Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Submitting a workplace grievance: A brief employee's guide

At some point in your working life you are bound to find yourself involved in a grievance. You may be the one putting it forward, a witness, or even the person it is being lodged about. Whatever the case, it is not a very pleasant experience and can take some time and angst to be resolved.

In this post we will be concentrating on the situation of the grievance being submitted by you.

Photo credit: alasam via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

To say something or not, that is the question....

So many employees are not willing to come forward when there is a problem in the workplace. No one wants to be seen as "troublesome" and often we don't know where to start or if it will be taken seriously.

An important thing to remember is that in the workplace there really are no off the record discussions.

Let me say that again because it is really important.
There are no off the record discussions.
Managers, HR staff and even employees in some cases have an obligation under different legislation to take any grievances seriously and act upon them. Unfortunately it does mean your ability to go to your Manager with a complaint and say "but please don't do anything about it" is just not possible in most circumstances. And, to be frank, if you are taking it to your Manager then you really do want someone to do something about it.

When should you say something?

If you have something happening in the workplace that makes you unhappy, frustrated, confused, agitated, anxious or that you think is affecting someone else in this way, or is illegal then you absolutely should bring it to someone's attention. I know that is often easier said than done, so it can help to talk it out with a trusted friend or your partner who doesn't work with you to get their advice and perspective.
There are so many situations that it isn't possible to list them all, but common reasons for grievances include:
  • not receiving an internal job role or promotion
  • not receiving a pay rise
  • bullying or harassment in the workplace
  • health and safety concerns

What is the usual practice when you submit a grievance
This depends on your workplace. The first thing you should check is your Industrial Instrument (Enterprise Agreement, Modern Award or Contract of Employment that you are employed under) and Company Policies. Most organisations recognise the need for a documented grievance process. This can often be termed "dispute resolution" within these documents. 
You should follow this process, which generally involves putting the grievance in writing, attending an interview to put your side forward, and then a follow up meeting as to the outcome. 

Alternatives to a written grievance
Most of the time a good first step is to discuss your grievance with a relevant person. For most organisations, there is an expectation that an employee will take any issues or questions to their direct Manager. If you aren't comfortable in doing this, or if it doesn't work, or if your Industrial Instrument/Company Policies require a written grievance (usually the case for bullying or harassment claims), then here are some tips

Tips for a written grievance
1. Keep to the facts. Don't use statements like "xyz always does abc". The person investigating the grievance needs concrete information and generalisations will be ignored
2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. This may seem odd, but it will help you to write a good submission if you can read it from the other "side" and know you would be able to respond to it and understand what the grievance was about
3. Be clear about why you are submitting the grievance. Do you want an apology? A review of the recruitment file? A mediation session? Something specific to change?
4. Follow up.

If I am submitting a grievance about another person, will they know that I have done this?
This is part of due process and fairness to the person. Try and imagine if you had a complaint against you and were not given any details about the complaint, just told (for example) that you breached a safety policy. It becomes almost impossible to respond to.
If the person retaliates against you for making a grievance, then you are able to put in a subsequent one for victimisation which makes the grievance much more serious.
*Unless you are in an organisation covered by the Protected Disclosures Act (e.g. A Government organisation) and you are submitting a grievance based on something covered by that Act such as fraud or corrupt conduct.

Possible outcomes
In workplace law, a "balance of probabilities" test is used. This does not have the same onus of evidence as criminal law with "beyond reasonable doubt".
It basically means that the person investigating the grievance is deciding if it is more likely than not that the alleged incident/action occurred. 
Most of the time you are unlikely to find out the outcome to your grievance. This is because it would be a privacy issue to let you know about any action taken against the other person by the organisation. Unless it is obvious (i.e. an apology occurs, meditation etc.) then you may never know what happened. 

Don't underestimate the stress that you can experience through a grievance process and take advantage of any employee assistance programs (EAP) your organisation may offer.
And of course, if the behaviour continues, incident repeats etc. then you need to notify the relevant contact person in your organisation straight away.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sydney Morning Herald article: Low pay growth, price rises and the new normal

Related to the last post about asking for a pay rise, this article in the SMH over the weekend states that wages growth is at about 2.1% and inflation at 1.3%.

So this means that any pay rise above 1.3% has you getting a "real" pay rise above the cost of living, and anything over 2.1% is above average. Pretty low numbers which goes to show why you need to negotiate the right pay rate when you start a new role... (this will be the topic of a future post!)

You can read the article here

Friday, 20 May 2016

Five steps to asking for a payrise

As we are coming up to the end of the Australian financial year, many employers start their performance review process. This can be an excellent time to discuss with your Manager your performance for the past period, your development goals.... and.... your salary...  

The reality is that many Managers feel cornered and uncomfortable with requests for a pay rise. They are often not equipped or empowered by the organisations they work for to be able to have these discussions. This means both of you can leave the conversation feeling dissatisfied and unsure of the future.

Instead of talking about pay rates, instead make the conversation about your value to the organisation. In the past, but also into the future. Steer the discussion in a constructive way. Development is not just about promotion, you can be happy to stay in your existing role but be open to developing broader skills, or a deeper understanding of the organisation or industry. This makes you of more value to the organisation, and gives great justification for a salary increase. 

Before you have any discussions with your Manager, first do your research and follow these five simple steps:

1. How are you paid? 

If you have a structured pay grade system through your Enterprise Agreement or Award, then you should first refer to that. Is there any information there about how to progress through the pay grades?

2. What are your Company policies?

If you are a salaried employee, or your EA/Award does not contain a provision for salary reviews, then you need to check your Company policies. Be aware of what is required for a salary review to take place, and what time of year these tend to be considered. Be prepared for the policies to be fairly vague, though, so it can help to have a chat to someone that you trust who has worked in the organisation for a while about what the usual practices are.

3.What is a usual market rate?

Be careful here as you will be able to find your role in another Company for more money 99% of the time searching through Seek. So the key is to look at what most of the ads in your work area (city/area of the city) have as pay ranges. An even better source of information is salary guides like the Michael Page salary and employment outlook. Use this information more as an internal guide for yourself. If you feel you are well underpaid (more than 20%) then it is worth bringing it to the table and asking the question about how to get yourself back to market rates.

4. Approach your Manager

Make sure you read and understand the requirements (EA/Award/Policies as above) and discuss these with your Manager. It can be a good idea to do this at the end of your next performance review so that the discussion is seen as one about how you want to develop yourself and add value to the Company. Not just how you want more money.
Be prepared with information about how you think you have met the requirements AND what help you need from your Manager to develop and achieve the next level. Make sure you complete any paperwork needed to submit to achieve the next grade. Remember, this is your pay rate and you need to take the front foot and make it as easy as possible for your Manager to sign where required!

5. Follow up 

Be patient, but follow up. If, after a month, you haven't anything, then you should bring it up at your next catch-up with your Manager.

Should I put a request in writing?

This can depend on your organisation, but generally speaking you should try and have the discussion with your Manager first and then follow up with something in writing. Depending on your organisation, there may be a particular form to be completed, or you can put your case forward in an email referencing the earlier conversation.

A special note for salaried employees
When you are salaried (earning above the Award ; employed on a contract of employment), pay rises are at the discretion of the organisation.
If your Company has no policies in which to guide you, then think of how to build your case for a salary review.

Some relevant factors to have prepared:

  • How long have your worked for the organisation and any pay rises you have received
  • The CPI over that same period (i.e. have your salary increases kept pace with inflation?)
  • Market rates (see #3 above and remember to not be entirely reliant on this information)
  • Your performance and how that has been above expectations

There can be a temptation to try and discover what others in your organisation are paid, and to compare yourself to others. This is not a good strategy because their pay rate is irrelevant to you. Even if you feel like you are doing the same job, everyone brings different skills and experience to the table. Try and keep focussed on your own circumstances and relevant external factors such as the market and CPI.

And if the answer is no, or the raise is less than you expected?
Ask questions. Find out what you can do in the future to have a different outcome. If it is simply that the organisation has a freeze on salaries, then you will need to decide on what is more important - trying to gain a role elsewhere or waiting it out.

Best of luck!

Do you have a story to tell about asking for a pay rise? Feel free to share!

Photo credit: Auburn Alumni Association via VisualHunt / CC BY

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Hit me with your ideas and suggestions!

I asked one of my Facebook Groups for ideas/suggestions for this blog. My question to them was "If you could ask your HR Manager anything and get an honest, unbiased answer, what would it be?".

The suggestions are below and will form the topics for future posts. Do you have any others to add?

- How to resolve grievances successfully
- Pumping/lactation rights at work
- Redundancy during maternity leave
- How to request Flexible Working Arrangements
- How are others in my same role paid? Is it the same as me?
- Why is there a gender pay gap and what can be done about it?
- How salary packages are benchmarked or compared with the market
- How to ask for a pay rise
- Compressed working weeks
- How to make job sharing work (tips and tricks)

Photo credit: Horia Varlan via Visualhunt / CC BY

Monday, 16 May 2016

Working while on parental leave? 3 things to consider.

Sometimes employees are approached to work for a few days while on parental leave. What do you need to consider?

1. Do you want to work those days?
While you are on parental leave you can not be coerced to return to work. This could be grounds for a general protections (adverse action) claim.

2. Are receiving the Government's Paid Parental Leave and are still within the payment period? 

  • You will be breaking your parental leave and need to notify Centrelink (as does your employer) UNLESS the days are considered "Keeping in touch days" .
  • Keeping in Touch Days are paid days, of which you can have up to 10 while you are on parental leave. They should help you refresh your skills transition back to the workplace, become familiar with new or updated processes, or be involved in planning discussions or meetings that may affect your role. Doing your "usual" duties is not considered a Keeping in Touch day.
3. Will you be breaking your parental leave?
If the days are NOT considered as Keeping in Touch days, then by breaking your parental leave you are potentially removing some of your protections. Although your employer may agree to have you back at work for a period, and then continue your unpaid leave, in the strictest sense it would not longer be considered Parental Leave, and therefore the employer may not be required to adhere to parental leave requirements such as your right to return to your old job and extending your parental leave. (For more information on parental leave, see this earlier post).

More information can be found here from Fair Work.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

What is Emotional Intelligence and MSCEIT?

By now I'm sure you have heard of "Emotional Intelligence" (EI) and you may have even been asked to complete a "MSCEIT" during a job interview process. So what is it?

MSCEIT is an assessment, usually done online, that can assess and develop emotional intelligence ability across four areas:

  • Recognising your own and others’ emotions
  • Using emotions in problem solving
  • Understanding emotions and how emotions may change
  • Managing your own and others’ emotions

EI is seen by many as the key differentiator between a good Manager and a great Leader.

The best way to improve your EI is to practice developing in these areas. There are a lot of tools available online to do this, but here are just a few quick tips:

Recognising your own and others’ emotions
Next time you are in a meeting, especially an emotive one, make a point of asking yourself what emotions are at play for yourself and others. A step further would be to consider your emotions BEFORE and AFTER the meeting and write this down. It seems simplistic, but this easy step will give you a start on the path of recognising emotions which, over time, will become an unconscious skill

Using emotions in problem solving
Similarly, next time you have a major problem to solve, include emotions as a factor in your thinking about the best outcome. It can help to write down the names of the people involved and how the problem/outcome is likely to impact them

Understanding emotions and how emotions may change
This basically means trying to anticipate emotions. So, if you need to let someone know they can now work shorter hours,and for that person it means a loss of pay and be a negative experience. Maybe that same person 2 years down the track with small children would view that positively.

Managing your own and other's emotions
This is very difficult to do if you first don't recognise and understand the emotions at play! So try the other steps first, and once you recognise and understand, then managing becomes relatively easy.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

How many hours are in a work week?

How is it possible that a lawyer at a top tier law firm regularly puts in 80 hours a week while a bank teller will clock off right on 38 hours?

Why are there Companies out there that state a 36 hour week, others 40hours, and some I have even seen with a 45 hour week!?

You may be surprised to learn that the Fair Work Act states that maximum weekly hours are 38 per week*, but according to the ABS full time workers in Australia are averaging about 41 hours per week.

To break it down
- If you are employed under and Enterprise Agreement or Modern Award (this will be stated in the paperwork when you started) then the hours of work are based on that document. It is a legal document and even if it states your hours are more (or less) than the FWA, it applies.
- If you are employed with a contract of employment - which generally means you earn above the Award - than that contract should state your working hours. This is usually where you get employees regularly working more than 38 hours for no overtime (like our lawyer friends, but also really any professional role these days)

So I hear you scoffing and wondering how to stop working more than 38 hours per week for no pay. Well, that little * above is that any more than 38 hours per week need to be "reasonable". There are a few considerations as to what is "reasonable", but basically it could be one or more of the following: that you are given notice of the extra hours, it doesn't impede on you carer responsibiltiies,  it is a "norm" in your occupation/industry, you are given compensation (either your pay is above the minimum or you get hours in leiu, for example), your role and level in the organisation, and also "any other relevant matter". Isn't that a nice catch all?
Therefore to go back to our lawyer friends, if you are working 50 hours a week as a regular pattern and even more than that when busy, that is probably seen as reasonable for the role, industry and pay. If you are working 50 hours at a petrol station and not getting overtime, that is unlikley to be seen as being reasonable. (Let alone the Award undoubtably contains overtime provisions).

If you are consistently working more than 38 hours per week AND you don't think it is reasonable you have a few options:
1. Have a chat with your Manager. You may not realise that they have no idea what hours you are doing! Go to them with a plan about how to reduce your workload to get your hours back to a fair amount
2.You could just stop doing the extra hours. I know that can be difficult to consider, but how about looking at how many times a day you go for a coffee and end up chatting with people on the way back and forth? How many inane meetings you attend? What can you do to try and make your time more productive so you can get back to an 8 hour day?
3.If you really feel like you are being exploited, and you don't have a relationship with your Manager where you can discuss this openly, then you can put it in writing to your employer and explain why you don't feel the hours are reasonable and use the criteria stated by FairWork  here as a guide.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

But I am so sick... cough cough

Have you seen a sign like this at your local pharmacy?

That's right. You can now get a medical certificate from a pharmacist. You can also get one by calling a home doctor service like 13 SICK so there really is no excuse as to why you can't give your employer that nice piece of paper on your return to work.

So what are the rules around taking sick leave?

Under the Fair Work Act, sick leave is now bundled up into what is called "Personal leave". Unless you have different provisions in your industrial instrument (i.e. your contract of employment or Enterprise Agreement), employers can ask for a medical certificate for any absence - even just one day. In practice, most employers have a 2 days or more rule unless there is a pattern of absences or excessive absenteeism.

If you are sick you should call your Manager or nominated person at your work to let them know including when you expect you will be able to get back to work. If you start taking every Friday (or Monday) off, or start taking A LOT of sick leave it is likely you will be asked to attend a meeting. Things can start getting tricky at that point, so the best thing you can do it only call in sick when you really are, and follow the requirements around medical certificates. If you find yourself in a position where you know you will need to take a lot of sick leave then just be honest with your employer and let them know what is happening. In my experience 99.9% of Managers are just concerned about your health and well being.

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5 Quick Facts About Taking Parental (Maternity) Leave in Australia

Congratulations! You're pregnant!

Now what?

So you can try to read the 25 page policy and procedure your Company has on the intranet. 

Or you can go to the Fair Work website and learn how public servants are forced to write documents (not for the faint of heart)

Or I can lay down the bare bones for you here.

Parental leave is for both parents. That's right. So you lucky ones get 24 months between you. But don't go cracking the champagne quite yet... remember, you will have a baby so this is no holiday. You also can't take it  at the same time as your partner for more than 8 weeks.
So if mum decides to take leave first (which is the usual way people do this) then you can take leave up to 6 weeks prior to your due date, and you can take up to 12 months total of unpaid leave. If you want to take more than 12 months then you need to gain agreement from your employer.

You need to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months to be eligible for unpaid parental leave. BUT in order to not be subject to any discrimination claims, most employers are open to negotiating a time with you if you have less than 12 months service. General rule of thumb is that they will give you the time off that you have worked there. (So 6 months service may get you 6 months of unpaid leave.)

The Tony Abbot cry of "no more double dipping" (because we are all living life large on those paid parental leave payments) has not had legislation pass. So for the moment, feel free to take any paid parental leave your employer is giving you, and apply for the Government Paid Parental Leave, if you are eligible, and ready to spend 3 weeks completing paperwork and talking to Centrelink.

You must give written notice to your employer of your intention to take parental leave at least 10 weeks prior to your intention to start leave and then again at 4 weeks prior you need to confirm those dates. Most employers want you to provide them with a letter from your Doctor confirming the pregnancy. 

Lots of things can happen when you are on parental leave - get on the front foot and find out how the business can stay in touch with you. Most organisations have a "keep in touch" policy and if they don't then ask your Manager to keep you "in the loop" as many Managers won't feel comfortable in doing this unless you ask. Sure, there is legislation about consultation, but I won't bore you with that here. Just ask for the highlights from time to time so you have an idea of what is going on which makes the transition back to work a whole lot easier!

Now I haven't gone into much detail here, and this is really just a few general pointers. Do you have some questions? Go ahead and ask and I may include the Q&As in an upcoming post
--NOTE -- All references here are related to the Fair Work Act. You need to be covered by the FWA for this to apply (so be in a corporation in Australia.)
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