Hiring and Firing in a School - Managing the Legal Risks Involved

Thursday May 5, 2016

Will Snow, Senior Associate at Finlaysons, spoke with Jane Wily of Legalwise Seminars to discuss hiring and firing and managing the legal employment risks in schools.

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You can find the transcript of the Q&A below.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, Will?

I give advice to schools and other organisations when ‘things go wrong at work’ – whether about a contract dispute, a safety issue or an injury. As a parent of one school-aged child I have enormous respect for the dedication and effort put in by teachers and school staff. I’m also aware of the compliance burden that can be faced by schools so when I give advice, I aim to make it clear and simple.

When not in the office or in court, I spend my time with my family and in the garden. I like to pretend to farm and enjoy the exercise and activity as a counter-balance to legal practice.

Where do you see legal problems for Schools when hiring, firing and the management of their staff members?

While schools are generally very good at managing physical safety risks, the management of mental health issues in the workplace could be improved across all Australian workplaces, including schools. Performance management and navigating misconduct issues is often very difficult to get right. Also, published data from Safework Australia tells us that of all occupations, teachers are at significant risk of mental health illnesses in connection with their work.

Have there been any recent developments in this area that Schools and their Principals should be aware of when dealing with their staff?

There have been some great materials on managing bullying issues and mental health risks produced by Government. These should be used by schools (e.g. see the Safework Australia fact sheet on managing psychological injury).

I would also say that the whole picture of workplace legal risk has probably grown in recent years, to encompass safety, employment laws and also workers compensation concerns. It’s useful to have an update and a ‘birds-eye view’ of the main risk areas.

Why do you think it is important for School Principals to attend your session on ‘Hiring and Firing: Managing the Legal Risks’, and what practical tips are you hoping they will get from your session?

I can’t hope to cover all the areas but I would at least like to give the audience 3 or 4 key recommendations that they can implement the next day. I will be making a lot of different recommendations so there will be some relevant issues for everyone in the mix.

In your view are there practical steps that School Principals could take to avoid these types of legal issues?

Legal claims often arise when communication has broken down. Open communication, even when in conflict on an issue, is critical. The involvement and assistance of third parties, such as unions, can assist to resolve issues. Record-keeping and having good policies and written documents in place is also important.


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