If you’re an employer within the industry, you need to be across the questions you may be asked regarding coming to work and workplace risk management, according to Australian workplace laws.

Workers and their employers must follow the government guidelines regarding self-quarantine periods, with workers required to notify their employer should self-quarantine be required.

Employers are also responsible for identifying and managing work health and safety risks, which includes exposure to the virus. Businesses and their workers should be familiar with how to prevent the spread of infection.

Our common workplace relations COVID FAQs below provide answers to common questions or you can read more about workplace risk management from WHSQ or the coronavirus and workplace laws from the FairWork Ombudsman.

Common employment FAQs

The following is a summary of common workplace relations questions employers are facing as a result of the response to Coronavirus.

Questions concerning medical and testing issues must be raised with the appropriate authorities and medical experts*.
*When calling the medical hotlines please be prepared for a possible lengthy time on-hold to speak to one of the hotline staff.

What if an employee is not sick but wants to stay home as a precaution?

Employees will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace.

What if an employee is not sick but is in a period of self-isolation / quarantine arising from government directions?

If, (due to recent travel or contact) an employee is subject to the government direction to self-isolate /quarantine, they MUST stay at home for the duration. Employees are not entitled to payment of wages, but the employer may agree to some form of paid leave such as annual leave or long service leave.  This also applies to overseas quarantine.

What if an employer has work but wants their staff to stay home (not working)?

Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, despite there being  available work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction. You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ contracts of employment, and workplace policies (JobKeeper eligible employers may receive assistance with wages).

What if an employer wants their staff to work from home?

Normal wages are paid. JobKeeper eligible employers may claim JobKeeper for the period.

What if a customer closes a site or prohibits my employee from attending because of the customers concerns?

Where possible the employer should try to assign the employee to work elsewhere. If, due to a stoppage of work, other work is unavailable, stand down may be available. JobKeeper eligible employers may access JobKeeper.

Can an employee be ‘stood down without pay?

Note: this is different than a Jobkeeper stand down. See Jobkeeper working arrangements for more information on Jobkeeper stand downs.

Under section 524 of the Fair Work Act an employee can only be stood down from work without pay if they can’t do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible. The most common scenario of a stoppage usually involves a natural disaster or power outages. Employees may be required to undertake alternative duties to avoid stand down, provided that in all circumstances it does not change the ordinary wages.

The right to stand down does not require the employer to prove that no employees can perform useful work. It may be limited to a part of the enterprise. Note that this limited stand down may pose workplace relations concerns across the workforce.

Business disrupted due to lack of supply

If a shortage of work is due to a sudden failure of supply of components which are essential to the business operations, this may be grounds for an employer to stand down employees without pay.

Before the decision is made to stand down, the employer must take all reasonable steps to source alternative suppliers.

Business disrupted due to absent employee

There may be very limited circumstances where the employer cannot provide useful work to its workforce because of the sheer number of employees on quarantine or on sick leave.

Before the decision is made to stand down, the employer must take all reasonable steps to source alternative labour.

Business disrupted due to government COVID-19 measures*

There may be circumstances where the employer cannot provide useful work for an employee because a customer is closed by law – such as  non-essential services - or is in a period of quarantine/self-isolation.

Before the decision is made to stand down, the employer must take all reasonable steps to source alternative work for the employee.

*Stand down is not available if the loss of work is due to a general downturn in activity in the industry or economy. The loss of current and future orders is not, in itself, grounds for stand down. The loss must be manifestly the result of government COVID-19 controls. 

If stand down is not justified, the alternative is taking paid or unpaid leave, or redundancy.

Is a stand down the same as a termination of employment?

A stand down is not a termination of employment.

An employee’s service prior to the date of stand down is preserved and the employee will continue to accrue relevant leave entitlements during the period of the stand down.

However, the employee or the employer may terminate the contract during a period of stand down.

Some businesses will be eligible to tax relief and other subsidies e.g. for employing apprentices.

Do stood down employees get paid public holidays?

Yes. During a period of stand down an employee will still receive payment for the ordinary hours they would have usually worked on the day on which the public holiday falls

Clerical Award - new flexibilities

The Fair Work Commission has varied the Clerks Award to include a new schedule called Schedule I - Award flexibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This includes:

  • Reduced  hours. An employer and the full-time and part-time employees in a workplace or section of a workplace may agree to temporarily reduce ordinary hours of work while Schedule I is in operation. (This is not a stand down). At least 75% of the full-time and part-time employees in the relevant workplace or section must approve any agreement.
  • Working from home. Subject to approval by the employer, an employee working from home may work their ordinary hours anytime between  6.00am and 11.00pm, Monday to Friday, and between 7.00am and 12.30pm on Saturday. No shift penalties apply.

If an employer proposes to conduct a vote for reduced hours , they are required to notify the Fair Work Commission by emailing clerksaward@fwc.gov.au.

The employer is also required to provide to the Commission the work email addresses of the employees who will be participating in the vote. The Commission will then distribute an information sheet to the employees prior to the vote.

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