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Employment disputes escalate

Employment disputes escalate

Bosses be warned – workers are taking their employers to court in ever-increasing numbers.

A top employment expert has noticed a marked increase in the number of employees taking legal action against their employers.

The reasons vary, but Max Whitehead says it is common knowledge among workers that many small to medium business fail to comply with the employment laws. This has opened the legal floodgates to employees disgruntled with their working conditions or pay.

Max Whitehead, principal of the Whitehead Group, an Albany-based employment and human resources consultancy says, “We are seeing disgruntled employees extracting huge settlement payments from employers who have unwittingly not complied with the law.”

Mr Whitehead says the difficulties stem from higher employee expectations driven by a Government and unions constantly telling workers they deserve better conditions and more money.

“Last year the unions drove a vigorous ‘Five Percent For 2005’ campaign and this year the ‘Super Size My Pay’ movement is gaining real traction.

“The Government’s extra fourth week holiday kicked in this April and they are now pushing through a law enabling staff to work hours which suit their personal circumstances.

“On top of all this, employees know that with the current skilled labour shortages, the company would have trouble replacing them.

“Taken together, it’s understandable that employees are expecting and demanding more,” he says.

However, some of the cases coming before mediators and the courts are entirely frivolous. They should be dealt with internally and never allowed to escalate to such a level, he says.

For example, in a recent case a receptionist was put through a disciplinary process for failing to pass on messages and leaving her work station for long periods.

Another received a written warning after arguing with her boyfriend in the reception area. The employee then resigned but took a personal grievance for disadvantage. Her claim, however, failed.

Max Whitehead says, “We see a lot of this. Other examples include a boss refusing to send an employee on a training course; and an employee claiming bullying and racial discrimination after being told off by the employer.”

As a result of the rise in such cases, Max Whitehead says employers are calling in the experts earlier than they used to. “Previously, they would either ignore the problem and hope it goes away, or try to handle the complicated legal system themselves,” he says.

In addition, many small companies now recognise the need to put appropriate policies, rules and employment agreements in place, and then proactively seek advice before problems escalate.

“We go in and install a simple system that provides legal compliance and only come back to advise or assist with issues as they arise. Employers find this an effective and economical way to keep on top of employment matters,” says Max Whitehead.


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