Interviewer: Alexandra Beasley, Legal Research Assistant – Alex is a final year Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Bachelor of Arts student at Monash University. Alex’s desire to learn from lawyers who take a proactive approach to employment law led her to commence her role as a Legal Research Assistant at Justitia.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What roles have you worked in prior to coming to Justitia? Have you always worked in employment law?
I have worked in various roles as an employment lawyer and engaged with clients in small to large business, including in a top tier firm, in-house for an Australian government business and a couple of mid-tier firms.
Prior to working in the law, I was a business analyst in the superannuation industry where I built my experience understanding client needs, particularly in relation to the commercial drivers of effective business solutions.
What is the most common type of employment matter you work on?
I work across the full spectrum of employment law and industrial relations. Most recently, I have assisted clients with managing under-performance and ill and injured workers, general protections and unfair dismissal claims, interpreting clauses in enterprise agreements and underpayment claims.
I have also recently provided advice regarding employee discrimination claims which have arisen in very interesting circumstances. I am also regularly engaged to undertake workplace investigations.
Do you find that your role as an employment lawyer is primarily reactive or do you pursue opportunities to assist clients before issues arise?
Often when providing advice to a client about a particular matter, I find that there are issues that arise in that process that haven’t caused problems yet but can be brought to the organisation’s attention and addressed to mitigate the risk
of further problems arising. For example, we often ask clients to provide
employment contracts when we are advising on employment issues. A review of these contracts to address the original matter usually highlights potential future problems that may arise as a result of insufficient contracts or agreements (or no written agreement) that may have been prevented with an appropriately drafted agreement in place.
What qualities do organisations with good cultures usually have?
Good workplace culture comes from those most senior in an organisation. Well-trained managers influence the way employees conduct themselves and interact with others.
Workplaces that are flexible and allow employees to manage their work are often those that are most efficient and effective.
What do you believe is a key challenge faced by employment law at the moment?
From a technical perspective, the big-ticket items at the moment are the prevalence of underpayment claims and changes to annualised salary clauses in modern awards. Of course, there are always issues revolving around payment of wages and salary.
More generally, the biggest challenge is the unpredictability of how human beings will respond to matters that arise in employment.
What area of employment law do you find most interesting?
I have a strong interest in industrial relations, especially strategic planning and managing union workplace participation. I also particularly enjoy the strategic aspects of managing ongoing employee issues to find the best outcome for the
business and assisting clients to avoid litigation.
Finally, if you were going to be stranded on a desert island for a month, which two items would you take and why?
My Kindle loaded up with lots of good books because there is nothing more relaxing than lying on the beach with a good book. I’d need to eat and there’s no going past peanut butter on toast. That’s more than two items but plain toast is boring!
Kelly Ralph is a Senior Associate at Justitia. Click here to view her profile.