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People Matter September 2017

The place of employment references in SME businesses. 

Let’s face it, we all ask potential new staff members for a reference. However, when it comes to giving a reference for a past employee, a business does need to be aware its obligations and risks.

Providing a fair and accurate assessment of an employee should be foremost in the mind of the referee. It may be tempting to give a past colleague a glowing report but if the report is inaccurate there is potential to leave the business exposed. The same can be said for a maliciously negative or damaging reference that cannot be supported by objective evidence.

A question arises as to whether a reference is a right of current or past employees. In general, employers are entitled to exercise an option not to provide a reference. This approach by-passes either providing a false-positive or negative reference and potential liability to the worker or potential employer. There are only limited circumstances where an employer is obliged to provide a reference. Generally, where a worker, in the absence of a reference, is unlikely to find employment, the courts may rule that the right to a reference is implied.

Before providing a reference ensure:

  • Statements either positive or negative can be supported by examples
  • Use neutral comments where necessary; thus allowing the interviewer to form their view
  • Consider omission rather than providing false-positives
  • Avoid any response where worker safety may be at risk
  • Remember that you too expect accurate references
  • Provide good judgment and accurate information, do not hype, exaggerate or denigrate a former employee when the reference call is put through.

Follow these simple tips to minimise business exposure and avoid potential problems.

How good is your onboarding

According to some sources, a total of $A47bn is lost annually in the UK and US on unproductive employees who don’t understand their job. After a quick online search of poor onboarding, it’s easy to see why. We came across one lady describing how, when she arrived at her desk on her first day, she was immediately told to visit HR to sort out paperwork… in a different building. When she got there, they didn’t even have her name on file!

One employee stated how they were escorted to their desk without being introduced to anyone or shown around. Another described an onboarding session consisting of the owner talking non-stop about themselves – for eight hours.

For a meaningful employer-employee relationship, it’s important to take time to settle new starters. And don’t forget to tell them what their job is! Need help with onboarding? Give us a call.

Tidy desktop, Tidy mind 

Let’s consider clearing out our digital space. Do you have spreadsheets gathering cobwebs on your hard-drive? Are your Microsoft Windows in more need of a clean than the windows of your premises? Maybe your computer desktop is cluttered beyond belief with files? One way to dust your digital space down is to switch your HR files to our neat and tidy HR Dept PeopleHub and PayHub. This cloud-based system intuitively sorts out much of your HR admin, freeing you up to deal with other things.

Catching out the great Australian tradition of the “sickie” 

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) recently ruled that a former employee of Tassal, who was terminated for calling in sick after drinking too much alcohol on Anzac Day, be awarded more than $8,000. FWC found the termination was valid however she was treated harshly, resulting in the settlement.

Possibly there has been no more famous excuse for a sickie than after Australia won the Americas Cup in 1983, then Prime Minister Bob Hawke said, “any boss who sacks a worker for taking the day off tomorrow is a bum”. It’s uncertain how many people relied on this as a defence.

Some may recall this, again from the 1980s. A man requested and was granted time off to attend his grandmother’s funeral. The problem came about the next day when his picture, in a rowdy state with several mates, appeared on the front cover of The Telegraph. His boss was most surprised but not as much as his very much alive grandmother who was heard to quote Mark Twain saying “Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated”.

Now it’s social media catching people out too. A barman who took two sick days around New Year’s Eve was sacked after the boss saw a Facebook photo of him celebrating the occasion. Or Sydney call centre worker Kyle Doyle who made headlines after his boss caught him bragging on Facebook about chucking a sickie, with an email exchange between the two going viral.

However, amusing as these anecdotes may be, the reality is that the great Australian Sickie is extremely disruptive for the business and unfair on the other staff that have to pick up the extra workload. While there are no reliable statistics on unjustified “sickies” overall employee absenteeism is estimated to cost the Australian economy $33 billion in lost productivity.

Most people who ask for time off when sick have a genuine need, however, the introduction of return to work sickness interviews and measuring tools, as well as training managers on how to use them, can lead to a significant improvement in reducing “sickies”.

Workplace Body Language – Recognising Stress

Alan Pease is Australia’s definitive body language expert; writing numerous books and giving many an introduction to the science of Body Language.

There are some staples that everyone can pick up on. Eye contact, fidgeting and a favourite, the handshake: the power-projecting crusher grip, the wishy-washy dead fish or the intimate double hander.

Body language cues can help managers in other ways. Some can give you an indication that staff are suffering from stress, even if they won’t tell you directly.

An eyelid twitch, hair loss and changes such as acne or recurring illness, can all be signs of underlying stress. Notice them early and you could intervene before an employee reaches breaking point, thus reducing their suffering and disruption to your business. Many of these warning signs are quite personal, so it’s crucial to handle them sensitively. For guidance on dealing with stress in your workforce, speak to The HR Dept.

Gone to Lunch 

Do you or your employees take an actual lunch break? If the answer is “No” you are not alone. Apparently, the average lunch hour now only lasts about 26 minutes and almost half of workers take less than 20 minutes (at their desks). Making such sacrifice equates to losing 19 days’ pay a year. The motivation is obviously to get more done – not enough hours in the day and all that – but is it a false economy? Do the costs outweigh the extra time gained?

There are undoubted benefits to taking the time to have a decent lunch break. Experts say that eating the right foods like oily fish, whole grains and avocado can boost afternoon brainpower, while some downtime away from a desk helps to sustain concentration. Worth reflecting on next time you consider your office culture.

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