By David Bates

Believe it or not, we’re already half way through January. So if you haven’t already reviewed your human resources (HR) practices for 2016, now is the time.

Here are my 5 hot HR tips for the year ahead.

Tip 1: Know your modern awards

If you’re not sure which modern awards apply to your employees, take the time to find out now. The longer you put off this critical task, the higher your chances of being randomly inspected and the greater your potential penalties.

If you’re not sure where to start, get some expert help before it’s too late. Neither the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) nor the Fair Work Commission (FWC) have much time for employers who plead ignorance to employment laws which took effect more than six years ago.

Tip 2: Read the National Employment Standards

Being familiar with – and understanding – all ten of the National Employment Standards (NES) is by far the easiest way to ensure you’re complying with your core legal obligations. For example, are you:

- Issuing all new employees (including casuals) with a copy of the Commonwealth Government’s Fair Work Information Statement?

- Accruing at least 10 days of paid personal/carer’s leave per year for your full-time employees?

- Ensuring you’re not breaking the law by ‘cashing-in’ annual leave for Award-covered employees where the applicable Award doesn’t allow it?

- Paying casual employees the applicable ‘casual loading’?

- Ensuring unused annual leave and personal/carer’s leave rolls over from year to year?

These are just some of the many obligations imposed by the NES, and heavy penalties apply for non-compliance. Again, if you’re not sure where to start, get some expert help now.

Tip 3: Review your employment contracts

There’s no requirement in Australia to issue employees with comprehensive written contracts, but I strongly recommend you do. Written contracts avoid uncertainties and misunderstandings.

However, written contracts must always be consistent with Australia’s complex employment statutes. Contractual terms which are less generous than applicable statutory entitlements will generally be void and unenforceable.

For example, a contractual clause which states a full-time employee will only accrue 3 weeks of annual leave per year is unenforceable because the NES (which are the part of the Fair Work Act 2009) override it and provide a minimum of 4 weeks.

It’s much better to ensure your contracts are up to date while things are going well then to discover critical flaws when you most need to enforce them.