Psychosocial Risks

Human resources Sydney

Psychosocial hazards have been a longstanding concern within Australia’s work health and safety laws. Recent amendments, effective from December 2023, bring about significant changes, introducing increased penalties and new criminal responsibility provisions for both bodies corporate and the Commonwealth.

Understanding psychosocial hazards

But first, what exactly is a psychosocial hazard?

In broad terms, it includes anything capable of causing psychological harm, including bullying, role ambiguity, limited job control, remote or isolated work, violence, aggression, harassment and more.

Safe Work Australia, the entity leading the development of national policy for improved work health and safety addresses this issue in more detail.

Key legal changes employers must be aware of

The amendments to the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act), which came into effect on 15 December 2023, usher in increased penalties.

Category 1 offences incur:

  • a $15 million penalty for a body corporate or the Commonwealth, increased from $3 million
  • a $3 million penalty for a person conducting a business or undertaking or an officer, increased from $600,000
  • a $1.5 million penalty for any other person, increased from $300,000
  • Category 2 and Category 3 offences incur:
  • Category 2 penalties stand at $2,090,000, up from $1.5 million
  • Category 3 penalties stand at $700,000, up from $500,000

The new criminal responsibility provisions have implications for officers, employees and authorised persons who act on behalf of a body corporate.

Practical steps that employers should take

In order to navigate these changes effectively, employers should consider the following steps:

  • Download Safe Work Australia’s Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work. This offers practical guidance to PCBUs (person conducting a business or undertaking) on how to manage psychosocial hazards at work
  • Access the model WHS Regulations which incorporates all amendments made since 2011
  • Review Comcare’s updates on the latest changes to WHS (work health and safety). These updates include links to additional resources and information. Comcare is the national authority for work health and safety, and workers’ compensation
  • Review and amend the organisation’s current policies, programs, practices and processes to ensure that these are compliant with these changes
  • Ensure that there is sufficient internal communication of these issues and ongoing training for both managers and employees. Doing so will allow all parties to continue to stay abreast of what is required and better understand how these changes impact their roles and responsibilities

Specific changes in Queensland

Employers in Queensland should be aware of additional legislative changes. The Queensland government recently introduced new laws establishing coercive control as a stand-alone, criminal offence.

Coercive control involves a pattern of behaviour, encompassing physical, social, financial or psychological abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten an individual. Such behaviour is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

A recent Women’s Agenda article on this issue drew reference to comments made by Queensland’s Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D’Ath. The minister stated, “Coercive control is serious, it has serious impacts on the victim and their families and a new, stand-alone offence reflects that non-physical violence is just as dangerous as physical violence”.

If you have questions about these legal changes, psychosocial risks, and how these can be managed at the workplace, please get in touch. Wurth HR can assist in several ways, including an assessment of the organisation’s current state of readiness as well as development of appropriate policies and procedures to remain fully compliant.

Wurth HR offers consulting and training on all of the areas above. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of the above matters or require guidance on the specific steps your business needs to take.

▶ Contact David Wurth for an obligation-free discussion at 1300 900 741

What could possibly go wrong?

Yes, December is nearly upon us again. You’ve probably already booked your venue for the annual celebration of your business’ stellar performance throughout the year. You want to thank your employees for their massive contribution and you probably feel like letting your hair down a bit too.

That’s great, but it’s prudent to have a few checks in place before the big event:

  • You no doubt already have strong policies on bullying and sexual harassment. Now is a good time to remind your people of these policies and to review what is expected of people generally when they attend a work-sponsored function
  • You should remind people a few days before the party of how you expect them to behave on the day itself
  • Make sure the venue you choose has a responsible serving of alcohol (RSA) policy that they strictly adhere to
  • On the day of the function ensure that at least one senior manager is present at all times during the function. It’s preferable if that person doesn’t drink at all. You might even solicit the help of any other non-drinkers, if they’re willing to keep an informal eye on things
  • Make sure you serve non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of food and water, keeping in mind any special dietary requirements
  • If anyone seems drunk they should be immediately cut off from the bar and sent home in a cab
  • Have a definite start and end time for your function and make sure people leave the venue when the time arrives. Don’t let people linger at the same venue. If they want to kick on, they should go somewhere else
  • Do not let anyone use their corporate credit card at a different venue. This also applies to you as the business owner, if you decide to kick on somewhere else. The idea is to separate your business from the social gathering, once the official party is over
  • Make sure people can get home easily after the event. You could set up a work Uber account and have a designated person available to book people’s trips home. Cab charges are a good alternative
  • Be sure to promptly and thoroughly investigate any complaints you receive about harassment, bullying or physical violence, as you would normally at any other time.

Don’t forget, if you close down over the Christmas break, give employees at least 2 months’ notice and be prepared to answer questions about paid and unpaid leave, especially from your recently-hired employees who may not have enough accrued paid leave to see them through the annual shutdown. Consider letting employees take annual leave in advance.

A safe workplace is everyone’s responsibility

Human resources Sydney


Proactive, Clear and Solution-Oriented Workplaces

Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy workplace. As an employer, are you aware of whether your systems, processes, and practices are legally compliant? 

Health and safety at the workplace cover a wide range  of issues, including how to protect vulnerable employees, mitigating against psychosocial hazards, ensuring the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment, addressing harassment and bullying, and more.

An employer must take a holistic approach that considers a range of issues, including: 

  • conducting mandatory inspections
  • properly addressing complaints
  • providing ongoing training and development for employees
  • meeting mandatory reporting and notification requirements. 

Additionally, there are also sector-specific requirements that you need to be aware of, as changes in the law can have serious consequences.

In recognition of National Safe Work Month, we would like to highlight four things you must do to ensure you continue to keep your workplace safe and healthy, regardless of your industry sector.

Be proactive about abolishing sexual harassment at your workplace

Did you know that an estimated 1.7 million Australians were sexually harassed in 2021-22? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report released in August this year, nearly half (45 per cent) of the 1.3 million women who experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months experienced multiple sexual harassment behaviours.

The Workplace Equality and Respect process identifies four key steps you can take to assess your business, identify priority areas and then, implement actions. This includes: 

  • readiness assessment
  • project planning 
  • benchmarking and diagnostics 
  • action planning and review

Ensure WHS, bullying and harassment are mandatory agenda items at team meetings

All team meetings, large or small, should ensure that conversations around workplace health and safety, and in particular, on bullying and harassment, are recurring agenda items. 

These need not take up the majority of the time but inclusion serves to keep everyone on the same page in terms of awareness and prioritisation. A quick check-in on things that may be only just surfacing can therefore be caught before it becomes a much larger issue.

Make available a workplace ‘ombudsman’

An ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against a company or an organisation, typically a public authority.  Making available a workplace “ombudsman” allows for bullying and harassment complaints to be raised and addressed within the workplace. 

This should be addressed by a trained contact officer with regular internal reporting to the management team. This sends an unequivocal message to all employees that the organisation takes these concerns seriously.

Communicate and train all employees that it’s their responsibility to speak up

Every employee in an organisation has a role to play. So while most of the ideas here address the responsibilities and commitments required of the employer, the organisation should take positive steps to ensure that all of its employees understand their role clearly. 

Often, employees are at the front lines when issues or incidents arise. Employees should therefore be made aware and trained regularly as to their responsibility in being vigilant and speaking up against bullying and harassment. These should be communicated through the usual channels such as during an employee’s onboarding, addressed in the employee handbook as well as through regular communication and training sessions.

Wurth HR offers consulting and training on all of the areas above. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about any of the above matters or require guidance on the specific steps your business needs to take.
Contact David Wurth for an obligation-free discussion at 1300 900 741.

Don’t read this HR update

Key Employment Condition Changes in Australia
What Employers Must Know

If you run an Australian business, regardless of its size, you must understand and comply with these 10 recent and upcoming changes that impact your employment and people management practices.

 

Requests for flexible working arrangements
Requests for flexible working arrangements now encompass pregnancy, as well as situations related to family and domestic violence. As an employer, you must carefully consider these arrangements when such requests are made.
When changes apply:  now in force.

Pay secrecy
You must ensure that any reference to pay confidentiality in existing employment contracts and HR policies are removed. You must also ensure that any new employment contracts do not include references to pay secrecy.
When changes apply
:  now in force.

“Respect@Work”
As an employer, you are required to proactively prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace. This involves several key processes including:

  • Developing and maintaining a policy on harassment, discrimination and bullying
  • Keeping detailed meeting minutes that document discussions about these issues in team meetings
  • Establishing clear and robust reporting procedures
  • Identifying employees who should be trained to handle complaints effectively and providing the appropriate training
  • Provide regular training for employees and managers. Note that annual 15-minute webinars are no longer considered appropriate for this purpose.
    When changes apply
    : now in force

“Zombie agreements”
All pre-2010 Enterprise Agreements, often referred to as  ‘zombie agreements’, will automatically terminate ( or ‘sunset’). Many of these agreements no longer apply and have ceased to operate.
When changes apply:  from 7 December 2023.

Fixed-term contracts
A fixed-term contract cannot extend beyond two years, including any extensions. If you enter into a fixed-term contract with an individual, you are required to provide them with a “Fixed Term Contract Information Statement”.
When changes apply:  from 7 December 2023.

Wage theft
Wage theft encompasses various issues such as failing to pay overtime or penalty rates, making unlawful cash deductions for breakages, denying leave, demanding wages through illegal cash-back schemes, incorrect wage payments and non-payment of wages. Wage theft will soon be treated as a criminal offence, carrying large fines and possible imprisonment.
When changes apply:  coming into effect shortly.

Work, health and safety      
Violations of work, health and safety laws and regulations shall result in increased penalties, including a new offence called “industrial manslaughter” which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.
When changes apply
:  coming into effect shortly.

Casual workers – change in employment status
Casual workers will soon have the option to request permanent employment status after six months service, subject to specific conditions.
When changes apply:  coming into effect shortly.

Casual workers – reissue of casual employment information statement (CEIS)
If you employ casual workers, you will be required to re-issue the CEIS to each casual worker every 12 months.
When changes apply
:  coming into effect shortly.

Labour-hire workers
If your employees are covered by an Enterprise Agreement and you hire labour-hire workers, you will be required to ensure that the labour-hire workers receive equal pay to your employees when performing similar work. 
When changes apply
:  coming into effect shortly.

This list is non-exhaustive and requires you to address several issues based on your specific circumstances and business requirements. Please be aware that significant penalties, including imprisonment in certain circumstances, apply to employers who fail to comply. Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse.

Wurth HR offers consulting and training on all of the areas above. Contact us if you have questions about any of the above matters or require guidance on the specific steps your business needs to take.
▶ Contact David Wurth for an obligation-free discussion at 1300 900 741 or email:info@wurthhr.com.au