The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has resulted in temporary lockdown orders across many cities in Australia. The government-imposed restrictions have required several industries and businesses to close their doors.
The lockdown orders will vary depending on your state. To keep up to date with what restrictions are imposed in your area, we recommend referring to your relevant state government health website, as these are updated frequently. These can be found below:
- Queensland Government
- NSW Government
- VIC Health and Human Services
- WA Health
- NT Government
- SA Government
- TAS Government
- ACT Government
This article outlines how employer’s manage their employees during a lockdown period, where they may be in an industry that has been directed to close temporarily under the government directives.
Stand-down of employment under the Fair Work Act
The sudden lockdown has left many employers questioning what their obligations are towards their staff. When a business is forced to close its doors due to an ‘enforceable government direction’ such as a lockdown, the business may be able to use the ‘stand-down’ provisions under the Fair Work Act.
Section 524 of the Act outlines that an employee may be stood down without pay when there is a stoppage of work that is outside of the employers control. A stoppage of work will likely extend to situations where the business has been forced to close because of the government-imposed restrictions.
During a stand-down employees may choose to access their leave entitlements. Employees can request to access their annual leave or long service leave whilst they have been stood down. However, employees aren’t able to take personal/carer’s leave or compassionate leave.
It is important to note that whilst employees are stood down without pay, a stand-down operates slightly differently from a period of unpaid leave. During a stand-down, employees will continue to accrue their entitlements based on their contracted hours of work.
How to communicate a stand-down to employees?
Before an employer can utilise the stand-down provisions under the Act, they will need to consult with their permanent staff. Managers should get in touch with the employees who will be impacted by the restrictions and notify them of the business closure.
Employers should explain to their permanent employees that they will be stood down without pay whilst the restrictions are in effect. The business can also let these employees know that they will be able to apply for annual leave or long service leave during this time. If the business is standing down any permanent staff, this should also be confirmed in writing.
Whilst the stand-down provisions under the Act are only reserved for permanent employees, the business should still consult with their casual workforce regarding the closure. We recommend that the managers should get in contact with the casual employees to let them know that their shifts have been cancelled as a result of the newly imposed restrictions.
When does a stand-down end?
Once the lockdown has ceased, industry restrictions are typically lifted gradually. We would recommend that employers should keep in contact with their staff regularly and provide them with any updates on the business’ status of re-opening. Where a business has been allowed to re-open and start trading, it is unlikely that a stand-down will be able to still apply, meaning permanent employees will be entitled to return to work.
How can Employment Innovations help?
If you are unsure whether or not the stand-down provisions apply to your business or require templates to assist with a business closure, Employment Innovations offers HR services which can assist and support you through this process.
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.