When you work with children and parents, trust is the heart of your business. With a new law focusing attention on franchisees’ workplace relations compliance, MSP Photography wasn’t prepared to have that trust called into question. By Andy McLean

When Sue Davies from MSP Photography learnt that the new Vulnerable Workers Legislation would put the franchisor’s 25 franchisees at risk of being hit with a $63,000 fine if they failed to meet workplace obligations, she knew she had to act.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on taking care of our people,” says the senior manager at the franchisor, which provides photography services to schools around the country. “But no matter how well you think you manage your employees, no franchisor or franchisee can afford to take chances with this Legislation. A fine of $63,000 could put some franchisees out of business – and a serious contravention could mean a fine of $630,000 for franchisor parent companies.”

The Legislation arrived in the wake of misconduct scandals at franchise businesses such as 7-Eleven, Caltex and Subway. It is designed to protect employees from being underpaid or any other breach of workplace relations compliance that franchisees may commit when managing employees – whether by intention, or mere oversight. According to the Legislation, serious contravention includes breaches that are deliberate and systematic.

Davies emphasises the reputational risk for employers too: “In a franchise model like ours, where everyone trades under the same brand, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

“If one franchisee is charged with doing the wrong thing by its staff, the bad publicity impacts every other franchisee as well as the franchisor. For us, that could undermine all the trust and respect that we have built up working with schools and parents. If that trust is damaged, customers might not come back.”

Rising to the challenge

Like most SMEs, MSP Photography only has limited time and resources to focus on compliance.

“We don’t have an in-house lawyer ready to audit, check, review and update all our procedures in our Wagga Wagga premises, let alone all 25 franchisees too,” says Davies. “We considered outsourcing that work, but we needed someone who really understood our business to provide advice; adopting a cookie cutter approach would be too risky.”

To help protect the business, Davies reached out to Workplace Assured, a service delivered by NSW Business Chamber. An initial appraisal saw an expert from Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors review MSP Photography’s existing workplace policies, contracts and procedures.

“Having provided our documentation, we received a confidential report which broke everything down section by section, so that we could digest it and consider any areas that needed tightening up,” she says.

“We then had a follow up discussion to talk through what we wanted to adjust and how to go about that.” The process has given Davies confidence in the policies the business has in place.

“But like any business, we’re constantly changing,” she says. “So it’s reassuring to know we can pick up the phone any time to discuss a policy that might need updating or a delicate situation with a staff member.”

Now MSP Photography is encouraging its franchisees to follow suit.

“Enterprise discounts for Workplace Assured are available for franchise networks, so it’s a really efficient and cost effective way for our franchisees to protect themselves,” says Davies. “It makes a lot more sense than having 25 franchise businesses each paying 25 different lawyers for legal advice, or some even trying to go it alone and manage all their workplace relations compliance themselves.”

“I don’t want to lie awake at night worrying about [the Vulnerable Workers Legislation],” says Davies. “With Workplace Assured, I know that we’ve done everything in our power to comply, which means we can concentrate on running the business.”
Workplace Assured provides unlimited access to workplace relations advice, airtight templates and contracts, legal representation when a claim hits, and even coverage for up to $2 million for any resulting claims, losses, damages and legal fees. For more information visit www.workplaceassured.com.au or call 1300 575 394.
"In a franchise model like ours, where everyone trades under the same brand, you’re only as strong as your weakest link."