In this article, we discuss how to avoid workplace injuries that could lead to a worker’s compensation claim, training your staff to effectively deal with disgruntled customers, and an employer’s requirement to comply with record-keeping and payslip obligations.

Avoiding workplace injuries and worker’s compensation claims

Research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed there were 46,100 job vacancies in retail trade in August – an increase of 5,800 vacancies compared to May last year. These staff shortages are reported as being a combination of extended visa processing times and an overall skills shortage for a number of positions.

Due to lack of staff, some businesses have been forced to cut trading hours, drop qualification requirements and hire workers who wouldn’t have previously been considered.

Employees who are untrained, inexperienced, and new to the job can be more susceptible to workplace injuries. This is not only true for physical injuries, but also psychological injuries. Staff working long hours, having their leave cut short or continuing to work overtime are generally more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and burn out.

The festive season is a busy, and yet prosperous, period for many retailers. It can also be a very stressful time for both employers and employees. It is important that retailers ensure their team members receive the proper training, feel supported throughout this time and do not suffer burn out.

Some tips to avoid workplace injuries and worker’s compensation claims include:

  • if possible, have a casual labour pool that you can call on to cover additional work and provide relief to permanent staff;
  • implement regular staff breaks and alternating rostered days to try to alleviate any staff burn out;
  • establish a safety-first culture;
  • any time a worker is new to a facility or piece of equipment, conduct safety training for that site or machine;
  • have regular meetings and training to remind your employees of their own safety obligations and the company’s safe-work practices; and
  • make sure that employees feel safe bringing any concerns to their manager.

In addition, with another potential COVID-19 wave looming, it is important retailers have in place measures to protect its staff and customers from potential exposure to COVID and other illnesses.

Staff training: the customer is not always right

The common adage that ‘the customer is always right’ can affect employee morale and lead to increased psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

In addition to risks to work, health and safety arising from internal pressures such as being short-staffed and over-worked, retailers need to be conscious of the increased risk of external psychosocial hazards that may arise, including, for example, when employees are dealing with disgruntled customers.

The Christmas rush involves navigating large crowds and trying to get the perfect gift and can bring out the worst in customers, who often take out their frustrations on employees. In these circumstances, it’s important for employers to step away from the ‘customer is always right’ mindset and ensure that they are satisfying their duty of care to employees.

Retailers should make sure employees are equipped with appropriate conflict management techniques and are supported in, where necessary, refusing service to disrespectful or aggressive customers. Taking care of employees as the foremost priority will increase morale and, in turn, employees will take greater care in performing their role.

Comply with record keeping and pay slip obligations

Retailers must keep up with their administrative responsibilities under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and related regulations, including providing pay slips, making and keeping employment records and giving employees Fair Work Information Statements. For retailers covered by the General Retail Industry Award, there is also an obligation to keep a copy of staff rosters for a period of at least 12 weeks.

Retailers need to ensure those records are up to date and accurate.

The purpose of mandating record-keeping and payslips is to:

  • secure the enforcement of minimum standards by enabling effective investigation and enforcement of employee entitlements by bodies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman; and
  • enable employees to independently verify their entitlements, and thereby provide employees with an ability to enforce compliance.

If employee records are not managed properly, an employer runs the risk of:

  • inaccurate payroll – increased risk of inadvertent non-compliance with award requirements eg rostering, payment of overtime, breaks, shift allowances, penalty rates.
  • being unable to identify poor performance eg patterns of absenteeism.
  • increased risk of litigation – if an employee brings a claim against their employer alleging breach of their minimum standards of employment, without adequate records an employer will not be able to properly defend itself.

It is recommended that retailers set up these administrative practices now and train multiple staff on what is required. That way, if the store manager or more senior retail staff are sick or unavailable, there are other employees who can attend to these tasks.

Retailers are encouraged to review their practices as early as possible to ensure that they have the proper mechanisms in place to ensure they continue to comply with the necessary employment laws throughout the festive period.