Renee Henville is the Managing Director of Integrated Human Resourcing, providing specialist HR and Industrial Relations support and outsourced HR advice to small and medium businesses across the Tweed Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane for over 10 years.
We asked Renee to share some of her top advice for SMEs around tricky HR issues like managing workplace COVID vaccine policies, how to onboard new employees working remotely, whether employees should still take annual leave during lockdowns, and how workplace mindfulness can actually boost employee wellbeing and productivity.
How are employers managing their rights and obligations around COVID vaccines?
There is no simple answer to this question, we support businesses in just about every different industry sector with offices / sites throughout Australia and internationally, unfortunately there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ response.
The issue of mandatory vaccinations is hotly debated. SPC, fruit and vegetable processor, has recently become the first Australian company to mandate vaccines for all 450 onsite staff and visitors. SPC will be the first test case within Australia and we will be closely to watching this unfold.
Generally speaking, below is information that we have sourced to share with Femeconomy members:
Can employees be forced to vaccinate?
No, employees have the right to choose to be vaccinated or not, as they may have a legitimate reason to not be vaccinated. But an employee in certain circumstances will be required to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law COVID-19 Information for workplaces | Safe Work Australia.
What if an employee refuses to get vaccinated?
- Ask the employee to explain their reasons for refusing the vaccination
- If it’s a legitimate reason, an alternate solution may be reached and this could include Alternative work arrangements – Fair Work Ombudsman
- Employees should discuss options with their employees depending on the circumstances of their individual workplace Consultation and cooperation in the workplace – Best practice guides – Fair Work Ombudsman
While some of the businesses are following the whole “No Jab, No Job” policy, this is a coercive approach that is debatable. Instead, employers can support their employees by:
- Providing leave or paid time off for employees to get vaccinated
- Helping to ensure employees have access to reliable and up-to-date information about the effectiveness of vaccinations – Learn about COVID-19 vaccines | Australian Government Department of Health on the Department of Health’s website
- Where employees do not wish to be vaccinated, or don’t yet have access to vaccinations, explore other options including alternative work arrangements.
When undertaking this case-by-case assessment, it may also be helpful as a general guide to divide work into 4 broad tiers COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights & obligations – Fair Work Ombudsman:
- Tier 1 work, where employees are required as part of their duties to interact with people with an increased risk of being infected with coronavirus (for example, employees working in hotel quarantine or border control).
- Tier 2 work, where employees are required to have close contact with people who are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of coronavirus (for example, employees working in health care or aged care).
- Tier 3 work, where there is interaction or likely interaction between employees and other people such as customers, other employees, or the public in the normal course of employment (for example, stores providing essential goods and services).
- Tier 4 work, where employees have minimal face-to-face interaction as part of their normal employment duties (for example, where they are working from home).
A workplace may have a mix of employees, with different employees performing work in different tiers, all of which could change over time. The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t automatically make it reasonable for employers to direct employees to be vaccinated against the virus.
This is certainly an area of employment law which should be considered with respect and specific advice is sought to each businesses specific need.
Why should workplaces encourage annual leave when travel is limited?
With restrictions on travel both internationally and domestically, holiday plans are being put on hold. It comes as no surprise, that where businesses continue to operate, annual leave requests have been cancelled left, right and centre.
Whilst it is understandable that employees are not booking holidays away, as an employer it is important to ensure that employees are still taking a reasonable break from work. A reasonable break does not mean a long weekend; it really should be at least a week off work. Employers will find that employees feel they are wasting leave if they take it and do not go away, however the employer also has a duty of care to their employees to ensure that leave is being utilised to for rest and relaxation (which we would say is a work health and safety obligation).
If employees are encouraged to take leave, the business and employee will benefit greatly, such as:
- Reduction in fatigue
- Reduction in sick leave and unplanned absences
- Reduction in Workcover claims
- Improvement in morale
- Reduced minor grievances within teams
- A well rested and motivated workforce results in increased productivity.
- Increased retention rates
How do businesses onboard new employees when everyone is working remotely?
We all know that first impressions count, however with so many businesses now hosting remote workforces i.e., working from home, onboarding can be a little tricky. Really though, it just requires a little more outside the box thinking and being a little more organised than before. The importance of organising an induction schedule is to set the new employee up for success, to acclimatise to the social and professional expectations of their new work environment so that they can proceed comfortably and effectively in their roles.
We’ve found the easiest way for the initial onboarding is to utilise a cloud-based HR information system. There are a lot of different options available, and we use about 5 different HRIS across our clients (we certainly have our favourites though). These HRIS alleviate the need to print employment agreements, position descriptions and all the other new starter paperwork such as tax file decs, fair work information statements etc. These documents are all issued and completed online and often integrates straight into payroll thus forming a first positive first impressions.
But what’s even better is that the HRIS is the platform for all people management matters such as performance management, tracking work health & safety incidents, training and development, time in attendance and even requesting & approving annual and sick leave requests online. It’s game changing for many businesses.
Back to onboarding, just like you would meet and greet a new employee on their first day in person, we believe it’s important to still provide the same opportunity even when working from home – but through video conferencing, something like a virtual tour.
- Initially a video conference team meeting where each staff member can introduce themselves, their position, how long they’ve been with the business etc. can help to form relationships and break the ice.
- Spending time to talk through the employee manual, relevant policies and procedures, setting up expectations etc.
- Obviously, technology is key to remote working, so thoroughly take the new starter through the technology available within the business and ensure that internet and relevant access is suitable. Discuss communication tools /message boards, project management software etc. as well.
- Set up regular check-ins. Because you can’t just walk across the office to check-in, its vital that the manager regularly checks-in with the new starter and actually diarises these times so as not to forget. It can be a little daunting for new starters to ask for help at the best of times, doing so when working remotely can exaggerate any hesitation to ask a question and you don’t want them sitting at home for long periods of time overthinking what /how to do things.
- Set up a buddy. A buddy is a colleague, rather than a manager, and who can share workplace rituals, to talk to and confide in, to ask the ‘silly questions’, which can lead to creating positive workplace relationships and quickly breaks down any barriers and continues to create open communication as well.
How do you support businesses to be mindful workplaces?
Practising mindfulness in the workplace has increasingly been found to help reduce workplace stress. It can also result in positive benefits for employees, both inside the office and in their everyday life including:
- Clear and focused thinking
- Increased productivity and attention
- Heightened performance
- Increased positive emotions and satisfaction
Below are some top tips to integrate mindfulness in an employee’s workday:
Start their day with a break
- Encourage your team to try short mediation techniques before they start work to increase productivity throughout the day.
- Techniques may include: finding a comfortable and quiet area while you have a morning coffee/tea, focusing attention to your breath and erasing all distractions from your mind for a few minutes.
- Ensure employees have a clear understanding of their priorities by asking them to identify their two most important tasks/projects at the start of the week.
- Encourage the team to tackle priorities first and give their full attention to each task, one at a time! Allowing your team to give their full attention to a single task will achieve greater clarity, consciousness, and productivity and may also reduce feelings of work-related stress, anxiety and chaos.
Slow down to speed up
- Encourage your employees to work at a steady pace on a single task to maintain their focus and minimise mistakes.
- Slowing down the pace will also enable your team to make well-thought-out decisions and be calm and present in the office, resulting in more meaningful interactions with their colleagues.
Set a mindful moment reminder
- Encourage the team to take short mindfulness breaks between tasks.
- Your employees could use these intervals to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, or to listen to a short mindfulness meditation using the Smiling Mind app, so they’re ready to tackle their next task with clarity.
Create a mindful culture
- Introduce meeting guidelines that all mobile phones should be switched off or set to silent whenever possible and remember to keep each other accountable.
- Nominate one person to take notes during a meeting and give each person an opportunity to speak and feel valued.
- Being present in the moment means everyone is getting the most from the interaction which is invaluable for workplace culture.
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