Working with many of Australia’s leading employers has given us strong insights into the planning and habits of the leaders of high performing organisations.Measuring performance

It is virtually an absolute that these organisations have a clear view of what business success looks like for them – they have a clear but flexible strategy and are relentless about executing it.

Importantly in managing their workforce and its culture – they know what high productivity looks like for their business and workforce.

It sounds like a statement of the obvious: on the docks crane lifts per hour are a standard productivity measure. Performance can be measured against competitors domestically and globally. Best practices are transparent and something to be aimed for.

But in other businesses the notion of productivity is a murkier one. The productivity of a senior banking professional or a teacher can be harder to measure, particularly if their role is not clearly defined or their performance not linked to an overall business strategy. There may be no universal or even widely applicable standards of high performance for benchmarking purposes.

This is where we see leading employers stand out. These are organisations that know what high performance means for their business. They have their own understanding of what productivity means to them and how to improve it. They can then make decisions about how their labour arrangements will facilitate higher productivity. They are conscious of hand brakes on productivity and work to remove them. We have the privilege of working on projects – sometimes brief, sometimes with work streams that run for years – to constantly move organisations to their desired frontier of high performance.

Whilst the productivity of Australia’s workforce overall has steadily increased (climbing approximately 10 index points to 104 index points since 2011 – good but not great) the picture looks different when we look through a magnifying glass at particular sectors or organisations. There the performance is more mixed – with factors such as legacy labour restrictions and underinvestment in capital resulting in some organisations being well behind the eight ball.

The positive story here is that productivity can always be improved – and the lower the starting base the more room for improvement!

But the first and most fundamental step is to know what it means for your organisation and to have a system to measure it. From there, the metaphorical sky is the limit.

In a world where smart phones and apps are evolving faster than you have time to update them, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the potential for inadvertent disclosure and self-sabotage in the workplace.StockSnap_JUC6R3PPLE

Here are some issues to consider:

Dating apps in the workplace

Dating apps like Tinder, Happn and Grindr have a GPS function, so if a person has logged into them at work or anywhere near work, any colleagues who also have the apps will see the profile and potentially be suggested as a ‘match’. This can be not only embarrassing for employees who wish to keep their private life private, but may present discrimination risks if employers inadvertently come across personal information and it is perceived that the information influenced some action taken (or not taken) by the employer against an employee or potential employee.

To post or not to post, that is the question

It is much easier to find out when an employee who has called in sick is lying when their every move is recorded on social media. For example, each photo on Facebook can be assigned its own level of privacy and some people (consciously or unconsciously) allow their photos to have a public setting. This means that anyone can view the photos. Similarly, not everyone on Instagram has a private profile and most people assign a geotag to photos meaning that an employee may say they are in one place but a geotag on a photo will indicate another location.

Oversharing and privacy

‘Liking’ posts or adding friends on Facebook or LinkedIn where the settings allow a user’s activity to be shared, means that people following a user will find out any new connections they make and other information based on the posts they are liking, such as their political persuasion. Employers following their employees on LinkedIn for example, will be able to tell if the employee is connecting with recruiters and liking job posts.

Spotting the fakes

Anyone can easily make fake accounts on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, masquerading as someone else either to collect information or troll with negative or abusive comments. It can be difficult to track down and prove who is behind these accounts without the expense of digital forensics providers.

Our Advice

  • Employers may consider cautioning employees to exercise care when using dating apps that have a GPS function. There are no guarantees of remaining undetected given the popularity of dating apps and common social areas where people congregate, including work sites. But if a person is really wanting to keep their dating life private, they can make a point not to log in anywhere in the proximity of the workplace and consider not using an identifiable profile picture.
  • Employers should be careful of what they do with personal or confidential information about employees that they inadvertently come across through social media or apps. It’s a privacy and discrimination minefield out there depending on what an employer does, or is perceived to have done, with that information. If unsure, employers should seek advice before they act.
  • Employers and employees should understand the privacy settings for every app they regularly use and be vigilant about the constant updates that can change the privacy settings. For example, WhatsApp recently shared users’ contacts with Facebook by default unless individual settings were changed.
  • Ensure employees are warned to be cautious about adding colleagues on social media and that they verify it is not a fake account or a troll before accepting requests.
  • Employers should be clear in workplace policies about what is and isn’t appropriate conduct ‘at work’, keeping in mind that ‘at work’ no longer just means physically at work. It’s about what has an impact on the workplace.

This isn’t an exhaustive list and as always, we would love to hear from you, so let us know if you have any cautionary tales or advice.

As the Beliebers of Australia will tell you, tickets for Justin Bieber’s 2017 “Purpose World Tour” were released in Victoria on Wednesday, 12 October at precisely 1pm.  In a frenzy, fans across Victoria were using their employer’s time and resources to purchase (or miss out on) tickets.

Beiber imageAs society becomes increasingly digitalised, it’s now common for employees to use their employer’s internet access for non-work related purposes. Referred to as ‘cyber slacking’, can be a source of frustration for many employers who endeavour to limit recreational internet usage for staff. On the other hand, many employees feel that due to the increasing demands of work life, such as long hours and weekend work, personal internet usage ‘on the job’ should be accommodated. Is workplace flexibility just about leaving work 15 minutes early for an appointment, or does it include personal admin tasks that are done during working hours?

In an age where flexible workplace arrangements are becoming increasingly popular, how far should this leniency stretch, and perhaps more importantly, what is deemed as “appropriate” personal administration? Is personal banking OK? How about perusing the latest shoe sale? Facebook? Trawling Broadsheet in search of Melbourne’s most perfectly poached 63° egg? Reading the newspaper online? Does the scope extend further to include personal printing of documents? Home calls on company phones?

For employers, drawing the line can be difficult. Frustratingly, there are no hard and fast rules on how to deal with employees using work resources for personal reasons. But, employers are entitled to impose and specify reasonable limits. In assessing how to balance these competing interests, it is important to take a practical and realistic approach. Employers are able to maintain some control over employee’s personal admin tasks through workplace policy and lawful and reasonable direction. All organisations are different and time apportioned will depend on the culture of the business.

What is clear is that it is unrealistic to never-say-never to employees in relation to personal admin tasks performed during working hours. Just as employees are increasingly expected to answer emails out of traditional working hours, employees expect employers to allow for some aspects of their personal life to intrude into work hours.

How is your organisation dealing with these challenges? We look forward to hearing from you.

Drafting and enforcing post-employment restraints has a lot in common with good medicine.

It is necessary to prescribe only the “minimum effective dose” – the amount necessary to produce the desired outcome with minimum side effects. Draft a post-employment restraint too narrowly, and it provides no remedy. Draft a restraint too broadly, and toxicity sets in – it won’t be enforceable.

This is particularly important in jurisdictions other than New South Wales where the courts do not have the ability to read down a restraint that would otherwise be unenforceable under specific legislation. The decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria in Just Group Limited v Nicole Peck [2016] VSC 614, published this week, is a salient reminder of the importance of a targeted restraint. The Court decided that while Just Group had a legitimate interest to protect by restraining its former CFO, the wide ranging restraint went further than reasonably necessary and could not be salvaged. The restraint attempted to prevent the CFO from engaging in specified restricted activities for or on behalf of 50 named entities in the retail sector.  It remains to be seen whether this decision will be successfully appealed.

In our series of post-employment protection blog pieces, we tackle each of the main legal and commercial issues involved in drafting and litigating post-employment restraints and unpack our Post-Employment Protections Legal Dimension map. We examine best practice approaches and the tactical issues that need to be thought through.

Please contact any of our partners to discuss the relevant legal touch-points or to access our unique online post-employment restraint solution.

Post Employment Map

Long experience representing many of Australia’s leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee’s representative (be it a solicitor, union, industrial agent, etc.) is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.The Juggler

Many representatives and firms in the employment market have a well-worn modus operandi. As practitioners, the more clearly we can identify and define the patterns, and develop tactics to anticipate and overcome them, the better the outcome that we can achieve for our client.  For example, the tactics typically utilised by a high volume, fixed-fee employee litigation firm (which we refer to as “The Juggler”) will be different from a firm that seeks to put pressure on an employer by damaging the corporate brand through the litigation process (“The Celebrity”).

A good battle plan should consider game play of not only your opponent, but also their representative. Assessing the state of play early in the litigation may deliver invaluable insights into how your opponent is likely to run.

Our firm has recently published a paper titled ‘The Art of Law’ which explores the six most common litigation models and how to deal with them.

You can download your copy of The Art of Law here.

Please feel free to share with your team.

I very much hope you enjoy reading the paper and the unique insights it provides.

You can pre-register here for an exclusive round-table get together to discuss the modern employment litigation tactics explored in the paper.  More details will follow.

‘Snapchat is about sharing moments and having fun’ reads the tagline of the mega-app that has the fastest-growing social network in the world. But despite its phenomenal popularity, what potential impact might Snapchat have on your workplace?White phone

If you don’t use Snapchat, here’s a quick overview: it is a mobile-only app estimated to be valued around USD $20 billion and according to Snapchat’s website, on any given day, Snapchat users watch over 10 billion videos with Snapchat reaching around 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the United States. Snapchat is definitely the medium of the moment and utilises “auto-destruct technology” allowing its user to:

  1. Send a photo or video (with filters or text added to it) to one or more contacts for up to 10 seconds (the contact must also have downloaded the Snapchat app in order to receive the photo or video);
  2. Post a video or photo to a ‘story’ which contacts can then view for a period of 24 hours (unless the user deletes it before then); and
  3. Instant message and video call a contact (but the messages will disappear when the user leaves the conversation unless they immediately save the content or take a screenshot).

Snapchat is also being increasingly used for mobile storytelling and organisations can pay to purchase the right to post a story or sponsor a filter that end users can choose to view or use. There are also event-based stories and filters that Snapchat creates. For example, during the Australian Federal Election there were special election filters and users could submit personal photos or video to the official Election Day story that could then be viewed by users. It’s predicted that over the next few years more advertising content will also be included and companies will increasingly use Snapchat for marketing and recruitment purposes.

The reason it is called auto-destruct technology is because after the time specified, the content disappears. Its distinguishing point is its impermanence, unless of course, in the case of a photo, a viewer takes a screenshot, but that requires some serious quick-draw screenshot skills and often a fumble can lead to a black locked screen of shame. As for videos, you can’t save them so once you see them, they disappear. The only other option is to replay content, but you can only do this once a day unless you pay to purchase extra replays. Even then, you can only replay any single item of content once.

Since it is a platform where content is temporary, it’s easy to imagine its appeal to a person who wants to bully or harass others in the workplace. It is much harder to collect evidence in relation to conduct occurring on Snapchat – at least, much harder than Instagram, Twitter or Facebook where content can be easily shared and captured. Snapchat’s fleeting nature potentially encourages more inappropriate and/or high-risk behaviour and people often deliberately use Snapchat to share photos and videos that they wouldn’t dare to post on Facebook or Instagram.

While it is true that all digital content leaves some kind of footprint, in order to access Snapchat content after it disappears, you would have to convince Snapchat to hand over data (which is virtually impossible). The alternative would be to hire a digital forensics team to try and recover some traces of content. But where does that leave employers when someone makes allegations of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination that have occurred in the workplace via Snapchat and no evidence can be collected to prove that the conduct took place? Unfortunately it will probably result in a situation that is all too common in such scenarios – one person’s word against another.

It is estimated that by 2020, millennials will make up 50 percent of the global workforce. When you consider that Snapchat shapes the communication preferences of this generation, its inappropriate workplace use is something employers should be aware of when updating their social media policies or conducting training. Particularly for younger managers, it may be better to keep Snapchat and work colleagues separate completely. Or maybe this is impossible as more millennials and post-millennials (Generation Z) pour into the workforce.

We welcome any suggestions or thoughts.

In the last five years, with the development of information technology and mobile devices, the distinction between being “at work” and “off work” has been profoundly altered. Working time is no longer confined to being in an office and working days are both more intense and infinitely extendable, making monitoring working times even more complex.Switching off

Coupled with a global economy, many employees feel that they are permanently connected to their work, irrespective of time zones and local laws.

EU working time laws are rapidly developing to deal with this trend and the negative impact it’s having on employee health and wellbeing. The sanctions for employers breaching these laws are potentially serious. This means that one of the most challenging issues facing global companies today is juggling time zones effectively and responding to business 24/7 without falling foul of working time laws.

Trying to figure out the local time of employees based in different time zones is a complex task in itself. Thankfully, there are a variety of user-friendly apps that can do the maths for you. But understanding the labour law rules when employees are operating in a different time zone is even more daunting, and unfortunately, no app is available to crunch this data for us.

For example, employees working on global projects will often be expected to dial into calls outside their regular local business hours and/or to respond to emails late at night. Though most internationally-minded employees may be willing to accommodate the requirements of their manager or client based overseas, in the EU, asking employees to work beyond their standard hours poses many challenges for employers in complying with working time regulations.

The EU Directive on Working Time (2003/88/EC) of 4 November 2003, directly connects working time to health and safety matters. For this reason, it specifies a series of principles employees should respect to preserve their sanity:

  • a maximum of 48 working hours per week;
  • a minimum rest period of 11 hours, every 24 hours;
  • a minimum weekly rest period of 24 uninterrupted hours for each 7-day period (in addition to the 11 hours above); and
  • paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks per year.

There are additional working time arrangements for specific industries such as the transport sector and sea workers, and to make things more complex, each jurisdiction within the EU has supplemented the Directive with its own laws and sector specific agreements, so the variations are quasi-infinite.

The potential sanctions for non-compliance are high-stakes for employers. They include penalties and claims for overtime payments (sometimes over several years prior) and can extend to criminal records for the company’s representatives, damages for breach of contract or liability for work-related injuries and harassment.

In recent debates, it has been suggested by the EU commission and selected EU countries that not recording all workers’ working hours might constitute an offence of undeclared work, which in turn is connected to modern slavery, and can have a severe impact on an organisation’s reputation and brand.

France, a pioneer in intricate working time laws, introduced a new Labour Law on 2 August 2016, safeguarding an employee’s ‘right and duty to switch off from work’. This right was previously found in the Syntec collective bargaining agreement governing most software companies in France and was utilised in a handful of workplace agreements of major French groups and even some German groups. They have made this part of the labour code, thus obliging all employers in France to include this topic in their annual negotiations effective January 2017.

In practice, French employees will still be allowed to occasionally join late calls or work with colleagues in different time zones, but employers should avoid expecting this routinely from their employees and managers. Though it is still unclear how the reform will fully play out, we anticipate employers will, beyond the negotiation obligations explained above, need to implement a mechanism, and, for those employing more than 300 employees, launch a corporate policy, ensuring such a right is effectively recognised and takes into account specific business working patterns and requirements.

Some employers may choose to simply pay lip service to the reform, yet it clearly states that from 1 January 2017 companies will have a duty to actively support the employee’s right to switch off their devices: this will include, as a strict minimum, verifying employees comply with rest periods and stating that they are allowed not to respond to emails during rest periods – or even ensuring software supports compliance.

A straightforward approach could be to adopt a policy allowing employees who work internationally to start work later or earlier, raising awareness of the virtues of having a healthy work life balance, creating group discussions to propose practical solutions to achieve work life balance, and monitoring with employees’ input any issues relating to excessive connections to their work device.

For companies who have a health and safety committee, they must be closely involved in the design and monitoring of the company’s plans.

Ming Henderson is a partner in our International Employment Law practice based in the London office. She is a qualified practitioner in both France and the UK.

Working from homeThere are lessons to be learnt about the future of work in one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons titled ‘King-size Homer’, from the seventh season which aired over 20 years ago.

As you may recall, Mr Burns tries to get employees at the nuclear power plant ‘in shape’ by leading a workplace exercise program. As expected, however, Homer avoids this by taking advantage of the rule that someone who weighs more than 300 pounds will be classified as disabled and can then work from home. Unsurprisingly, he manages to gain the necessary weight and a computer terminal is installed in the Simpson house to allow him to do his very safety-critical work (monitoring a nuclear reactor!) remotely.

Homer cleverly works out that he can set up a ‘drinking bird’ to operate the computer for him while he is out. He arrives home from a visit to the cinema to find that his assistant bird has toppled over and a nuclear meltdown is imminent.

The Simpsons is notoriously prescient in the stories it tells (see the episode aired in 2000 that portrays Donald Trump as President of the United States …). While ‘King-size Homer’ is now more than 20 years old, the story raises some thought-provoking issues that continue to be relevant for HR and IR practitioners and managers more generally in the current workplace:

  • are workplace health and fitness programs valued by employees?
  • how should disabled employees be accommodated? Do they need to, or should they, be allowed to work from home?
  • which parts of an employee’s role can actually be safely automated?
  • what controls and processes are necessary when allowing employees to work from home?

The last two of these are particularly relevant when thinking about some of the emerging trends around how work might be performed in the future. As discussed in our recent blog ‘The future of work – what are the lessons for employers‘, two of the trends identified were:

  • the use of robotics to perform tasks more quickly, safely and efficiently than humans; and
  • telecommuting and remote working will become the norm (rather than the exception) in some industries.

So what does looking back at an old Simpsons episode tell us about these? There are a couple of valuable points to keep in mind:

  • employers will need to give careful thought to which tasks can be automated and what the ongoing role of humans is in ensuring that those tasks are completed safely and efficiently – it won’t be enough to set up a drinking bird and leave it be. In many cases, human oversight will be required. What training and skills will employees need to make sure the equipment functions correctly and – perhaps more importantly – what can be done to engage with and motivate employees in these situations to ensure that boredom doesn’t set in?
  • employers will need to develop and implement comprehensive and flexible systems to monitor and manage employees who are working from home to ensure that:
    employees are performing the work they have been assigned in a productive, efficient and responsible manner; and
  • the health and safety of those workers is not compromised by the home environment – and, conversely, that the health and safety of other workers in the employer’s workplace is not compromised by those working from home, like Homer did.

Homer is definitely not the shining light for the work of the future – but his behaviour gives food for thought about what we need to think about when structuring working arrangements.

Effective restraints of trade protect businesses which rely heavily on human capital from damage that sometimes can’t be undone. These restraints – usually sitting in an employment contract – can be a key business asset.

Others might think about it as an insurance policy. The capacity to preserve customer connections, protect confidential information and discourage key executives from setting up their own business or moving to a competitor can be critical to information rich businesses operating in a competitive market. As we pointed out in our previous blog piece on post-employment protections The difference between winning and losing restraint litigation is often good housekeeping, ensuring the currency of your restraint provisions is an important exercise in risk management.

Our experience in this area is that one key distinction separates cases where restraints are successfully upheld and those where compromise outcomes are required. When seeking to enforce a restraint, an employer will need to demonstrate to the court there is a protectable interest capable of supporting the restraint. In successful cases, typically, the restraint provision has been drafted quite neatly around the key protectable interests. This is the first limb of the test for enforceability. The scope, duration and geographical operation of the restraint are logically tied to the protectable interest (see our map below). An employer will need to make out each of these elements to meet the second limb of the test.

This success can be attributed to the practice of regularly revisiting the questions of which key executives or employees should be subject to restraints, and how those restraints should operate. Think about their knowledge and relationships (their human capital) as key business assets that have to be protected – or protected against. The yearly promotion, pay rise or management re-shuffle cycles are perfect opportunities to update restraint provisions. Often, this is when operational changes (such as the make-up of roles) become effective, so restraints can be tweaked to align with these changes. A promotion or pay rise can be tied to a new contract or restraint provision.

Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach when an employee first joins the business, employers can increase the likelihood that a restraint will be enforceable by showing it was the subject of specific negotiation during the employment.

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Are you getting the best advice when it comes to health and safety compliance?

When we deliver legal briefings, both in Australia and internationally, top-of-mind for Boards and Senior Executives is the health, safety and welfare of people affected by their operations. This is how it should be – so everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief (insert sigh).
When it comes to seeking commercially sound legal advice on these issues – whose advice should you be seeking?

Under the model work health and safety laws in Australia, officers have a positive duty to exercise due diligence. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure they have the relevant knowledge and understanding, or take the relevant decision or action[1]. SafeWork Australia’s Interpretative Guideline[2] provides further guidance to officers on what is meant by taking “reasonable steps” in this context:

‘Officers may meet the due diligence requirements in some respects by proper reliance on information from and the activities of others, while having more direct involvement in the health safety management and governance in other aspects. To the extent to which an officer will seek to rely on others, the officer must be able to demonstrate the reasonableness of that reliance, which may be demonstrated through credible information and advice from appropriate people’….

Let’s consider a request for advice by Board members who want to know whether or not they are complying with their legal obligation to exercise due diligence. This question is a legal question that should be answered by a legal practitioner. Having this question answered by a legal practitioner also paves the way for them to be able to call upon the appropriate services from internal and/or external subject matter experts pertinent to a particular issue.

Another key issue facing Boards and Senior Executives, is whether the person they are relying on to provide adequate advice, is actually capable of providing it. For example, can a health and safety professional provide legal advice? The general position would be no – not unless the health and safety professional is also a legal practitioner (although there may be circumstances where a person who is not a legal practitioner can provide this type of legal compliance).

That doesn’t mean Boards and Senior Executives shouldn’t be receiving advice from health and safety professionals and other consultants/experts when it comes to advising on performance, strategy, risks, culture, climate and other non-legal aspects of due diligence. However, Boards should be thinking twice when seeking assurance on the question of legal compliance from anyone other than a legal practitioner.

The sceptics among readers may see this as a way of legal practitioners justifying their existence. And, well, they are certainly entitled to their views. If those same sceptics are going to help their Board and Senior Executives demonstrate the reasonableness of their Boards reliance on credible information from an appropriate person, they will need to be open to a different point-of-view.

Another tip – once you have decided to seek advice from a legal practitioner, ensure that the legal practitioner has the requisite experience and expertise in the field. If the sceptical readers are still reading, no doubt they might be up-in-arms about this additional suggestion. But let’s explore the issue further in the interests of getting the best advice available.

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell states it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. So, in general terms, the greater the experience and expertise of a legal practitioner, the stronger the basis for the reliance on the legal advice.

A legal practitioner with experience includes a person who has:

knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered or undergone’ and an expert is defined to include a person ‘who has special skill or knowledge in a particular field[3].

So when you combine experience and expertise, consider asking the following questions before seeking, receiving or accepting, health and safety legal advice:

  1. Is the person providing the advice a legal practitioner?
  2. What position does the legal practitioner hold?
  3. How many years has the legal practitioner held that position?
  4. What is the legal practitioner’s field of expertise?
  5. What is the extent of that legal practitioner’s expertise?
  6. What level of practical experience does the legal practitioner have in this particular field? (This does not include how many articles, blogs, webinars, but actual practical experience).
  7. What level of experience does this person have in providing this type of legal advice? (For example, has it ever been tested by a Regulator and/or in a Court? And if so, what was the outcome?).
  8. Is there anything else I should know about the person providing the legal advice?

For those of you who provide advice and support to Boards and Senior Executives, it is important to demonstrate insight into whether or not you are best placed to provide that advice. If not, are you sourcing the right person for that particular piece of legal advice? Sometimes pressure on resourcing and/or restructuring can be reasons why we are reluctant to defer to experience and expertise, but this is one critical area where we should resist. Certainly, we are not proposing peddling  the legal risks of getting this wrong, but we’re confident that without too much effort, you can work out the personal and legal consequences that may arise.

Whilst constant vigilance and a healthy level of caution are valuable, accessing the right legal expertise might also have broader implications when you are seeking compliance advice generally.

With the right advice (both legal and non-legal) Boards and Senior Executives can have a positive impact on the health and safety of their people and those affected by their actions.

References:
[1] Interpretive Guidelines – Model Work Health and Safety Act – The Health and Safety Duty of An Officer under Section 27 – Safe Work Australia

[2] Interpretive Guidelines – Model Work Health and Safety Act – The Health and Safety Duty of An Officer under Section 27 – Safe Work Australia

[3] Macquarie Concise Dictionary, Sixth Edition