In almost every area of the law, there have been changes to existing rules and procedures to help deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is especially true in employment law. Set out below are some of the key changes to legislation and modern awards that have been introduced over the last week that employers need to be aware of.
Update regarding employee requests for Separation Certificates
Please note in line with a recent coronavirus (COVID-19) update from Centrelink, the obligation to provide a Separation Certificate to employees who have recently been terminated or stood down has been removed. Centrelink has indicated that when the need for these documents is again required, their website will be updated. Further information available from servicesaustralia.gov.au
Certain types of business are required to close
The Federal Government announced on Sunday, 22 March 2020 that certain (non-essential) businesses were to close by midday on Tuesday, 24 March 2020 including:
- Pubs, registered and licensed clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
- Gyms and indoor sporting venues
- Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs
- Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
- Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies).
Since then, further businesses have been added to the closure list (see Government announcement here).
Businesses affected by the orders to close would generally be able to rely on section 254 of the Fair Work Act 2009 which allows employers to “stand down” employees without pay due to a stoppage of work for reasons outside the employer’s control (so long as there is no other meaningful work the employees can do). This is an exception to the general rule that employers cannot require employees to take a period of unpaid leave.
Greater flexibility introduced into the Hospitality Industry Award
Amendments have been made to the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 which provide greater flexibility to:
- Reduce permanent employee’s hours without their consent (subject to an obligation to consult employees)
- Require employees to take annual leave on 24 hours’ notice
- Require employees to perform different duties
Changes to the Clerks Award
On 28 March 2020, the Fair Work Commission made a determination varying the Clerks Award. The determination inserted a temporary new Schedule, which applies from an employee’s first full pay period on or after 28 March until 30 June 2020. Schedule I adds award flexibility during the coronavirus outbreak for:
- employees’ classifications and duties
- minimum engagement/pay for part-time and casual employees
- span of hours changes while working at home
- full-time and part-time employees’ hours of work
- directions to take annual leave.
The Commission may extend when Schedule I operates until, if necessary and if that happens, their information will be updated.
For full details about changes to the Hospitality Industry Award and Clerks Award, click here.
These are challenging times and we are here to provide assistance, advice and support in all things related to employment and human resources. Please call or email us if we can help.