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FAQ’s for Employers in this Uncertain Time.  

As an employer, you have a responsibility to manage your team and make decisions regarding employee working arrangements while navigating the economic challenges 

The following FAQs will help you in this processPlease note this situation is changing very rapidly so you should check that the advice below is still relevant and correct. 

  1. What guidelines does Fair Work offer in dealing with employees? 

There is limited specific guidance from Fair Work regarding what actions to take if your employees are not able to attend work due to quarantine and isolation requirements. The current recommendation is that an arrangement should be decided between you and your employees that suit the needs of your staff and your business.  However the following link is useful: 

https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/website-news/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws  

It is important to note that as an employer, you are not required to pay an employee that is not working unless it is part of their paid leave entitlements.  This applies for situations where the employee cannot work due to a government order to self-quarantine or travel restrictions.  

However, where the employer directs their full-time or part-time employees to refrain from coming to work in order to comply with health and safety risks, and the employee is not currently sick, they are ordinarily entitled to be paid while the direction applies.  

If the employee is unable to come into work due to school closures, they will be required to use paid carer’s leave or take unpaid leave if unable to work from home.  

  1. Due to Covid 19 I have no work for my employees, what should I do? 

We are working with employers to put their business into Preservation Mode and to Prepare for Lockdown. In tough times it isn’t always possible to keep all your employees working on something productive Here are several options to consider.  

  1.  Stand downs: 

Provisions of the Fair Work Act, permit an employer may stand down employees  

  • where they cannot be usefully employed, and 
  • there is a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible 

You are not required to make payments during the stand down period. However, you can choose to make payments or you can agree to pay employees for their entitlements such as annual or long service leave 

Fair work does not offer specific guidance on this at the moment, however refer: 

https://www.fairwork.gov.au/pay/pay-during-inclement-weather-and-stand-down#what-is-stand-down 

Enterprise agreements, Awards, and employment agreements can take precedence over this provision, so these should be reviewed first.  

  1.  Redundancies 

With the expected economic downturn, redundancies are an option.  If you have no valuable work for an employee to engage in, this option should be considered.  When made redundant employees are entitled to redundancy pay in addition to normal termination obligations.  Small businesses with less than 15 employees are not required to make redundancy payments, so these provisions may not apply to you.  This can be a complex area, if you are considering making any employees redundant, please contact us for further advice.  

  1. Casual Workers  

Casual workers are workers that have no guarantee of hours of work and are ordinarily not entitled to any paid leave entitlements. This includes if they are required to self-isolate or become sick due to COVID-19. Please refer to item 6 below about the options available through Centrelink.  

  1. Other arrangements  

Refer to Fair Work Website for more information: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/how-we-will-help/templates-and-guides/fact-sheets/rights-and-obligations/employment-conditions-during-natural-disasters-and-emergencies 

 

  1. I am wanting to stay open, what precautions should I take? 

All employers in Australia have an obligation to provide a safe working environment.  Unfortunately the guidance in respect of Covid 19 is changing rapidly.  The key guidelines are presently around hygiene and social distancing.  Keep up to date with the latest facts from a reliable source.  Further details on safety measures can be found at https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/news/2020/coronavirus-covid-19-workplace-risk-management. 

 

  1. What support is being provided by WorkCover? 

Please note this relates to WorkCover Queensland, other states have similar guidelines which you should refer to if required.  

For lost wages to be covered, there must be an approved WorkCover claim.  There are strict criteria to be satisfied to make a claim in relation to COVID-19. The three conditions include: 

  • There must be a diagnosis of the virus with medical confirmation  
  • The exposure must be in connection to the workplace with evidence provided  
  • The Employment must be considered to be a ‘significant contributing factor’   

If  a claim is accepted the employer will be required to pay the excess on the claim. 

  1. What assistance is being provided by the Australian Taxation Office in regards to employee benefits? 

If you are in the situation of having to provide emergency assistance to any of your employees as a result of COVID-19, such as accommodation, meals or transport, this will be exempt from Fringe Benefits Tax. This is relevant if an employee is in a high-risk area and is required to self-isolate or needs to be relocated.  

https://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/dealing-with-disasters/in-detail/specific-disasters/covid-19/?anchor=COVID19frequentlyaskedquestions#Employers 

  1. What assistance is being provided by Centrelink for employees affected? 

From the 20th March 2020, the government has introduced the ‘JobSeeker Payment’, in replacement of the Newstart Allowance and Sickness Allowance.  

This is available for eligible people aged between 22 and Age pension age who meet the following conditions: 

  • Meet the residence rules and income tests 
  • Satisfy the definition of unemployed 
  • Sick or injured and are unable to complete normal work for a short time   

If this applies, you should advise employees and ask them to check if they meet the eligibility requirements. 

https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/jobseeker-payment  

If you need assistance on any issues surrounding with dealing with employees, our experienced team at the Macro Group are ready to assist. 

 

Date Published: 22 March 2020

 

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