Edith Cowan University's decision to require 102 year old
Professor David Goodall to suddenly work from home attracted
negative media attention and community opinion. The
University no doubt took the decision in consideration of the very
aged employee's risk of injury when attending work. However,
the decision caused Professor Goodall's daughter to comment to
the media that her father's health and safety was much more
likely to be endangered by isolating him from his colleagues and
taking away his sense of purpose than any physical risk attending
the campus may pose. It seems that despite discussions the
University held with Professor Goodall and his family there was no
agreement reached about the need for the change, and as a result
the story reached the media. It is not clear whether a different
consultation process could have avoided this outcome, but the story
has put the spotlight on employers of all kinds ensuring proper
consultation procedures are followed.
Consultation - Not Just a Formality
The costs of not carefully meeting consultation requirements and
carefully managing major changes in your workplace are not only
potential law suits from disgruntled employees but also potential
damage to the reputation of your business that could take years to
Any time an employer disciplines or makes a major change to an
employee's working conditions there is a risk of resentment and
even injury. Sudden changes - up to and including dismissal - can
be very traumatic for employees. If an employee suffers a
psychiatric injury the employer could be liable for that injury and
a workers' compensation claim could result. Careful and genuine
consultation could absolve the employer of any such liability, but
also – and perhaps more importantly - if done effectively
could avoid resentment and the effect that a disgruntled employee
can have on an employer's reputation.
Under Australia's modern award system making major changes
to an employee's conditions of employment legally requires
consultation with the employee about those changes. The need to
consult employees about making a major change can seem futile and
disingenuous to employers when they know there is nothing that
could be said during any such discussion that could avoid the need
for the change. Employers are often also annoyed about the
requirement to offer an employee a support person.
Consultation provides an opportunity for the employer and
employee to discuss the changes the employer feels it must make and
the reasons why. An employee may seek to negotiate alternatives to
the change and even if none are practicable, allowing the employee
to discuss the alternatives can minimise disempowerment and avoid
disgruntled statements to other employees, clients and the wider
Consultation Best Practice
The consultation process should be at the forefront of any plan
for change to working conditions from the outset – never an
A well written letter to the affected employee/s can formally
notify the proposed change and set out the timing of further
Discussions should be professional and formal, focus on the
facts and exclude emotion to the greatest extent possible.
Allowing an employee to bring a friend, relative or other
support person ensures the employee doesn't feel outnumbered
and has someone they trust to comfort them in the event they become
HHG Legal Group regularly assists small, medium sized and large
private and government organisations to plan and manage major
changes to their employees' contracts, from single employees
(like the aged Professor Goodall) to organisation-wide
restructuring and redundancies. Good planning and management,
together with sound legal advice, protects both employers and
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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When employees engage in out-of-hours misconduct, it can negatively affect the reputation of the employer.
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