Employee Matters 101 (FAQs)
Looking for answers? Listed below are some of our most frequently asked questions.
The Hiring Process
Advertising on SEEK costs $289.30 inclusive of GST for a standard ad but I would recommend that you use a Stand Out ad for $344.30 inclusive of GST. This improves your chances to attract more candidates.
For the Stand Out ad, you will get a 30 day listing, with unlimited changes to the ad. Plus a logo, border and three selling points. SEEK is still the most prominent job board in Australia. Alternatives are Career One or Gumtree. You can advertise on Gumtree for free but this job board is only really suitable for certain types of roles.
It is best to draft a robust recruitment process for your business and follow it consistently for every role. This process should also cover internal vacancies that become available within your business, even when you are desperate to have more employees. It is a good idea for all candidates to be interviewed twice and to be asked the same questions so it’s easy to compare applicants.
It is best practice to manage your candidates professionally at all times. Make sure that you actively respond to each application. Remember the candidate has taken the time to submit an application, the least that you can do is to respond. Although the candidate may not be right for you now they may be in the future and you want them to leave the process with a positive impression of both you and your business.
You should accurately document all interviews and decisions, because these notes can be called on as evidence if somebody raises a complaint against you, for up to 5 years later.
Most interviewers have never been formally taught how to interview and, as a result, tend to do it badly. If they were lucky, they were able to sit in on an interview, now and then, with their manager and observe. That’s okay, if the manager was a sophisticated and technically strong interviewer but not if their skills were poor – as the pattern is just repeated. The outcome can be that businesses struggle with productivity – with a number of average performers and a high level of turnover which can be extremely costly to the business.
We believe that the current lack of effective interview skills is one of the key reasons that employers select the wrong candidate. The new hire then either does not have the skills or does not fit into the cultural environment of the business. If there is one skill that I would encourage you to work on, it would be your interview technique – because this skill will also assist you with general communication skills such as active listening and probing – as well as undertaking performance management interviews or investigations.
Develop your interview questions which cover technical, behavioural and cultural aspects
What is your management style?
As a manager, have you ever had to terminate someone? If so, what were the circumstances and how did you handle it?
What type of culture works best for you and why?
Learn how to probe using questions such as:
- What did you say in that situation?
- What were you thinking?
- What were you feeling?
- What happened next?
- If you had your time again, would you do anything differently?
Document all interviews effectively and accurately and ask the same questions to candidates going for the same role so that you can compare, contrast and evaluate their answers fairly and appropriately.
Download our eBook for free – it will guide you through the process and if you have any further questions, contact us – we are happy to help.
At a minimum you need policies covering Workplace Health & Safety, Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Equal Employment Opportunity and IT use and security. It is also helpful to have policies that clarify Code of Conduct, Dress Code, Expenses and Personal Leave.
As a business owner, you have legal obligations, such as the requirement to provide a ‘safe place to work’ and a ‘duty of care’ – that is, to provide a safe working environment for all your employees, casuals, volunteers and even visitors.
You need to provide a workplace that is free from bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination.
Having good policies helps you, if you need to performance manage an individual. For example, say you have a Code of Conduct policy that states that swearing is not appropriate – and someone in the workplace swears regularly, then it is easy to say “as you know from our Code of Conduct, swearing is not appropriate workplace behaviour”. You can effectively link the performance conversation directly to the policy.
Recent research shows categorically that employees want to work for authentic leaders. The good news is that as an entrepreneur or small business owner, you can determine the culture of your organisation. So how can you do this?
A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement
A company’s values are the core of its culture
Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices
No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values
Any company has a unique history – a unique story. The ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation.
The theory is that the place shapes culture – the actual working environment of the business.
Writing ads is a skill and one that you need to perfect if you want to attract the best candidates to your available role, in a competitive field. You need to include the following:
- Brief description of the role, including the reporting relationship
- Brief description of the organisation including size, growth, nationality and brand names
- Minimum experience, knowledge and qualifications required for the role
- Any usual features of the job such as travel prospects or particular responsibility levels
- Clear instructions on how and where to apply for the vacancy and the name of a contact person – a closing date for applications should also be specified
The ad needs to attract the attention and interest of the applicant, it needs to inflame their desire and passion for the role and it needs to provoke immediate action. It needs to contain clear statements about the benefits of the position, the prospects of the organisation, the opportunities for successful candidates and their ability to access additional information about the organisation.
The ad also needs to be realistic and not oversell the opportunity or benefits of the role.
Avoid discrimination – do not use ‘he’ or ‘she’, or show preferences for a person of a particular race, nationality, age or religious persuasion. Also avoid advertising qualities that are unnecessary for the role.
Job advertisements are most commonly placed online today. Organisations are using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn more frequently (and successfully) to advertise roles. You should also advertise the role on your business website.
Probation periods are typically between 3-6 months. Probation clauses within employment contracts allow you to terminate the services of a new employee with a week’s notice, if they are not performing to the required level.
A new hire cannot raise an ‘unfair dismissal’ complaint against you if you have under 15 employees, within the first 12 months of their service. If you have 15 or more employees, they can raise a complaint after they have been with you for 6 months.
This is where the employer either demotes the employee or makes significant changes to their working conditions. An example of this might be when you are continually promising an individual promotion to the Head Developer role, with an increase in pay and conditions, for which that individual works extra hours to achieve, and then you bring someone in externally or promote an alternative internal candidate instead. It could be argued that you have repudiated the contract in this case. The moral here is to be careful what you promise – both verbally and in writing.
This means that the termination was at the employer’s discretion rather than the employee’s. Constructive dismissal occurs when it is deemed that you have left the employee with no other course of action, other than resigning, due to your behaviour, your management or your choice of words. The classic case here is where the employer says “resign or I will fire you.” In this case the termination would have been forced by the employer.
Managing Poor Performers, Coaching & Terminations
Our recommendation here is communication and transparency – leading to increased engagement levels. Bring your team along for the journey – share the goals, results and rewards. You need to clearly articulate what is required from each individual, what the goals are and give rewards when these goals are reached.
Yes and we would encourage all small business owners to actively manage non-performing employees back to performance or ‘out the door’. One thing we are very sure of is that SMEs cannot afford to carry a non-performing employee. The impacts can be enormous and can take a long time to repair. They often cause a loss in revenue, reputation, client relations and internal morale.
There are a couple of options. You can begin a comprehensive performance improvement plan. The individual will either return to or start performing at the required level or you terminate on the basis of non-performance.
Alternatively, you can conduct a ‘without prejudice’ conversation (otherwise known as ‘off the record’) and offer some money to resign and to not take legal action. This offer needs to be made attractive and is a payment on top of annual leave entitlements and notice period.
Yes you can but you need to follow ‘due process’ which should go something like this:
- Call the individual into a meeting, allow them to bring along a support person and then share the allegations verbally – a written copy of the allegations should also be provided
- Explain to the individual that a formal investigation is to be conducted, the process involved and that they are suspended, on full pay, until further notice
- All the employees involved should be interviewed plus any other witnesses that come out in the investigation. All interviewees need to be advised of their confidentiality obligations and all interviews should be carefully documented
- The results of the investigation should be shared with the individual, allowing them to respond to the allegations, including any reasons they may have for their behaviour. You should also let them know that they are welcome to take legal advice
- All the interviews should then be reviewed and assessed and a determination made whether, on the balance of probability, the behaviour had occurred.
The next steps are to formally advise the individual of the findings and, again, ask for a response.
The findings would be one of the following:
- The behaviour did not occur
- The behaviour did occur but there were extenuating circumstances or the instances were minor in nature
- The behaviour did occur
Yes you can, and you should, as long as you follow the appropriate steps.
Conduct preliminary investigation:
This will enable you to obtain enough evidence to pursue a more detailed investigation. Arrange to meet with them, asking them to bring a support person along. You should also have someone to make notes of the meeting
Explain your concerns and advise that you need to conduct a full investigation and that, while this is occurring, they will be suspended from work on full pay. Remember though, at this stage ‘innocent until proven guilty’
Suspend the employee on full pay while you conduct an investigation. You should first check both your Award and the contract document, which should contain an appropriate clause, allowing the suspension. (If the Award allows this but there is no contract clause, the suspension can still proceed)
Seek a response:
Ask them whether they have any response to the allegations at this point and note these down. Also ask them whether there are any extenuating circumstances in play – for example an illness or relationship breakdown
Conduct a detailed and thorough investigation until you are very comfortable that you can prove or disprove the alleged theft. This may include bank reconciliations and interviews with all witnesses. Consider whether you wish to involve the Police at this point
Arrange a meeting to share the findings and suggest that they bring a support person along. Advise the outcome of the investigation; should the investigation confirm that the theft did not occur, return the individual immediately to their role and manage the employee communications sensitively and appropriately
You can terminate immediately on the grounds of gross misconduct without notice. Provide a letter confirming the situation and termination
You need to manage this scenario with a high level of discretion and confidentiality before, during and after the investigation and any subsequent termination. Ensure that you draft a communication plan for management, employees, suppliers and clients.
You should also consider contacting the Police – too many employers don’t pursue legal action. Whilst this leaves the culprit without a reference from you, they can still go onto the next employer and potentially repeat the crime.
The answer here is no. It is not deemed ‘reasonable’ to terminate an employee because they don’t fit the culture. You should be able to filter out candidates that will not fit your culture through your recruitment process. That said, most employees will recognise the fact that they are not fitting in and will typically resign.
Yes – if you are very sure that they have committed gross misconduct – examples are (but are not limited to) they have committed assault, fraud, exhibited drunkenness or drug use, have acted in an unsafe manner, have shown abusive behaviour or sexual harassment. We would recommend, where and when appropriate, reporting this to the Police. The termination in cases such as these would be with immediate effect and without notice or pay.
In most cases no, and this is generally covered in your Modern Award. You could suspend them on full pay while you conducted an investigation into possible fraud, as an example – this is largely due to the presumption of innocence until guilt has been proved.
The test here is – was the termination ‘unfair, unjust or unreasonable?’ That is, did you follow ‘due process’ and were you ‘reasonable’ with your approach and expectations. For example, if you set unreasonable criteria for improvement – say asking them to bill $300K revenue in a month when $200K would be a huge target for a top-performer, then this would be deemed to be unreasonable and the individual might have a case to take up against you.
Fraudulent employee practices typically happen when individuals work alone and there are little or no sign-off or authorisation practices in place. Try and create an environment of transparency but also one that encourages employees to raise any concerns they may have without fear of reprisal.
Clear policies and procedures will help employees follow a standard process which will help to reduce the likelihood of fraud but, remember, if you have policies in place, they need to be followed and also reviewed and updated regularly. Regular sign-off from employees confirming they are aware of and have read the policies is recommended.
Another good and sensible business practice is to have an annual, external and independent audit of the Accounting and Finance operations within the business – this should highlight any ‘mischief’ that might be taking place.
Along with all the benefits that employees bring to your business, comes the likelihood of interpersonal conflict in the workplace. Most business owners tend to ignore this conflict – hoping that the ‘adult’ employees will be able to sort it out. Sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t.
Using a mediator can help bring the situation to a close for both parties. Or alternatively, when you witness the inappropriate behaviour, remind the individuals what the expected standards are and that meeting these expectations is an important requirement of their role.
All employees have a legal responsibility and requirement to follow all reasonable instructions from their employers.
Most employees would much prefer to hear from you if they are not performing to the required level, rather than hear nothing. Here are the steps that you should follow:
- Describe the performance issue and why it is unacceptable
- Determine whether the employee knows what is expected of them
- Ask whether there are any extenuating circumstances – for example, the illness of a loved one
- Give the employee an opportunity to respond to your feedback
- Ensure that sufficient resources, support and training have been provided
- Agree the way forward and then document that agreement in a performance improvement plan