Workplace disputes can have significant financial implications and cause unrest within an organisation. They can be highly stressful for both employers and employees.
When dealing with a workplace dispute it is important for the parties to understand their respective legal rights and responsibilities and to work through practical, commercial solutions that avoid protracted legal proceedings, wherever possible.
Types of workplace disputes
Employment disputes can arise from various issues such as an alleged failure by an employer to meet its workplace obligations, claims of inconsistent or preferential treatment between employees, cultural differences or lack of consultation when changing workplace practices.
Serious disputes often involve allegations by an employee that an employer has breached a workplace law, generally covered under provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). These may include:
- bullying and harassment allegations
- discrimination / sexual harassment allegations
- unfair / unlawful dismissal claims
- wrongful termination claims
- adverse action claims based on general protections provisions (for example unfair dismissal on the basis of a temporary absence for illness or injury, race, colour, sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, religion, national extraction or political opinion).
When responding to a claim for the purported breach of a workplace law it is prudent for employers to seek appropriate legal advice.
Other workplace disputes may involve breaches of an employment contract such as restraint of trade and confidentiality provisions.
Minimising workplace disputes – resolution and conciliation
Potential workplace issues can be avoided or minimised by implementing policies that set out the rights and obligations of employers and employees and developing systems and processes to manage disputes.
Employers should have a sound understanding of their legal obligations when interviewing, recruiting, supervising, disciplining and dismissing staff and ensure that appropriate systems, compliant with workplace laws, are in place for each function.
Good processes assist employers and employees to maintain sound relationships by dealing with workplace issues before they become protracted and may avoid costly legal proceedings.
Dispute resolution systems should be simple, transparent and follow logical stages so that issues may be resolved promptly. Processes should be fair and consultative to ensure that all parties involved have the opportunity to be heard and meetings should take place in a confidential and non-threatening environment. If the employment relationship is governed by a contract or specific dispute resolution process or policy, these provisions should be carefully followed.
If an employer and employee are unable to resolve a dispute, the matter may proceed to the Fair Work Commission, the Federal Circuit Court, Human Rights or Anti-Discrimination Commission or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In such cases it important to obtain professional advice to ensure the matter is dealt with appropriately and that you are fully aware of your legal rights and responsibilities so informed decisions may be made.