The most important things you missed while you were on holiday: a three-minute cheat sheet

It’s not a holiday unless you tune out for a while.

But now that you’re back, we thought you’d want to know what you’ve missed.

Some of these things were flagged well before the new year, while others were very much a surprise.

Here are four things you need to know.

Bullying went to Fair Work

The new year saw an expansion in the jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission, which is now an arbiter of bullying in the workplace.

From January 1, employees who believe they are the victim of “repeated unreasonable behaviour” by a co-worker can, provided they cough up a $65.50 application fee, ask the Fair Work Commission to make an order for the bullying to stop.

The commission has to start dealing with the cases within a fortnight, and predicts it’ll receive 3500 bullying claims next year.

The commission can, if the bullying is likely to continue, make a ruling that it should stop. It cannot fine employers for any bullying that goes on in their workplaces. However, bullied employees can request an apology, a change of roster or a transfer.

After a complaint is received, employers or employees accused of bullying will have to fill in a form to defend their actions. They’re given a pass on answering questions they believe “may be self-incriminating”.

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart, who helped draft the Fair Work Act, recently told SmartCompany the change risks swamping the commission with thousands of complaints that aren’t true bullying cases.

“The potential problem I’ve heard from a lot of practitioners is that it becomes an outlet for anyone who is concerned about how they’re being performance managed.

“The situation is where a performance management process results in an employee feeling like they are being treated unfairly, and this can result in them being away from work and then putting in a claim for work induced stress. In some cases this is a genuine reaction, but in other cases it is just a convenient tactic,” he said.

Snapchat usernames and phone numbers leaked

For a company built on fostering secrecy, a data breach is bad news.

On New Year’s Eve, a database of 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers was leaked online. The company has since acknowledged the breach, but, controversially, did not offer an apology, saying the breach occurred due to users not following its terms of service.

Snapchat recently turned down a buyout offer from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg which valued the company at more than $1 billion. Snapchat allows users to take short videos which they can send on to another person. Shortly after being viewed, these videos disappear.

MySuper is now compulsory

From January 1, if one of your employees hasn’t nominated a preferred superannuation account, you have to choose a MySuper compliant account for them.

MySuper products must meet specified standards including not having entry fees, the exit fees being limited to cost recovery, and the ability to accept all types of superannuation contributions.

They also have to include death and total disablement insurance.

To ease the administrative burden of superannuation payments, businesses with 19 or fewer employees can use the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House.

The clearing house is a free service that lets you pay your superannuation contributions in one transaction. You simply register your employees’ superannuation fund details and the contributions will be distributed to their various superannuation funds.

On December 20, the government announced it was moving this clearing house from the auspices of Medicare to the ATO, effective June 2014.

This move has been applauded by the Institute of Public Accountants.

“The transfer of this compliance obligation to the ATO is a smart move and will benefit thousands of small businesses across Australia,” IPA chief executive officer Andrew Conway said.

Ben Bernanke gives final speech as Fed chair, says there isn’t enough government spending

The most powerful economic decision-maker in the world is on his way out. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve who’s overseen that country’s response to the global financial crisis, is nearly due to hand power onto his successor Janet Yellen. And in his final speech, he said that government spending needs to ramp up.

In a speech given on January 3, he gave a reason for the slow American recovery he thought wasn’t getting enough focus: insufficient government spending.

“Federal fiscal policy was expansionary in 2009 and 2010,” he said. “Since that time, however, federal fiscal policy has turned quite restrictive; according to the Congressional Budget Office, tax increases and spending cuts likely lowered output growth in 2013 by as much as 1.5 percentage points.

“In addition, throughout much of the recovery, state and local government budgets have been highly contractionary, reflecting their adjustment to sharply declining tax revenues. To illustrate the extent of fiscal tightness, at the current point in the recovery from the 2001 recession, employment at all levels of government had increased by nearly 600,000 workers; in contrast, in the current recovery, government employment has declined by more than 700,000 jobs, a net difference of more than 1.3 million jobs. There have been corresponding cuts in government investment, in infrastructure for example, as well as increases in taxes and reductions in transfers.

“Although long-term fiscal sustainability is a critical objective, excessively tight near-term fiscal policies have likely been counterproductive. Most importantly, with fiscal and monetary policy working in opposite directions, the recovery is weaker than it otherwise would be.”


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