Article 1 of 6: Dirty truth of handshake agreements

By Kathleen Tierney
(Career Embassy)
August 31, 2017

 

Can’t be bothered with the employer paperwork?

A ‘handshake agreement’ between you the employer, and employees is very convenient. A deal is done, a flat rate is agreed, and rigmarole is kept to a minimum. It is no fuss, no cost and you haven’t had to prepare and exchange formal employment contracts, fill out and approve timesheets, or administer and manage inconvenient filing systems.


Payroll isn’t an employment contract

You may even set up a quick and standard payment through the weekly transactions and call it ‘payroll’, pay some tax, and make superannuation contributions. The beauty of a good ‘old fashioned’ ‘handshake agreement’ is that it lets you get on and run your company, whilst the employee gets on and does the job.

“But we had a deal” lamented the caller. ‘We had an agreement” he kept saying over and over. This business owner was clearly distraught, angry and scared. He was asking me if I could help him somehow reduce the back payment that was being claimed by a former, and very disgruntled, employee. The claim was for approximately $7,000.


Disgruntled mates have no loyalty

Some handshake agreements are even more convenient, with cash in hand, no tax, no superannuation, no time sheets and no paperwork whatsoever. In the very best examples, handshake agreements represent trust, loyalty, collaboration and true blue Aussie mateship; and, yes, we agree, that sounds like a wonderful and mature way to do business!

The ‘handshake agreement’ between this business owner and his employee was simple, and both were agreeable to it at the time. He would pay a flat hourly rate of $20.00 to the employee who would work at least 38 hours a week driving his commercial vehicles. For several years, he kept his word, and the employee kept hers. He was absolutely furious that this now former employee had reneged on their agreement, had ‘dobbed him in’ and had ‘betrayed him’.


The follow-on effect

Basically, while there maybe a few convenient advantages, there are far too many downsides of verbal arrangements and ‘handshake agreements’ between an employer and employee. Such informal agreements may assume an aberration of trust, integrity and fairness between the employer and the employees. They also may rely upon the vagaries of memory, nebulous details, and, two completely different perspectives and circumstances that inevitably change over time.

Although an unbudgeted $7,000 is a lot of money for a small business, the real issue was that at least another 20 employees (including his existing workforce) had the same verbal ‘handshake agreement’ with the owner. And of course, by the graciousness of the former employee, the existing employees had all been made aware of her claim and their potential entitlements.

Most of these 20 employees were due back payments of more than $20,000 each. Also, by this stage, the Fair Work Ombudsman had been notified, so potential fines and other penalties were a real possibility. Unfortunately, summing the back payments and entitlements due, the business owner was facing potential bankruptcy of his business.


This is not an exceptional call nor story, it is typical of what we hear every week. Look for our next article in which we discuss the true risks of ‘handshake agreements’.

 

About the Author

Kathy Tierney
Kathleen Tierney is the Executive Director and Owner of Business Embassy and its parent company, Career Embassy. She helps Australian companies with business management, HR services, policies and procedures. Kathy believes that great leadership and business success is achieved and sustained by connecting with our personal values.

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