Empowering Leaders Interview Series: Prof Amanda Coulthard – Employment Law for Leaders

21 March 2017

In our Empowering Leaders Interview Series, each of the headlining presenters from the Alliance’s Empowering Leaders Masterclass discuss leadership in relation to their area of expertise.

Designed specifically for ambitious educators, the Empowering Leaders Masterclass is a unique two-day program focused on developing leadership capability and confidence and enabling career progression.



In this interview, Bond University Law Professor Amanda Coulthard discusses why it is vital for school leaders to have a solid understanding of employment law.

Is the need for senior leaders to understand the legal aspects related to their role increasing?

Undoubtedly.  The legal landscape of employment and industrial relations has become increasingly complex.  This is particularly so in the secondary education sector in which schools as employers are regulated by both federal and state legislation and where there has been an increase in regulation.  It is important for senior leaders to appreciate at least the fundamentals of this legal landscape so that issues can be properly identified and more detailed advice sought whenever necessary.

Surely people in specific roles such as HR should be the specialists, not those at the top?

In any organisation senior leaders will turn to HR managers and external advisors for advice and assistance when necessary.  However, determining when such advice or assistance should be sought is a judgment that senior leaders will need to make.  And, the person ‘at the top’ will still be the ultimate decision maker and so must develop the skills necessary to make decisions based upon the advice given.

Give us a glimpse into the kind of employment law issues an education leader needs to prepare for?

An education leader is likely to meet a myriad of employment law issues across the entire spectrum.  However, perhaps the most likely issues on a day to day basis will revolve around performance management, dealing with complaints about bullying, discrimination, and harassment and being involved in decisions regarding discipline or termination of employment.

Do you feel that the ease of casual litigation is a threat to schools and how they manage employees?

In many proceedings in the employment or industrial relations area, parties will usually bear their own costs.  This may mean that a person is more likely to bring proceedings as they do not – generally speaking – run the risk of having to pay the other side’s costs in the event that they lose.  Added to this, there is perhaps these days a heightened awareness of workplace rights and a willingness to pursue them.  So, although I do not think there is really such a thing as ‘casual litigation’, schools must be making management decisions fully aware and properly advised about their obligations as employers or run the risk of being involved in litigation.


Hear more from Prof Coulthard and her colleague, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law at Bond, Prof Nick James at the Empowering Leaders Masterclass.