Workplace Relations and Occupational Health and Safety

We are uniquely placed to advise and assist all areas of the Victorian Public Sector (VPS) including the Victorian Public Service and government entities and bodies on all aspects of employee relations, industrial relations, discrimination and occupational health and safety law (Workplace Matters).

Our team are practical and solutions-focused. We provide high quality legal and strategic advice on a wide range of complex and sensitive Workplace Matters.

We are also experienced litigators and appear regularly for clients across the VPS in litigation in courts and tribunals.

In addition, we offer a full range of training for clients on Workplace Matters, including:

  • conducting workplace investigations
  • sexual harassment
  • employment law fundamentals
  • occupational health and safety compliance for Boards/Directors.

Managing performance, capacity and misconduct

Given the unique experience of our lawyers, in particular their extensive involvement in the VPS, we are able to provide insightful VPS focused advice on managing employee performance, capacity and misconduct.

This includes:

  • Identifying relevant issues and advising on compliance with relevant enterprise agreements, policies, procedures and legislative obligations when undertaking performance management or misconduct processes.
  • Conducting investigations on behalf of clients into alleged poor performance or misconduct.
  • Advising on reasonable adjustments to accommodate an employee's capacity.

Employment policies and procedures

We draft and advise on workplace policies, codes of conduct and procedures across the VPS. Our drafting and advice is concise and accessible and takes into account the specific circumstances of the organisation and applicable industrial instruments.

Our experience includes drafting and advising on:

  • performance management and misconduct
  • disciplinary policies
  • equal opportunity and sexual harassment policies
  • termination and redundancy
  • IT usage and social media policies
  • access to paid/unpaid leave policies and procedures
  • working from home policies
  • secondment policies and procedures
  • intellectual property policies
  • privacy policies
  • procedures for vaccinations of employees
  • return to work policies (for example, on hybrid working arrangements)
  • occupational health and safety policies and procedures.

Our broad ranging knowledge and experience of VPS considerations enables us to ensure our documents and advice are accurate, relevant and responsive to the unique government context.

Collective bargaining, drafting and interpretation of enterprise agreements

We advise on a broad range of VPS enterprise agreements and assist employers with:

  • Advice on application and interpretation of enterprise agreements.
  • Strategic advice on industrial matters.
  • Advice and assistance with bargaining and negotiating enterprise agreements, including the voting and approval process.
  • Advice and assistance on responses to protected/unprotected industrial action.
  • Representation in enterprise agreement disputes, including in litigation.

Our focus is on practical outcomes, mitigating industrial and employment related risks and providing certainty and clarity consistent with Victoria's public sector industrial framework and policies.

Litigation and disputation: Unfair dismissals, general protections, bullying, discrimination, industrial, contractual and OHS claims

We appear in the Fair Work Commission, Federal Circuit Court, Federal Court, Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Supreme Court, Country Court and Magistrate's Court on various litigated Workplace Matters, including claims relating to:

  • unfair dismissal
  • general protections
  • bullying
  • anti-discrimination
  • breach of contract
  • industrial disputes (including disputes under enterprise agreements)
  • judicial reviews
  • OHS breaches.

Our unique connection to the VPS places our lawyers in the best position possible to assist our clients to navigate the complexities of litigation as a model litigant and achieve successful outcomes.

Termination of employment of executive and non-executive employees

Termination of employment can often result in litigation which requires knowledgeable and experienced advice and representation to assist VPS employers to navigate the broad range of issues that can arise in a termination context.

Our familiarity with relevant enterprise agreements, Codes of Conduct, VPS policies, procedures, legislation and contractual arrangements means that we are able to provide astute, effective, timely and relevant advice when it is most needed.

Organisational transfers and new body creation, including statutory transfers and transfers of business

We often advise clients on organisational transfers, creations of new bodies and transfers of business, whether they be in the context of the Public Administration Act 2004 (Vic), the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or otherwise. This work includes:

  • Conducting workplace due diligence and reporting.
  • Identifying workplace related risks and developing risk mitigation strategies.
  • Providing advice on employment transfers, including statutory transfers.
  • Drafting relevant legislative instruments and communications to relevant stakeholders.

Organisational transfers (including statutory transfers) and the creation of new bodies, are inherently complex. We often collaborate with our colleagues across the VGSO to provide our clients with efficient and effective advice.

Statutory and contract interpretation, including remuneration, technology and privacy

Our team has significant experience in the VPS (as well as private sector experience) advising on all types of employment arrangements and issues.

We regularly advise VPS clients on:

  • The interaction between legislative and contractual rights, including in relation to setting standards for employees.
  • Contracts of employment and letters of offer (with particular expertise in advising on executive employees, the effect and implications of the Public Entity Executive Remuneration (PEER) Policy and the unique nature of executive rights/entitlements in the VPS, including the Victorian Public Service.
  • Wage theft.
  • Compliance and employment related privacy and technology associated issues including:
    • employee generated intellectual property
    • the impacts of information technologies on privacy
    • confidentiality
    • defamation
    • social media use and the impact of artificial intelligence in recruitment
    • management and performance measurement.

We are able to assist VPS employers with legislative and broader compliance requirements.

Occupational health and safety

The range of occupational health and safety services the VGSO can provide includes:

  • Rapid response assistance and advice in the event of health and safety incidents.
  • Providing strategic advice on risk management, regulatory compliance (e.g. Notices and requests for documents) and responding to WorkSafe investigations.
  • Advising and assisting with reviews of improvement notices under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
  • Defending prosecutions for alleged offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
  • Conducting workplace OHS investigations and providing due diligence reviews to ensure adequate policies and procedures are in place to satisfy regulatory compliance, audits and inspections.
  • Contractor management reviews to ensure adequate systems and documentation are in place to address potential health and safety risks arising from third party engagement.
  • Drafting OHS frameworks and related policies.
  • Targeted tailored training programs for:
    • risk management, policy development, internal investigations, responding to WorkSafe investigations and requests for documents
    • responding to Improvement and Prohibition Notices
    • incident response table top exercises using relevant client-centric scenarios
    • mental health policy development and training
    • occupational violence and aggression
    • bullying.

Workers compensation

Workers compensation claims can be time consuming and complex to deal with. Often these claims are accompanied by other employment related issues (including disputes) which must be managed carefully to avoid breach of the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic).

Our lawyers are able to advise and assist in dealing with workers compensation issues including in relation to the overlap with other employment matters and claims.

External training and secondments

We often second lawyers into VPS clients on temporary, short term and long term assignments to cover transitions between in-house legal supports and for specific projects. Our intimate government experience, insight and knowledge means that our employment/OHS lawyers fit in seamlessly into any VPS environment and value add from day one.

In addition to our highly popular webinars, we offer regular training in all relevant areas of employment, industrial, discrimination and occupational health and safety law and practice both at an organisation-specific and VPS level.

We provide executives, in-house HR and legal teams, people leaders, managers, OHS specialists and employees with practical solutions based on our expertise, insights and guidance. Our training helps government employers avoid the pitfalls that can arise in the workplace, including:

  • complex disciplinary and performance issues
  • terminations
  • discrimination
  • sexual harassment
  • harassment
  • investigations
  • gender equality
  • OHS matters.