As I sit down to write this piece and kick-start the new AHRI blog-site, a story has landed on my desk about a woman suing a large multinational company for $1.1 million in the Australian Federal Court, and in the process implicating a HR manager for the company’s alleged failure to act on her bullying and harassment allegations against a senior executive.
And a few of weeks ago a full bench of Fair Work Australia upheld an appeal against an earlier unfair dismissal decision because the company’s HR manager sent a private email reflecting on the character of the person dismissed to the Commissioner who originally heard the case.
While these cases may not end up drawing the individual HR practitioners into a legal vortex, they are increasingly typical of cases that have seen HR practitioners named, threatened or penalised as individuals for activities carried out in the course of doing their jobs.
I refer in particular to the recent Centennial Financial Services and Sika cases in the Federal Court where HR managers were found to be in breach of the Fair Work Act in relation to sham contracting and freedom of association provisions respectively, and were penalised as individuals in additions to the penalties exacted against the companies for which they worked.
These cases made two things absolutely clear.
One is that the courts expect HR practitioners to know the law in their area of practice, to advise their employers accordingly and to observe the law themselves. From where I sit, that means AHRI has an obligation to remind HR practitioners of changes in the law and to encourage them to seek training.
It also means that HR practitioners can find themselves in positions where legal action is taken directly against them for activities undertaken in performing their job.
On the first, AHRI continues to offer training in areas of compliance and accredits university courses that do the same, so that members are kept up-to-date with developments in employment law.
On the second, we have now decided that AHRI members need protection from litigation that can arise when they’re performing their role as HR practitioners. So we spoke with lawyers and insurers and have come up with AHRI ProCover, an insurance policy that covers professional members for costs incurred in the event of legal action arising from their activities as an HR professional.
The good news for AHRI members is that in order to qualify for that cover they need to do nothing. Protection under AHRI ProCover is now part of being an AHRI professional member, and all that’s necessary to ensure continuing coverage is to maintain your member status.
See the AHRI website for more detail.
Serge Sardo, CEO, Australian Human Resources Institute