By David Bates

Well, the new year is upon us and Australians (most of us anyway!) are slowly returning to our workplaces and gearing up for another year of business.

Sadly, and despite all the warm wishes of ‘prosperous’ new years that were offered throughout December, there will be plenty of employers investigated and prosecuted by the employment authorities during the next 12 months.

There’ll also be plenty more who will face claims of bullying, unfair dismissal, adverse action, and discrimination before the year is out.

So here are my three hot HR tips to help you avoid expensive claims and prosecution in 2015.

Tip 1: Know your modern award

Most employees in Australia are ‘covered’ by one of the 122 modern awards that create legally-enforceable minimum terms and conditions of employment across a wide range of industries and occupations. These awards apply as a matter of law – not choice – and compliance with their (often hopelessly) complex requirements is not optional.

It’s therefore incredibly important that you know which awards apply to your employees, and that you ensure full compliance with all your associated legal obligations.

Remember too that multiple awards may apply to your business, so don’t stop your search as soon as you find one award that you think might apply.

Tip 2: Keep accurate employment records

The Fair Work Act 2009 imposes a range of record-keeping obligations on employers, including strict rules relating to time and wages records and the issuing of payslips. Small mistakes or omissions can prove costly because Inspectors are able to issue on-the-spot infringement notices of up to $510 per breach.

If you’re not sure of your obligations, seek advice sooner rather than later. And don’t assume that just because you’re using a particular program for calculating wages that everything is ok. Many of these programs don’t take into account the unique complexities and requirements of Australia’s employment laws, modern awards, and National Employment Standards (NES). It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Tip 3: Know when and how to dismiss

Too many employers are still working under the assumption that ‘three written warnings’ are required before they can fire someone, or that an employee can be dismissed without notice during their probationary period. It’s important you separate fact from fiction, and ensure all your HR processes for managing and dismissing employees are compliant with the current laws.

While I could write much more about the NES, workplace, health and safety, and many other areas of HR risk and compliance, just following the above three tips will go a long way towards protecting you and your business in 2015.