DON’T PANIC. STAY CALM! The Right to Disconnect won’t be the end of the world.

By Gianna Di Bella.

There can be no doubt that the IR landscape is a constantly changing feast, perhaps more so in the past couple of years than in the last decade. It’s been accompanied by a rise in the commentary around IR, even an increase in the scaremongering that is all too often a feature of social media. At the Coffee Commune we’ve been monitoring the changes very closely, as well as the associated commentary. We’ve paid particular attention to the changes that have the greatest impact on the hospitality industry, such as those around sexual harassment, casual employment, and most recently the heated debate around the right to disconnect.

Any changes to IR laws have the potential to send a panic through the owners of small and medium sized businesses. Very few SMEs have the skills or knowledge to correctly identify what impact the changes will have on their business. So, when the headlines scream out that employees will have the right to disconnect, to be unreachable out of work hours, the immediate response from most employers will be a mix of anger, bewilderment, certainly confusion; a host of emotions, very few of them positive, and most of them usually uninformed through no fault of the small or medium size business owner. 

Here’s our advice. Don’t Panic, stop losing sleep over something that is still to be tested in the market. That’s the bottom line to IR changes. Until they are tested, most likely through the Fair Work Commission, we can never be sure what the final ground rules might be.  

Truth is, what we fear will be the final outcome, may never happen. 

I spoke recently to Nathan Forwood, HR Business Partner at People Squared, a valued partner of Coffee Commune and a company that has earned a strong reputation in this space. Nathan put the whole issue into perspective for me by recognising the rights of the individual, but also acknowledging the practicalities of the proposed changes. 

“People have always had the right to disconnect,” Nathan pointed out, “we just haven’t formalised that right in a piece of legislation. Now the government has done so, but like all IR changes those new IR laws are subject to the natural testing that occurs in the workplace.  

“That’s how the system works. The legislation can’t identify every possible scenario and so it is inevitable that there will be challenges, and those challenges will be taken to the Fair Work Commission.” 

But what does that mean in reality? The problem with IR legislation is the devil is in the detail, and unless you are prepared to sit down with a weighty piece of legislation and read it from start to finish there’s very little likelihood that you will come away with a clear picture of what lies ahead. Because, most likely, that won’t be the end of it. 

So, just relax while we blow the lid on a well-known fact in HR circles, but rarely admitted to by the Minister for Industrial Relations, but a fact that is at the heart of all industrial law.  

HR changes are very rarely black and white. Invariably they are written into legislation without the benefit of testing them in the market. The newly announced ‘Right to Disconnect’ is a classic case in point. The scaremongers will have you believe that everyone has the right to a private life, and that employees will immediately declare their intention to disconnect from work as soon as the clock reaches 5, or whatever time their shift finishes. And we say to all of those employees, good on you, that is the unequivocal right of everyone. 

Except that it won’t happen, as Nathan explains. 

“Apart from the fact that the announced law changes have built in protections for employers, including a provision to treat small businesses with less than 15 employees differently to larger businesses, the practicality, or impracticality of the proposed changes will be well and truly exposed when the laws are introduced in August this year. 

“What is most likely going to happen is the laws will come into effect as the legislation says and then the challenges will start.” 

This is where the practicalities of the changes come into play, as Nathan points out. 

“According to the legislation, disputes between employee and employer over the right to disconnect should be resolved at the workplace. If this fails then the dispute will be taken by one of the parties to the Fair Work Commission and resolved as soon as practicable, or within 14 days. This creates two dilemmas; one, the complexity of the dispute – what is reasonable, and what is unreasonable contact depends on a myriad of different expectations and circumstances on both sides, and two, the capacity of the FWC to resolve what could be an avalanche of disputes. Both and either of these situations could trigger a “test” in the market, that will set the precedent for future decisions.” 

What is also giving us reason to suggest employers shouldn’t panic is that many of the extreme predictions about the effect of the new law, such as employers being prevented from contacting employees about shifts or rosters are unlikely to eventuate, partly because there are provisions to enable these activities through an understanding of what is reasonable contact, and what is not, and partly because the practicality of the market testing will expose the unreasonable and scaremongering predictions.  

Next to your customers, your staff are your most valuable asset. If you are treating your staff with respect and acknowledging their value to your business, there’s very little likelihood you are going to find yourself with a dispute on your hands in front of the FWC. 

Any employer who has their house in reasonable order is not going to be impacted harshly by the new legislation, something Nathan Forwood reinforces in his advice to clients. 

“Most cafes are small businesses, with less than 15 staff so they need to be across the IR laws that impact on them. A case in point is the concept of casual employment, versus part-time, or full-time as it is determined under the Fair Work Act. Simply stated, a person is a casual employee if they are offered a job that does not include a firm advance commitment for ongoing work with an agreed pattern, and that they accept the job offer with the clear understanding that there is no firm advance commitment.   

“If you’re serious about getting your house in order,” Nathan argues, “you also need to fully understand the laws relating to Child Labour. No responsible employer will argue against their underlying moral obligation to protect the rights of young workers. There is also a clear legal obligation on your part in regard to child labour, and while the laws vary from state to state their purpose is to ensure employers understand: 

  • Minimum working age, 
  • Working hour restrictions, 
  • Work permits, consent forms, and 
  • School hour restrictions and regulations 

“And finally, I would urge all employers to become very familiar with the changes that have been made in regard to sexual discrimination and harassment, in particular your liability for the actions of others.”  

New workplace sexual harassment laws – Fair Work Ombudsman 

I’m very grateful to Nathan Forwood for his insight into these changes. IR Laws are an incredibly complex and often frustrating pieces of legislation. Our advice in this blog is not to ignore them, you do so at your peril. But we also believe that much of the negativity written about these laws is still to be proven. In the meantime, we urge you, as a responsible employer, to recognise that the rights of your employees are an incredibly important part of your brand, and your business. Employees, like the customers they serve on your behalf, are the most valuable asset your business has. Treat them that way and we believe your business won’t just survive, it will thrive.  



Being partnered with the Coffee Commune was a logical extension of our business. It is a great opportunity to showcase our equipment range, however, we also see the immense value to the industry of being part of the Coffee Commune’s exceptional training facilities
Fabio Cordovado Director CWE
Labour laws are more and more complex and hard to understand; Through our membership with Coffee Commune, we have constant access to a HR/IR hotline. Quick and Easy.
Phil Johnson Founder and owner Chef
Ecco Bistro
Coffee Commune’s advice, support, and network, helped reduce the red tape, gave us direction, and saved us valuable time.
Sarah Buiso Restaurant Owner of Da Buiso
…if our clients grow, we grow. The Coffee Commune has been invaluable in helping us spread that message.
Vince Monardo Naked Syrups
We are passionate about collaborating with the coffee community to make a real difference for business owners. We look forward to continuing to work with The Coffee Commune.
Matt Allington Partner, Business Services
BDO (Australia)
…we’re passionate about helping businesses identify the things they can be doing to maximise performance.
Alessandro Calabrisello General Manager
Sanremo Coffee Machines Australia