In a recent speech to the Law Institute of Victoria, the Fair Work Ombudsman (“FWO”); Natalie James, provided a rare window into the way in which the FWO operates including providing “tips” on how lawyers and the FWO can work effectively together to avoid “pitfalls” when advising clients regarding matters involving the FWO.
The speech brings sharply into focus the advantages in having workplace relations advisers who provide sensible, holistic and strategic advice to their clients.
Ms. James noted that the FWO’s preference is to form partnerships with businesses to assist them to ensure compliance with workplace laws. However, if this cannot be achieved as a result of (for example) poor advice or an obstructionist attitude by an employer, matters will end up in court. When they do, the FWO are “very serious about them”.
In a warning to employers she said;
“We are not trying to make your life difficult but we are working in the public interest and the public interest of generating a message of general deterrence is not served by horse-trading a settlement behind closed doors. We put a media releases out when we institute proceedings and we are responsible to the public for the final outcome.”
Ms. James endorsed workplace relations advisors who adopt a “real world and holistic view of their role” and as such provide their clients with advice that is tailored to provide advice that not only is legally sound, but is also know that their client’s reputation can be a valuable asset, just as important as a clean rap sheet or balanced books.
She also highlighted a growing trend towards prosecuting individuals as well as companies. She noted that “Human resource staff, day-to-day managers, accountants administrative staff and companies or individuals involved in a supply chain are all examples of accessories that have been found to have been involved in breaches of workplace laws”.
The full text of the speech can be found at;