In almost every area of the law, there have been changes to existing rules and procedures to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
This is especially true of the employment law sphere, and we set out below 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.
Certain types of business are required to close
The Federal Government announced on Sunday that certain (non-essential) businesses were to close by midday on Tuesday including:
- Pubs, registered and licenced 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 S254 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.
Changes made to the NSW Long Service Leave Act
Temporary amendments have been made to the NSW Long Service Leave Act to allow employees and employers to agree that any amount of long service leave can be taken in advance of the leave becoming due (which will allow employees to take a period of a few days leave at a time, previously it had to be periods of at least a month). Amendments have also been made to waive the one month notice period an employer must give to an employee to take long service leave, where the employee agrees.
See guidance on the NSW Government website.
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 Private Sector Award 2010
The Australian Services Union and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) submitted a joint application to the Fair Work Commission to amend the Clerks Private Sector Award 2010 to provide greater flexibility for employers and employees. In a statement the ACCI said:
“The application seeks to provide relief to business and employees during the pandemic by:
- Allowing employees and employers to agree to change ordinary hours of work whilst an employee is working at home. This should give employees expanded options to help manage their job around things like schooling children from home during the day without an employer facing additional costs for work being conducted out of usual business hours.
- Allowing a business with one weeks’ notice to direct an employee to take annual leave if it decides to close-down its operations.
- Allowing staff to work more flexibly across classifications, provided it is safe to do so and the employee has the necessary qualifications.
- Allowing for employers to direct employees to take annual leave
- Increased flexibility in taking leave such as double leave at half-pay, where employers and employees agree.
- Allowing employers to engage casual and part-time employees for shorter shifts.
- Giving employers flexibility to reduce hours for full and part-time staff, whilst allowing employees whose hours are reduced to take on another job or ask to engage in training or additional study.”
Update: Fair Work Commissions confirms Clerks Award Amendments
On 28 March, the Fair Work Commission announced amendments to the Clerks Private Sector Award 2010. These amendments are designed to give employers and employees greater flexibility in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and will operate until 30 June 2020.
About EI Legal
EI Legal is a specialist firm of employment lawyers. We act for businesses of all shapes and sizes, as well as for employees and HR professionals. If you require any assistance in this area please contact us.
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic will continue to change over the coming weeks and we recommend following the advice of State & Federal governments & health authorities. This article was originally published on 27 March 2020 and last updated on 30 March 2020.