in a maths exam – you might not get the answer 100% correct, but you can still get some good marks for trying and getting the process almost right.

In terms of basic obligations as an employer, there are some great resources for employers on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s site –www.fairwork.gov.au. I especially recommend that everyone check out the self-audit checklist, and where red flags jump out at you (for instance, “what is a Modern Award?”) then at least you know a good place to start – so get started!