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The Latest from the Blog

Protecting and Managing Volunteers in the Workplace

Vince Scopelliti - Monday, November 28, 2016

Most of us agree that volunteer work is an excellent initiative; one of those ‘win-win’ situations where both the organisation and the community benefit from the unpaid work of kind citizens.

We also understand that even the best work-related relationships have their challenges. These include issues around workers compensation, clashes between paid and voluntary workers, navigating child protection requirements, plus the spectres of nepotism and bias in volunteer organisations.

Liability for workers compensation and volunteers

It is not surprising that for some employers, it can be a little unsettling to think about workers compensation and related implications that come with having volunteers on board. After all, when goodwill brings people to your organisation, the last thing on your mind might be the possible costs of work-related injuries.

Across Australia, workers compensation and/or public liability regulations relevant to volunteers tend to vary, with jurisdictions and insurers assessing coverage and liability in different ways. But the overall repercussions tend to be the same for employers – volunteers who suffer a workplace injury are entitled to seek compensation under the organisation’s relevant insurance cover, whether public liability or workers compensation. This can have obvious impacts on staff levels, premium costs and overall levels of productivity.

For some employers, this aspect of securing volunteer workers can go overlooked. It is certainly a much-appreciated boon when volunteers come on board in organisations. Yet, like any aspect of a corporate endeavour however, the possibility of injured volunteers should be viewed from all angles.

Cultural clashes between volunteers and professionals

When volunteers come to provide help within an organisation, the reception from paid staff can sometimes be mixed. First of all, new volunteers need training and help with integration into the site’s culture and systems. Regular staff can feel burdened with the extra work and time that this entails. An ‘us and them’ culture can also lead to silos of information, based upon a sense of ownership.

This can emanate from both categories of staff – paid workers may feel like the ‘real’ employees, while volunteers might have a sense of being there for the ‘right’ reasons.

At a more particular level, awards and industrial organisations might have varying conditions relevant to the two groups of workers.

Should this be cause for concern? Bearing in mind that such issues of cultural clash can often lead to stress claims and overall disruption of productivity, the answer must surely be yes. We perhaps do not have to look any further than the current Victorian CFA fire fighter dispute to see the powerful and potentially damaging results of volunteer-versus-paid worker clashes.

Getting culture right in a volunteer-led group is no easy task and the dissatisfaction of unpaid workers is one of the first signs that problems are developing.

Further, if paid or volunteer workers develop a psychological injury from work-related stress, bullying or inept change-management, then employers certainly have a problem on their hands – and more than one claim arising from the situation is a definite possibility.

Child protection and volunteer organisations

Having volunteer workers available can be a definite plus for businesses and community alike. Undoubtedly, the positives inherent in volunteer arrangements are well known. One volunteer situation that requires close analysis, however, is the protection of children in any scenario where volunteers are involved. In churches, sports organisations and youth clubs for example, there is significant reliance upon the assistance and kindness of volunteer workers.

It is essential for employers in such organisations to ensure that all legislative and practical measures are employed to ensure the safety of children. A targeted workplace audit of policies, procedures and work practices relevant to volunteers and children can help to ensure that unnecessary risks are eliminated. Necessary alterations might include Blue Card applications or shift work controls – as examples – or indeed might extend to more far-reaching initiatives relevant to child safety. Sourcing expert advice on these issues is paramount.

Nepotism and bias in volunteer organisations

A further issue that can infiltrate volunteer-based organisations involves favouritism, both real and perceived.

While volunteers are not paid, they certainly devote themselves to their chosen organisation. The desire to be treated fairly is shared by both paid and volunteer workers. Accordingly, employers need to be aware that treating workers with equal respect can be an essential part of ensuring workplace cohesion.

Any impulse to ‘cut corners’ in volunteer situations in order to employ, train or favour certain people must be carefully avoided. Nepotism and bias in work allocation can be real temptations when one or two people seem particularly competent.

When the financial situation is challenging it can seem like an obvious solution to rely on ‘unpaid’ workers rather than rostering paid employees on shifts. Yet the ethos of volunteer organisations generally requires a more nuanced approach to staffing arrangements. For example, when a rare paid position arises in the organisation employers should ensure that no bias is exhibited towards any particular volunteer. In order to prevent cultural problems arising, clearly articulated policies and procedures are a necessity.

Practical solutions

In organising workplaces to successfully accommodate both paid and unpaid workers, attention to detail is paramount. What may appear on the surface to be an industrial ‘good news’ story in fact has the potential to foster resentment, tension and even bullying.

Volunteer-based organisations have the challenging task of juggling safety and compensation issues, as well as cultural and merit-based concerns. It pays to thoroughly audit the processes and safety mechanisms currently in place, keeping in mind the delicate nature of staff-volunteer relationships. Experts in the field of volunteer workplaces can give employers the peace of mind necessary to navigate this specialised work environment.

How to Handle Complaints in the Aged Care Sector

Harriet Witchell - Monday, November 14, 2016

With Australia’s aging population, it comes as no surprise that the demand for various aged care services continues to escalate. It is also somewhat inevitable that complaints will rise, as aged clients and their loved ones navigate their expectations and emotions in a relatively challenging time. 

We examine the latest work of the aged care complaints commissioner, and how aged care providers can create their own best-practice system for handling complaints.

The current state of play

As noted in the 2015-2016 Aged Care Complaints Commissioner Annual Report, some 2,153 official complaints were made in the six months to June 30, 2016. Once a complaint is in train with this external body, the age care service provider must be ready for any and all actions to be taken by the commissioner. For example, Notices of Intention to Provide Directions are formal requests that providers can respond to with their version of events, plus plans for rectification where needed. 

It is therefore vital that any systems, investigations or responses developed internally hold up to scrutiny in terms of fairness and transparency. Matters can go further from this point, with the commissioner able to make referrals to the Aged Care Quality Agency. Complainants can also take their matter to the Commonwealth Ombudsman – and even to court.

It is clear that the best defence against external complaints is a pro-active internal mechanism for managing complaints. So – what might this entail?

A user-friendly aged care complaints system

The best complaints system is of course one that initially involves open listening by a provider on a daily basis. Are there issues brewing, or are the same informal ‘gripes’ being heard from different sources, for example? In aged care environments, it is important to establish a culture of openness, and to inform residents and their families of the various ways in which they might like to raise concerns. 

Secondly, an ideal complaints system will adopt the ‘no wrong door’ policy whereby staff are equipped to identify any complaints, no matter how or when they arise. Independence around sensitive issues is essential. Bringing those complaints back through the ‘right’ system channels – and getting the formal documentation right – will be the responsibility of the aged care provider and not the service user.

In this way, if or when complaints arise they can be dealt with in a swift and congenial manner. 

The need for a quality independent investigation

Knowing where and how to start investigating a complaint is a crucial first step. There are issues around privacy and procedural fairness that must be squarely faced, to ensure that all internal processes appear adequate to the parties – as well as to outside sources.

One aspect to take care with is verbal evidence provided by parties to the complaint. There is much to consider regarding permission to record, clarity around the issues and fairness in collection of details. Whether utilising an internal or professional external investigator, it is essential to understand the nuances of appropriate workplace investigation. 

Remember that any witnesses – staff, residents, volunteers and visitors – all need to be given a fair and consistent chance to be heard. Case law in the area demonstrates that the mishandling of evidence at this early stage by the service provider can have a direct impact upon the outcome of matters down the track.

In many cases, complaints within the aged care sector can reflect frustration, disappointment and other emotions related to service and care. At first instance, a listening ear and direct internal action will reduce the need for further escalation on a complaint. Yet sorting the serious from the less-so can be a challenge in these situations. 

A professional and independent workplace investigator can assist greatly in identifying limits within current complaints procedures, as well as ensuring vital consistency in the investigation of individual matters. 

6 Pillars of an Effective Fraud Prevention Program

Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Fraud is enormously detrimental to Australian organisations, with KPMG putting the average cost of each case in 2015 at $1.4 million. 

There can be a number of reasons why an employee commits fraud, such as personal financial pressures, personality traits, rationalisation, and opportunity. Since it’s fairly impossible to control other people’s personalities, thoughts and problems, the best thing you can do to fight fraud is to reduce the opportunity for it to happen in your organisation in the first place. 

According to research by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), where anti-fraud controls are in place, detection of fraud occurs up to 50% quicker, and losses are reduced by 14% to 54%. 

So let’s take a look at six ways to prevent workplace fraud.
1. Create a positive workplace culture
In a positive and ethical culture, fraud will have little place to sprout and grow. Some of the elements to consider include:
  • Transparency, open communication and an emphasis on good relationships.
  • Clarity around workplace structure and job responsibilities. 
  • Regular training and development for staff. 
  • Zero tolerance for fraud and dishonesty.
  • A Code of conduct that everyone signs. 
  • Clear policies and procedures manuals. 
  • Appropriately rewarding employees and treating them fairly. 
2. Workplace security
Premises and data security are always important to reduce crime such as burglary, vandalism and identity theft. Security procedures such as restriction of access to data and resources also helps to reduce fraud risk – such as locking of cupboards, filing cabinets and safes, and using IT controls such as logins and passwords. 
3. Separation of duties and strong controls
Business transactions, especially financial ones, should be split up into tasks that are carried out by different people. For instance, it shouldn’t be left up to one employee only to receive, count and record cash and take it to the bank, without any checks and balances. As well as that, all cheque and online payments should require at least two authorisers or signatures. 
4. Good recruitment practices
It can be so easy to employ a person based on a resume, an interview and a reference letter, without doing any real background checks. Past employment and police checks and contacting referees can all contribute towards getting a better picture of potential employees.   
5. Monitoring and surveillance
According to the ACFE, losses were lower in cases where fraud was detected through surveillance, monitoring and account reconciliations than through accidental discovery. 
Other examples of good surveillance include regular internal audits and annual independent external audits, and strong staff supervision that involves checking for errors and approving transactions. 
6. Fraud awareness training and reporting
Many business owners, managers and employees may not be very aware of fraud risk. Training allows for learning about fraud and its impacts, how to prevent and detect it, and where to report it. 

The longer fraud is allowed to go on, the greater the losses to the organisation. It’s important to develop strategies for reporting suspected fraud, such as anonymous hotlines. The ACFE states that organisations with reporting hotlines were “much more likely” to detect fraud than those without. 

At Wise, we understand the need for organisations to have robust fraud prevention strategies in place, and we offer a whistleblower hotline service to help enable the reporting of suspected fraud. Get in touch if you’d like to know more. 


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