The need to consult with staff at different points in the employment relationship is made a requirement by both employment and work health and safety laws.  This weeks HR Highlight explores when you should be consulting with staff as well as examining how to achieve functional and compliant consultation.

What is Consultation?

Consultation is a process of informing staff of the businesses thoughts, actions and approaches, and seeking staff feedback, comment, concerns and issues BEFORE the business makes a final decision.  Consultation is a functional conversation between the business and the staff on items, areas, risks, hazards and controls that directly impact on them.

Why do you need to Consult with staff?

The requirement to consult with staff is enshrined in the law, and the rationale for why a business must consult with staff depended on the area. There are two broad areas that a business will need to consult with staff on – employment changes and workplace safety.

In the employment area if there are to be changes to the way work is performed, who performs work or the structure of the business, it is a requirement to consult with staff.  The rationale for why consultation is required is simple, the staff are likely to be effected by any major change, and as such need to be given an opportunity to raise concerns, issues, conflict and suggestions and have those issues considered by the business prior to the final decision being made.

In the safety area consultation should be a continual process where the business consults with staff on the hazards, risks and incidents at the workplace and the controls and responses implemented.  The rationale for why consultation is required is again simple, the staff are the ones in the workplace environment, they are the ones doing the tasks, being exposed to the risk and hazards and using the controls – they may have a clearer view of the hazards that exist and have innovative ideas on how to address and control them.

Further, as it is the staff that are exposed to the risks and hazards it is important that they are included in incident and near miss review discussions, as every incident and near miss learnings are explored.

When to Consult?

The timing of consultation often causes concern.  When to consult is a common question. The answer is early and often.  Whether in the employment change area or in the workplace safety area, consultation should commence early in any decision making process, to allow staff an opportunity to influence the outcome.  Consultation should also occur often.  Initial consultation should include all staff, and then should become more detailed as the business gets closer to a decision, focusing on those staff that will be effected by the decision.

What does Consultation look like?

In the area of employment changes, it is important to consult early and often.  Two common areas are business restructure and roster changes.

In the example of a restructure the business will commence the process by making the decision to conduct a business structure review, at this point a simple consultation meeting or memo to staff should highlight what the business is doing and why and possible impact.  In this example consultation would be expected to outline that the business is undertaking a business structure review to achieve the business goal of greater flexibility and responsiveness to changing client need.  Further the consultation would be expected to outline that a possible outcome could be a restructure of some or all of the business areas.

Lastly the consultation should include a notation that as the process continues further consultation will be conducted focusing on areas that are likely to be effected and inviting the staff to bring any comments, questions or concerns to management now or at any time in the process.  As the restructure continues consultation should become more detailed, providing more information and seeking detailed responses from effected staff.

In the area of roster changes a similar process should be followed.  It is important to consult early, prior to the decision on the new roster being made.  It is also important to gather the employee responses and consider the impact of issues raised (such as child caring responsibilities) prior to the decision being made.

In the area of workplace safety the consultation process will occur in two areas; standard consultation and issue response consultation.

Standard consultation should be a regular forum, be it; a meeting a toolbox talk a WHS Committee or similar, that allows for the discussion of risks and hazards and the controls that have been implemented.  At these forums the staff should be encouraged to make comment and suggestion on the current controls and alternative systems of work or controls that could be utilised.  These forums also offer an opportunity for the business to communicate developments in the area of controls and to discuss with the staff the appropriateness of implementing new controls based on the workplace situation.

Issue response consultation will be required when there has been an incident or serious near miss onsite.  It is a requirement to consult with staff on the learnings of the incident and to ensure that any clarification of process or controls is conducted.

In the area of workplace safety it is important to note that while consultation may occur with a representative group of staff, consultation messages, learnings and the invitation to comment on hazards, risks and controls should be afforded to all staff.

Proof of Consultation

As consultation is a requirement under the law your business may be called on to provide evidence of consultation with staff on particular matters.  Meeting agendas and notes, toolbox talk memos and attendee lists, formal letter based communications and general management notes may combine to provide satisfactory evidence of consultation.  It is important that if there is to be a consultation meeting that the discussion points are recorded and communicated to any relevant staff that could not attend the meeting.  Such notes should be dated and a distribution list (or sign sheet) should outline who received the notes.

Here to Help

ACAPMA Members are reminded that they can access resources and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMA Employment Department on 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by  calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of ACAPMA Employment Professionals. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $770 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts. Click here to apply for ACAPMA membership.