Managing employees during COVID-19 for Australian business #JobKeeper

The most common questions asked lately have related to employees and what it means as an employer during COVID-19. We've summarised information across FairWork, Services Australia and the Treasury to give you an understanding of what options are available to you and your people including the latest on the JobKeeper subsidy

Common scenarios to consider for your employees

If your employee is required to self-isolate after travel, or has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, but isn't sick yet themselves

  • technically they aren't entitled to take sick/carer's (personal) leave without being sick or looking after someone who is
  • you could allow them to work from home
  • they could take other leave available (annual, long service, or other leave entitlements under awards, EBAs or contracts)
  • if you allow an employee to take sick leave when they aren't sick - you may be in breach of the National Employment Standards (NES) even if they agree

  read more about pay and leave at FairWork 

If your employee or their family member is sick with coronavirus

  • you can direct them to not come to work (acting reasonably and based on facts about health and safety risks)
  • full time and part time employees can take paid personal leave
  • you can't make them take personal leave, but your employee isn't entitled to be paid unless they use their paid leave entitlements
  • if they have no paid sick or carer's leave left, they can take unpaid personal leave
  • employees are still obligated to provide reasonable evidence of illness or unexpected emergency if you ask
  • you can't dismiss them because of their temporary absence due to illness or injury

  read more about pay and leave at FairWork

If your employee can't attend work because their child's school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19

  • they can use paid personal leave to take time off for a family emergency
  • you can agree for them to work from home, take annual leave, take other leave (such as long service leave), or come to an agreement on leave (such as extended annual leave at half pay)

  read more about pay and leave at FairWork

If your employee might have contracted COVID-19 and still wants to come into work

  •  you have a duty of care to provide and maintain - and your employee has a duty to take reasonable care for their health and safety and that of others
  • discuss it with your employee, and ask them to get medical clearance
  • best-practice is that you pay the employee for this period
  • if they test positive they can take personal leave during their absence

If your employees have the ability to work from home

  • make sure that the work you want them to do is suitable to be done from home
  • check your obligations under any awards, enterprise agreements, contracts and policies before asking them to do so
  • explore whether their work space at home meets WHS standards (do an assessment)
  • discuss and agree to any measures to put in place
  • understand any risks to your business in terms of technology, cyber security, cost, equipment, etc
  • ensure that they are covered by worker's compensation insurance

  read more about alternative work arrangements at Fairwork

When can I stand people down?

If they cannot be 'usefully employed' because of a stoppage of work that you couldn't reasonably be responsible for

  • government forcing businesses closed is an example of a trigger event
  • standing down is temporary - they are still your employee
  • you aren't required to pay employees during the period of a stand down
  • they still accrue leave as normal
  • some awards and agreements have conditions around notifying or consulting your employees prior to issuing a stand down
  • it's best practice to inform them - the start date of the stand down, whether they will or will not be paid and the effect on other employment entitlements

Even though stand down periods are unpaid, you might want to consider other options first - 

  • using people in other areas of your business
  • allowing them to take paid leave (such as annual or long service) if requested
  • allowing alternative leave arrangements like extended annual leave at half pay, or early long service leave (if permitted)

This is a basic overview. If you're considering a stand down, the best recommendation is to chat with a HR professional (we can recommend some

What if I choose to let them go?

If you end someone's employment, they may be entitled to notice, redundancy pay, and any entitlements owed (like annual leave). Check the awards, agreements and your employment contracts

On issuing their final pay, you can provide a separation certificate that they can take to ServicesAustralia to apply for JobSeeker payments ↓

  read more about pay and leave at FairWork | calculate Redundancy pay

What are the JobKeeper benefits?

If you had employees on the books as at March 1 and your turnover has dropped by 30%

  • it's a flat $1500 per fortnight per employee - based on 70% of the median wage here in Australia
  • it will be available to full-time, part-time, sole traders and casuals who have been with their employer for 12 months
  • available to employees terminated since March 1
  • businesses can apply if their turnover has fallen by 30% or more since the coronavirus crisis hit
  • payments will start to be issued from May 1, and be backdated to today
  • you will be required to pay employees at least $1,500 per fortnight before tax
  • you won't be able to get JobKeeper and JobSeeker - they are looking at a way to transition from JobSeeker to JobKeeper
  • if you are self-employed, you will need to provide a monthly update to the ATO through a portal
  • managed by the ATO - and linked through Single Touch Payroll (STP)

  read more about JobKeeper here

* note that this is still fresh and has to pass through parliament first. It can change, and we'll keep this page up to date as new information comes to light

register your interest for Job Keeper here

What are the JobSeeker benefits?

Under the stimulus package, the government -

  • temporarily expanded the eligibility for JobSeeker and Youth Allowance for JobSeeker
  • applied a bonus payment of $550 per fortnight
  • suspended the mutual obligations (which means JobSeekers won't be penalised for not showing up to appointments or applying for work)

From April 27, people will be eligible if they are - 

  • a permanent employee who has been stood down
  • a sole trader, self-employed, casual worker or contract worker earning less than $1,075 a fortnight
  • caring for someone with COVID-19

  read the treasury notes on JobSeeker

We're certainly not a full bottle on the JobSeeker side. The thing to note is that employees who are stood down are eligible for the expanded JobSeeker payments

Early access to superannuation

Up to $10,000 this FY, and $10,000 next FY available to people who -

  • are unemployed
  • are eligible for JobSeeker payments or some other unemployment benefits
  • were made redundant on or after Jan 1 2020
  • had their working hours reduced by 20% or more
  • are a sole trader and your business was suspended or there was a reduction in your turnover of 20% or more
The interesting thing there, is that with the changes to the Clerks award ↓ you can reduce the hours of your employees by up to 25% and they would then become eligible to draw down on their super

Again. We can't make recommendations here. I suggest you look into the different options available to your employees to understand how things will impact them!

FairWork updated the Hospitality and Clerks awards last week to add flexibility for employers

Some of the measures brought into the Clerks award -

  • you can ask your employees to do work outside of their usual role that they have the skills for
  • part time and casuals who have agreed to work from home can have their minimum hours reduced from 3 to 2 hours per shift
  • you can temporarily reduce permanent employees' hours down to 75% of their existing agreed hours (to do this, 75% of your employees will need to vote in favour of it)
  • you can direct an employee to take annual leave with 1 weeks notice (or shorter if agreed)
  • if the annual leave is because the business is closing down from coronavirus and the employee doesn't have annual leave, you can direct them to take unpaid leave

These measures apply for pay periods on or after March 28 until 30 June, and may be extended

Best thing to do is keep an eye on the FairWork website for changes
. I'd imagine we'll see them bringing in similar measures into other awards. Stay tuned!

The thing i'd like you to take away from this - is to assess the whole picture and understand your options, and those of your employees

The key is to talk to your employees openly about where things are at, and see what you can agree to do together during these times. And check FairWork and talk to us if you have questions or would like to be introduced to our HR people to discuss your specific situation

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Andrew Erkins

A passion for technology and people inspired Andrew to co-found Digit. With a background in information systems, he loves business strategy and figuring out what makes things tick (and how it could tick better)

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Do you want to grow your business?

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