Will my Facebook post affect my employment?

Will my Facebook post affect my employment?

Can an employer intervene in an employees use of social media outside work?

A recent decision by the Fair Work Commission has shed some light on this question showing that having a detailed workplace policy can provide better protection for your company from damaging posts made by employees. Further, the decision has shown that employees need to think carefully before they comment on social media channels online.

The recent decision of Waters v Mt Arthur Coal Pty Limited concerned a dispute between an employee, Mr Waters, and his employer, the Mt Arthur open cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley. In the lead up to Christmas 2017, the coal mine was considering whether it would operate on Christmas and Boxing Day due to safety concerns arising from low staff numbers. It was announced two days before Christmas that operations would continue over these days.

Following this decision, an Industrial Safety and Health Representative issued a direction to suspend mining operation over the Christmas period due to the reduced emergency evacuation capacity. Mt Arthur received this direction but decided not to comply with it, and considered the safety risk not to be a real concern.

Mr Waters was a health and safety representative at the mine, and after receiving the safety direction he posted a Facebook status saying ‘Xmas & Boxing day shifts are off for good.’ Mr Waters was not aware this status was incorrect, and assumed the mine would comply with the safety direction. When Mr Waters confirmed with other staff members that the status was incorrect, he deleted it.

Mt Arthur terminated Mr Waters’ employment for being in contravention of a range of their workplace policies including the ‘distribution of material that is likely to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to your colleagues’.

The Fair Work Commission found that the Facebook post was a valid reason for dismissal. They found that the post had a relevant connection to Mr Waters’ employment, was used to communicate operational matters with other employees and was likely to damage Mt Arthur’s interests in operating the mine. The post was ultimately found to be incompatible with Mr Waters’ obligations to comply with workplace policies.

The case provides a timely reminder for employees to be extremely careful with what they post on social media, especially if it relates to their work. It also highlights how important comprehensive workplace policies are for employers. However, employers must be conscious of identifying a connection between the social media post and employment before intervening with an employee’s use of social media use outside work hours.

If you would like to speak with one of our solicitors regarding social media and the workplace, please contact us on 9963 9800 or via our contact form.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Mediation and Settlement Conferences

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Mediation and Settlement Conferences

Lawyers are often stereotyped as being interested in prolonging an expensive court action, however more often the opposite is true, due to the availability of alternate dispute resolution avenues such as mediation.

Lawyers know that court cases are expensive and that clients are fearful that legal costs could escalate to an intolerable level. Lawyers interested in preserving long standing relationships with their clients will often recommend alternative dispute resolution options. Mediation is one of those options.

There are various types of mediation

  1. Pre-litigation informed settlement, or a round table conference
  2. Informed settlement conference after the court proceedings have commenced without a mediator
  3. Courted ordered mediation with a mediator

What exactly is mediation?

Mediation allows parties to remain in control of their own disputes and outcome while facilitating parties to tell their side of the story to the other party and the mediator. It is conducted on a ‘without prejudice basis’ which means that whatever is said during the mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court against you. It rules out the uncertainty and risk of court litigation and allows the parties to make certain compromises to achieve a commercial outcome.   

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution. Others include Early Neutral Evaluation, Expert Determination and Arbitration.

In essence, mediation is an informal conflict resolution process brought before an independent, neutral third party. Mediation gives the parties the opportunity to discuss their issues, clear up misunderstandings, and find areas of agreement in a way that would never be possible in a court case.

Mediation is often voluntary. Typically the mediator has no authority to make a binding decision unless both parties agree to give the mediator that power.  This is dealt with in advance of the mediation commencing. Mediators are accredited under the National Mediator Accreditation System.

When parties should consider mediation

In practical terms mediation is likely to be quicker and more cost-effective than the more formal processes of arbitration or litigation (in court). Mediation should be considered as early as possible after a dispute has arisen. It is particularly appropriate where a dispute involves complex issues and/or multiple parties.

In addition, mediation can be implemented prior to, or in conjunction with, other forms of dispute resolution such as arbitration or court proceedings.

In circumstances where privacy and confidentiality are important, mediation enables parties to preserve these rights without public disclosure. This often leads to more satisfactory outcomes for both parties.

Advantages of mediation

There are many advantages. In summary these can be described as:

You get to decide

The responsibility and authority for coming to an agreement remain with the people who have the conflict. The dispute is viewed as a problem to be solved. The mediator does not make the decisions, and you do not need to “take your chances” in the courtroom.

In doing this however, you need to understand your legal rights so that you can make decisions that are in your own best interests. It is very important to seek legal advice from a competent litigation lawyer so that you do not agree to an offer that is much less than you are entitled to.

The focus is on needs and interests

Mediation examines the underlying causes of the problem and looks at what solutions best suit your unique needs and satisfy your interests.

For a continuing relationship

Colleagues, business partners, and family members have to continue to deal with each other co-operatively. Going to court can divide people and increase hostility. Mediation looks to the future. It helps end the problem, not the relationship.

Mediation deals with feelings

Each person is encouraged to tell their own story in their own way. Discussing both legal and personal issues can help you develop a new understanding of yourself and the other person. You are encouraged to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Higher satisfaction

Participants in mediation report higher satisfaction rates than people who go to court. Because of their active involvement, they have a higher commitment to upholding the settlement than people who have a judge decide for them. Mediation ends in agreement about 80% of the time and has high rates of compliance.

Informality

Apart from court ordered mediation in a large court, for complex litigation in which parties would follow a set structure such as submitting position paper and a mediation bundle to the mediator ahead of the mediation, informal settlement conferences are less intimidating process than going to court. Since there are no strict rules of procedure, this flexibility allows the people involved to find the best path to agreement.  Although it is normal for any dispute resolution to be taxing emotionally, mediation is a process that is much less confronting and is conducted in a much more comfortable environment than litigation

Faster than going to court

Years may pass before a case comes to trial, while a mediated agreement may be obtained in a couple of hours or in sessions over a few weeks.

Lower cost

The court process is expensive and costs can exceed the benefits. It may be more important to apply that money to solving the problem, repairing damages, or paying someone back. Mediation services are available at low cost for some types of cases. If you can’t agree, other legal options are still possible. Even a partial settlement can lessen later litigation fees.

Privacy

Unlike most court cases, which are matters of public record, most mediations are confidential.

Where mediation is not the solution

With mediation, a resolution is not guaranteed. There is the potential that parties may invest time and money in trying to resolve a dispute out of court and still end up having to go to court. Ultimately, it is a call that should be made in consultation with an experienced lawyer.

Mediation should not be a solution in circumstances where it is not appropriate. For example, where a court remedy is necessary such as an injunction or seeking specific urgent court orders.

It must also be remembered that the mediator has no power to impose a binding decision on the parties. Therefore, even after the mediation the matter may be unresolved and you may still need to go to court.

Fundamentally, mediation rarely produces a satisfactory resolution unless all parties to a dispute are committed to a resolution.

Navigating the court system can be a financially and emotionally costly and time-consuming process. Mediation is an alternative. It is suitable for people who are willing to communicate with the other party and attempt to better understand and settle their dispute with the help of a trained third party.

To find out more call us on (02) 9963 9800 or contact us here.

Business Structures: Companies

Business Structures: Companies

This article looks at companies – how to set one up and the pros and cons of a company structure. When commencing a business venture, it is necessary to consider the most appropriate type of business structure to put in place. Different business structures have different benefits and disadvantages.

Key Features of Companies

A company is a separate legal entity capable of holding assets in its own name and liable for its own obligations. A company is owned by shareholders. The liability of shareholders is usually limited to the amount of their shareholding guarantee. This means that shareholders can limit their personal liability and are not generally liable for the debts of the company.

Directors manage the day to day business affairs of the company. There are a number of duties and obligations for company directors including an obligation that a director must act in the best interests of the company.

In Australia, the most common forms of companies are:

  • Private company (or a proprietary limited company): this is a company which does not sell its shares to the public and cannot raise money from the general public through share issue.
  • Public company: is a company whose shares are owned by the public at large, with the company’s shares usually listed for trade on a stock exchange.

Companies are regulated by the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC) and governed by Corporations Law.

How to set up a company

An Australian company must be registered with ASIC. When ASIC registers a company, the company will be given an Australian Company Number (ACN). An applicant must nominate a principal place of business and registered office for the company.

Prior to lodging an application for registration, consideration should be given to:

  • the proposed company name. A check should be undertaken to confirm the availability of the proposed name. If no name is specified in the application, the company will be referred to by its ACN.
  • what rules will apply to govern the company. This can generally be the replaceable rules from the Corporations Act (which means that the company does not require its own written constitution), a constitution or a combination of the two.
  • who will be the shareholders and directors of the company.

A company needs its own Tax File Number, which can be obtained online from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and an annual tax return must be filed.

A company must be registered for GST if its annual turnover is $75,000 or more. An Australian Business Number (ABN) is required to register for GST and can be obtained online through the Australian Business Register.

Pros and Cons

The advantages of forming a company include:

  • liability for shareholders is limited
  • easier to raise finance for expansion
  • ownership can be easily transferred
  • taxation rates can be favourable

The disadvantages include:

  • expensive to form, maintain and wind up
  • reporting requirements can be complex
  • must publicly disclose key information
  • owners cannot offset losses against other income

Conclusion

A company might be a suitable business structure for unrelated parties who want to commence a business venture together, where there is a degree of risk and limited liability is wanted or where there is a desire to list the company on the stock exchange.

Establishment of a company and ongoing administrative and compliance costs associated with Corporations Law can be high. An accountant or lawyer can help you understand the cost and risks of a company and explain whether a company structure would be suitable for your business going forward.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or email [email protected]ringtons.com.au.

Understanding Unfair Dismissal Claims

Understanding Unfair Dismissal Claims

Unfair dismissal matters can be complex and frustrating for both employers and employees alike.  Since the commencement of the Fair Work Act in 2009, employers have had expanded responsibilities to ensure they correctly terminate employees and more employees are able to successfully make unfair dismissal claims.

At the same time employers have narrower exceptions when they’re defending claims.

Terminating a person’s employment is usually stressful and upsetting for everyone concerned, so it’s always important to understand when and how it can be done in a fair and appropriate manner.

The issues can be complex

Unfair dismissal can also incorporate far-reaching issues including employment type, award and enterprise agreement coverage, time limits for claims and the provisions of the legislation.

In addition, the definition of ‘dismissal’ can include a situation where a person resigns but was forced to do so because of conduct, or a course of conduct, engaged in by their employer. This is commonly referred to as ‘constructive dismissal’.

What remains after the legislative changes is that a dismissal must be harsh, unjust or unreasonable for it to be an unfair dismissal under the Act. The primary remedy is said in the Act to be reinstatement, but in practice this does remain the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, compensation is ordered – the Fair Work Commission can order compensation of up six months of the employee’s salary.

Who is covered by the unfair dismissal provisions of the Fair Work Act?

  • In a small business (with fewer than 15 employees), an employee is covered if they have worked for at least 12 months;
  • For larger businesses, employees are covered after six months.
  • There is an additional hurdle for employees of small business. Even if an employee has worked in it for 12 months, a dismissal will not be unfair where the small business has complied with the Small Business Unfair Dismissal Code.
  • Under the Fair Work Act, a dismissal will not be unfair if an employer can show that it was a “genuine redundancy”.

What is a “genuine redundancy”?

There are three elements to a genuine redundancy

  1. the employer no longer requires the employee’s job to be done by anyone because of changes in the employer’s operational requirements;
  2. the employer has complied with any consultation obligations that it might have in an enterprise agreement or award;
  3. it would not have been reasonable for the employer to redeploy the employee within the employer’s business or the enterprise of an associated entity of the employer.

Small businesses – don’t be caught out

Research by Benoit Freyens, assistant economics professor at the University of Canberra, and Paul Oslington, economics professor at the Australian Catholic University, found that in the change from the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to the Fair Work Act:

  • Where unfair dismissal cases were arbitrated between 2000 to late 2010, claimant success rates have lifted from 33% under Work Choices to 51% under the current Fair Work Act.
  • Claims under Fair Work against businesses with more than 100 employees have a 41% success rate, versus the 33% rate under the Workplace Relations Act.
  • Claims lodged under Fair Work have jumped to 17,000 per year, from 6000 under Work Choices – in line with the increase in the number of employees able to make unfair dismissal claims (and the removal of many employees from the State industrial relations system to the Federal industrial relations system). Payouts were steady, averaging about 12 weeks’ pay.

Conclusion

Employers need to be vigilant in conforming to process when dismissing somebody, even when the employer believes they have sufficient reasons to justify dismissal, such as theft. They need to follow the correct process – such as providing warnings and collecting documentary evidence. In the absence of this process it’s very easy to formulate an unfair dismissal claim on the basis of a lack of fair process.

For employers the best way to avoid claims of unfair dismissal is to make sure that your organisation and your employees really understand their obligations under the Fair Work Act when terminating someone’s employment. It also means there should be an internal review of the firm’s policies.

That said, only about 1% of unfair dismissal applicants to the Fair Work Commission successfully achieve reinstatement through arbitration. The most common outcome is a conciliated settlement. Understanding unfair dismissal claims helps parties optimise their outcome in what can be a confusing system.

We represent both employers and employees so if you or your organisation needs assistance or advice on how to proceed please call on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.

Top 6 Power of Attorney Questions

Top 6 Power of Attorney Questions

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives a trusted person the legal authority to act for you and to make legally binding decisions on your behalf.  If you do not have a Power of Attorney then you should contact us and find out more.

Below are 6 top questions dealing with Powers of Attorney.

Circumstances when a Power of Attorney is particularly useful:

  • to relieve yourself of the day-to-day demands of financial paperwork and record keeping;
  • as a safety net when travelling or to allow someone to handle your affairs in your absence;
  • to avoid burdening family or friends with the responsibility of looking after your affairs; or
  • if you are unable to manage your prosperity or financial affairs.

Does the Attorney need to be a lawyer?

The person appointed does not need to have legal qualifications – you can appoint anyone, although deciding on the person to be appointed should be done with careful thought as you are providing them with considerable power.

An ideal attorney should:

  • have integrity;
  • be willing to act in that capacity;
  • have competence in areas of relevance;
  • be able to act in a business-like manner;
  • be able to spare the time necessary for the task;
  • live in the locality in which they are to act;
  • be agreeable to respecting the confidentiality of the donor’s (the person giving the Power of Attorney) affairs; and
  • be impartial and have no known conflict of interest.

Are there different types of Powers of Attorney?

Yes, there are two types:

A General Power of Attorney which is:

  • only valid while you have legal capacity;
  • useful if you are going away for an extended period and you do not want the authority to continue should you lose legal capacity; and
  • usually drawn up for a specific purpose with specific or general powers.

And an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) which:

  • continues to be valid even if you lose legal capacity due to disability or illness;
  • may empower your attorney to make financial, property, lifestyle and health decisions;
  • may be activated when required or upon loss of legal capacity; and
  • allows your attorney to commence or to continue to manage your affairs even though you have become unable to give lawful instructions.

Is it better to have more than one attorney?

We recommend that you do have more than one attorney, or a substitute attorney if the appointed attorney cannot act or continue to act, as it gives you more flexibility.

Some examples to illustrate why it is helpful include: siblings who should act together, or you are unsure if one should act on their own, or to allow the power to continue if one attorney dies or cannot act. This also applies if you appoint a spouse and a child as an alternative in the event the spouse dies. You can also appoint attorneys to act “jointly” (this means they must agree on everything) or “severally” (this means one of the appointed persons can make decisions alone).

Should I pay my attorney?

This is not necessary to give legal effect to the power, and for a financial power would normally only be considered if the attorney is a professional.

How do I know if the person has sufficient mental capacity to make a power of attorney?

There is no simple formula, but in general terms they must be able to:

  • understand the major consequences of a decision;
  • take responsibility for making that choice; and
  • make a choice based on the risks and benefits that are important to them.

If there is any doubt about capacity, it’s best to get in touch with a medical doctor and ask for a written opinion. Remember, different powers require different levels of understanding. If a medical opinion about capacity is sought, it is wise to have the Power of Attorney signed on the same day as you get the medical report so there can be no subsequent claim that the appointment was invalid.

In our view many clients do not recognise the possible benefits (and pitfalls) of Powers Of Attorney.

The need fora Power of Attorney can be numerous.  In case of accident, sudden illness,planned or unexpected absence, or when you just can’t cope, you may need someone to manage your financial affairs. So it doesn’t matter if you are old or young, in business or not, if you do a lot of travelling or not, there are great benefits in having a power of attorney.

To find out more about Powers of Attorney and their benefits call us on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form here.

Buying a property at auction – things you need to know BEFORE auction day

Buying a property at auction – things you need to know BEFORE auction day

Buying a property can often be an intimidating process, especially at auction where you are competing with other buyers and there is no cooling off period.

Many properties are sold at auction, particularly in a rising market, so it is important for buyers to understand the processes involved so they can bid confidently on the auction day.

There are many things that need to be done before the auction to ensure that your interests are protected and that you are fully informed about the property you are intending to buy; these things are outlined below.

Contract Review

The most important thing to do is to take the contract of sale to your lawyer well before the auction date.

Your lawyer will review the contract, advise you of any risks and help to protect your interests by identifying any terms that might need to be negotiated on your behalf or that you wish to have altered, for example, longer settlement periods, reduced deposits and/or additional terms and conditions.

Your lawyer will also make sure you are buying exactly what you intended to and that it’s in the condition you expect by arranging any pre-auction inspections that should be carried out, such as building and pest inspections.

If you are the successful bidder at the auction the reviewed contract can be signed with confidence.

Inspect the Property

You should thoroughly inspect the property before the auction day and satisfy yourself that all inclusions are in proper working order and that the gas, water and electricity are functioning properly.

If you are successful on the auction day you will be buying the property ‘as is’.

Research

Thoroughly research the area and surrounding suburbs before the auction day, so that you are comfortable about the amount you are prepared to pay for the property, and can bid confidently.

Finance

Make sure that you have your finance in order before making an offer. If you are obtaining mortgage finance, you should have your finance unconditionally approved not just pre-approved. Confirm with your lender the maximum amount you can borrow.

Pre-approval is not confirmation of how much the lender is willing to provide you, it is an indication of what you might be able to borrow depending on the value of the property, which is determined by a formal valuation after the auction.

It is important to ensure that you have adequate funds available to complete the purchase within the timeframe stipulated in the contract.

Deposit

If you are the successful bidder, you will be required to pay a deposit cheque or deposit bond (usually 10% of the purchase price) immediately following signing of the contract.

Register to Bid

To participate or bid at an auction, buyers must register with the selling agent and be given a bidder’s number. You can register with the selling agent at any time prior to the auction, such as when you inspect the property, or on the day itself.

To register you must provide ID, a card or document issued by a government or financial institution showing your name and address, for example:

  • driver’s licence or learner’s permit
  • vehicle registration paper
  • council rates notice.

If you do not have this kind of proof of identity you can use two documents that together show your name and address.

Reserve price

Before auctioning a property, the seller will nominate a reserve price, which is usually not advertised. If the bidding continues beyond the reserve price, the property is sold at the fall of the hammer.

Bidding

Make sure you have a strategy going into the auction and that you set yourself a maximum purchase price. Stick to that maximum price. If you feel as though you may be too emotionally attached to bid at the auction yourself, then organise with the Agent to have someone bid on your behalf. If you elect to do so, you must provide a written signed authority to the Agent authorising the person to bid on your behalf.

Successful Bidder

If you are the highest bidder, immediately following the auction, you will be asked to:

  • provide your contact details to the Agent;
  • sign the contract of sale; and
  • pay the deposit.

You will be entering into an unconditional and legally binding contract. There is no cooling-off period.

The signed contract will then be delivered to your solicitor’s office and they will contact you to discuss the next steps.

Conclusion

Getting the right advice, being fully informed and prepared before the auction day is a critical part of ensuring that the purchase of your next (or first) property runs smoothly.

The purchase of a property, at auction or otherwise, should not be unduly stressful and our expert team can help guide you through the process and make sure your interests are protected.

If you or someone you know is looking to purchase a property at auction and needs help or advice, please contact us via our form or on (02) 9963 9800.