Wednesday 20th May 2020
Easing restrictions and three steps to recovery. What’s the plan?
After much anticipation, the Federal Government revealed a new three step plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions and reopen society.
On Friday 8th May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined the plan with hopes to see a return to somewhat normal life, and most workers back to work by this July.
Whilst the ambitious plan provides a clear projection of which businesses should reopen and when, it also informs that all steps are subject to health advice, and crucially, that states and territories can implement changes based on their COVID-19 conditions.
You can view the three-step plan in full here. Or find a summary with links to state rules below.
The following safety guidance remains intact throughout the three-step plan.
- Maintain 1.5m distancing and good hygiene
- Stay home if unwell
- Frequently clean and disinfect communal areas
- COVIDSafe plan for workplaces and premises
Includes important first small steps such as connections with friends and family, allowing groups of people to be together in homes and in the community, reopening of most businesses and a return to work for many.
- Working from home should continue if possible.
- Workplaces must develop a COVIDSafe plan.
- Many childcare facilities and secondary schools open (subject to state or territory guidance).
- Retail stores open.
- Limited seating allowed in cafes and restaurants.
- Hostels and hotels open for accommodation.
- Hairdressers and barber shops open with recorded details of customers.
- Domestic travel for recreation – referring to state and territory governments for border restrictions
The second stage of the plan sees a build on public gatherings and more businesses opening, subject to health advice and the success of step one.
- Employees should continue to work from home if suitable for them and their employer
- More patrons permitted in cafes and restaurants with a maximum of 20 seated at one time.
- Indoor movie theatres, galleries, zoos can open with up to 20 patrons.
- Gyms can allow up to 20 people at a time and pools can open with restrictions.
- Beauty and massage therapy, tattoo parlours can open with up to 20 clients and must record details.
Committed reopening of businesses and the community with less restrictions, if in line with the new COVIDSafe way of living.
- Employees can return to the workplace if it is COVIDSafe, avoiding peak times for public transport.
- Cafes and restaurants can seat up to 100 patrons. Clubs remain closed.
- Sport and recreation venues allowed to operate with gatherings of up to 100 people.
- All accommodation areas can operate with gatherings of up to 100 people.
- All hair and beauty service establishments can open with up to 100 people, continuing to record contact details.
- Interstate travel is allowed subject to state and territory governments.
What does the three-step plan mean for your business?
For the time being it is recommended that employees continue to work from home wherever possible. Business owners also need to make sure that a COVIDSafe plan is prepared for a business before reopening the premises.
We strongly advise employers to familiarise themselves with the plan in detail and consult local government guidance on what is and is not allowed in each state or territory.
Applying the guidance to a specific business situation can raise many questions. If you would like professional help with Fair Work compliance and getting back to business, please contact your local HR Dept for peace of mind.
Keep up to date with your latest state or territory guidance on COVID-19
Tuesday 14th April 2020
Temporary COVID-19 changes to the Fair Work Act
Flexibility is a crucial element of successful crisis management. We are pleased to see that it is being applied to areas of the Fair Work Act to support employers and their employees through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent changes provide further clarity on the JobKeeper Wage Subsidy scheme and determinations on 99 awards. It is vital that employers keep informed on Fair Work developments made in response to coronavirus, and so we have summarised the latest news below.
Please contact us to find out what these changes to the Fair Work Act mean for you and your business.
New Provisions for JobKeeper
Earlier this month the government announced a new Coronavirus JobKeeper Payment involving a wage subsidy scheme to help businesses impacted by COVID-19.
Legislation has now passed to temporarily amend the Fair Work Act and assist the implementation of the urgent relief scheme.
What are the changes for JobKeeper?
Employers that are eligible for the JobKeeper scheme are now able to:
• make temporary and partial stand downs in certain circumstances
• temporarily alter employees’ usual duties and locations of work in certain circumstances
• agree with their employee on altering an employee’s days and times of work and use of annual leave in certain circumstances.
These changes are in place until 28th September 2020 and are subject to JobKeeper eligibility and further important requirements.
Terms of the JobKeeper Payment scheme are lengthy and complex, but it is essential that employers comply with the guidance in order to meet Fair Work obligations. We know that you are busy and will want to know which aspects apply to your business, please call us to discuss your situation and fully understand your options.
Changes to 99 modern awards
We recently reported on temporary changes that had been made to the Restaurant, Hospitality and Clerks Awards, allowing urgent flexibility in those industries immediately impacted by COVID-19. Due to the ever-evolving situation caused by coronavirus, and the impact being felt throughout our economy, the Fair Work Commission has delivered determinations on a further 99 awards.
What are the latest changes to awards?
The following amendments have been introduced in direct response to the challenges faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and are therefore temporary.
Inserting a new temporary schedule into 99 awards, these changes will apply from an employee’s first full pay from 8th April until 30th June 2020, and introduce the following:
• 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave.
• the ability to take twice as much annual leave at half pay.
The temporary schedule period may be extended by application to the Commission.
What is unpaid pandemic leave?
Pandemic leave is a new workplace right under 99 awards which allows full, part-time and casual employees to take 2 weeks of unpaid leave due to specific coronavirus circumstances. It is immediately available so does not need to be accrued and is not pro-rated for employees who don’t work full-time.
Unpaid Pandemic Leave is applicable if the employee is required to self-isolate or is otherwise prevented from working due to enforceable government directions made as a result of COVID-19.
Employees should notify employers of their intention to take this leave as soon as possible and employers can request evidence. The leave needs to start before 30th June 2020 but can finish after that date. Ask us if you are unsure about the process.
Annual leave at half pay
If the employer agrees, this temporary measure allows an employee to take twice as much annual leave on half pay.
For example, the employee receives one week’s annual leave payment (including annual leave loading if applicable) for every two weeks of annual leave that they take. It would need to start before 30th June 2020 but can finish after that date.
The agreement between employer and employee must be made in writing and kept on record.
Which awards have been amended?
See the full list of affected awards and contact us to find out how these changes impact your HR and people management.
Monday 6th April 2020
Understanding public holidays during coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted the usual daily functions of many businesses and poses new challenges for employers and their people management.
We know that this is a trying time for some, and that many of you are far from “business as usual”. Therefore, we wanted to clarify some questions around the upcoming public holidays, which have the potential to cause confusion for those dealing with temporary changes to their workforce.
Have the rules around public holidays changed due to coronavirus?
In short, no, the rules under the Fair Work Act on public holidays have not changed due to coronavirus. However, you will need to review entitlements for those employees whose employment situation has changed due to your company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, employees that you have had to stand down, who would ordinarily be working on a public holiday, will be entitled to receive their base rate of pay for their usual hours worked. The public holiday is classed as an authorised absence which is not subject to stand down provisions.
If the stood down employee would not normally be working on the public holiday, they are not entitled to payment for that day.
The above guidance does not apply to those who have agreed to a period of unpaid leave, they are not entitled to be paid for public holidays during this time.
If your business is open over public holidays you should follow the normal procedures. Remember that if you want to ask an employee to work when they usually wouldn’t, to check their contract and any relevant award first to make sure your request is fair.
What about causal workers?
Their situation is different. Casuals are generally entitled to a higher rate of pay when working public holidays but are not paid for public holidays which they don’t work. It is vital that you check the contract, award or agreement of each casual worker to know how to proceed.
I need to make workforce changes. What are my options?
If your business has been impacted by coronavirus and you need to make changes to your workforce, we can help.
These are extraordinary times we are in and there are viable options which don’t involve standing down employees or resorting to unpaid leave. We understand that every business situation is unique, and we will take the time to listen to yours before presenting you with the options. Please contact us for more information.
Friday 3rd April 2020
Free childcare to keep people in work
The coronavirus pandemic has caused many parents to pull their children out of childcare, either through fear of them contracting the virus or an inability to pay fees after losing their jobs. This has severely impacted the childcare sector with some centers having no option but to close down. It also meant that many working parents were no longer attending work due to a lack of access to childcare services.
Recognising the childcare crisis and the knock-on effect it would have on the economy, the government has announced that childcare will become free during the coronavirus pandemic, so that parents can continue to work at a time when it is needed most.
The new temporary system is open to all parents and is due to be reviewed in a months’ time.
If you employ parents and have questions about your employment arrangements with them, contact your local HR Dept for advice.
Friday 3rd April 2020
Flexibility for modern awards during the coronavirus outbreak
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant disruption to Australian day-to-day life. Critical emergency measures have been put in place to protect public health but have also resulted in forced closures of many Australian businesses. This will have severe consequences for business owners and employees nationwide.
In response to several applications from unions and employer associations to increase award flexibility due to coronavirus, the Fair Work Commission has applied dedicated resources and already delivered determinations for some awards.
Which awards have been updated?
Temporary changes to both the Restaurant Award and Hospitality Award have been applied to provide flexibility during the coronavirus outbreak. They concern the following:
• employees’ classifications and duties
• full-time and part-time employees’ hours of work
• directions to take annual leave.
Temporary changes to the Clerks Award for flexibility during coronavirus concern:
• 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
If you employee people covered by these awards, please contact your local HR Dept to find out how and when these updates apply to your business.
Will more awards be updated?
Recognising the crucial need for flexibility during this challenging time, the Commission released a statement on 1st April revealing an intention to vary 103 awards. The proposed updates to these awards would:
• Provide an entitlement to unpaid pandemic leave.
• Allow flexibility to take annual leave at half pay.
The proposed variations would be until 30th June 2020. Those wishing to respond to the proposal are asked to do so through written submission to the Commission by Monday 6th April.
Please visit the Fair Work Commission for details of the proposal.
Wednesday 1st April 2020
Government reveal unprecedented COVID-19 JobKeeper Payment to support businesses
Due to our close involvement with SMEs, we have been hearing firsthand of the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on businesses nationwide. Many emergency measures have already been put in place and it has been reported that, sadly, millions of people are likely to lose their jobs.
We are pleased to hear the announcement that the Government is further stepping up its rescue response with a wage subsidy package.
We are expecting more details to be made available in the coming days, but below is what we know so far:
The Coronavirus JobKeeper Payment is a temporary scheme for businesses impacted by coronavirus as well as the self-employed. The scheme applies to all employed staff who work either full or part time. However there are additional criteria for casual staff. To find out if you and your employees are eligible please visit the following page.
For up to a period of 6 months the Government will provide $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee. This means that workers can retain their jobs and continue to receive all or part of their income. Business owners will not have to recruit again and their existing trained staff will be able to support the business as it re-starts and recovers after the coronavirus crisis. Employers can decide whether or not top up the payment and pay superannuation on any additional wage paid through the scheme.
The subsidy started on 30th March and first payments are expected to be made available in the first week of May by the ATO. Businesses are now able to register their interest in participating on the ATO website.
Whilst this support is significant, we understand that it may not be enough to keep everyone employed. Redundancies and stand down’s can be difficult but are sometimes necessary for a business to survive. The process of letting staff go, even for a temporary period, is complicated. And the added pressure of the coronavirus pandemic can make this even more strenuous. Our HR Dept professionals are here to offer their expertise and guide employers compliantly through the process.
Tuesday 24th March 2020
Ban on all overseas travel
Prime minister Scott Morrison has today announced a ban on all overseas travel, except in exceptional circumstances.
Those currently returning to Australia from overseas are required to stay at home for 14 days.
Monday 23rd March 2020
Closures and social distancing
We’ve all been watching closely as the effects of COVID-19 have caused governments worldwide to implement drastic emergency measures. Every continent has been affected with some countries seemingly coming to a complete standstill.
Obviously, Australia’s distance from the rest of the world is not enough to protect us as we see similar safety precautions being introduced in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect our people.
In order to comply with social distancing, businesses are being asked to adjust and, where possible, arrange home working for employees. We know that this will raise many questions for employers and recommend that Working from Home policies be put in place as a matter of urgency. We can help you with this.
Whilst some businesses can adapt, others including (but not limited to) pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and gyms have had to close in order to comply with the new rules on social distancing and the embargo on large gatherings. We are already seeing the enormous impact this is having on business revenue and employment.
Reducing hours, stand downs and redundancies are a difficult, but sometimes necessary step for a business to survive. Employers who are facing these decisions as a result of the coronavirus crisis should contact their local HR Dept for advice on how to remain fair and compliant.
Additionally, some schools have already closed while others are finishing Term 1 earlier than scheduled. This will present challenges for working parents who will need to arrange alternative childcare or adapt to the sudden change. We advise employers to revisit the rules on Carer’s Leave now and ask us if you have any questions regarding employees who have children.
We expect all these changes will cause concern for many employers so we want to reassure you that we are here to help you and provide advice on best practice people management during these times of crisis.
Please contact your local HR Dept to find out how the evolving coronavirus changes could affect your business.
Monday 23rd March 2020
Further economic support announced for Australian businesses and households
Due to our close involvement with SMEs across various sectors, we are hearing firsthand about the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on businesses nationwide. That’s why we are pleased to hear the Government is stepping up its response to the coronavirus pandemic with the second stage of its economic stimulus plan.
This second stage builds on the significant financial support announced just last week in a bid to see households make it through the crisis, keep Australians in work and businesses in business.
We are here to provide expertise and support to SME businesses that have questions on how to best manage employees during this time. But we also want to make sure that employers are aware of the financial support being made available by the Government. Therefore, we have highlighted some key points below, and whilst we anticipate further announcements will be made in response to this dynamic and rapidly evolving situation, this is what we have learned so far:
• Overall, $189 billion is being injected into the economy. That’s $17.6 billion from the first economic stimulus package, $90 billion from the RBA, $15 billion from the Government to deliver easier access to finance and $66.1 billion in the second stage of the Government’s economic support package.
• There is a temporary expansion of eligibility for income support payments and the introduction of a new, time-limited coronavirus supplement of $550 paid fortnightly. This is payable to existing and new recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. It will be available for the next 6 months.
• A further $750 stimulus payment for social security and veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders is available. This is in addition to the $750 payment announced earlier this month. Exempt are those receiving the income support payment through the coronavirus supplement.
• Early access to up to $10,000 of superannuation for eligible individuals in financial distress during 2019-2020, and a further $10,000 in 2020-2021. This is tax free and can be applied for online through myGov.
• There is a temporary reduction of superannuation minimum drawdown requirements by 50% for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. This is available for account-based pensions and similar products.
• Social security deeming rates have been reduced by a further 0.25 percentage points to reflect the latest rate reductions by the RBA.
• Boosted cash flow for eligible employers – up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium sized businesses, and not for-profits (including charities) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. A payment equal to 100% of salary and wages withheld (up from 50%), with the maximum payment being increased from $25,000 to $50,000. In addition, the minimum payment is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000. The payment will be available from 28 April 2020.
• An additional payment is also being made from 28 July 2020. Eligible entities will receive an additional payment equal to the total of all the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments received.
• Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme – To give SMEs access to working capital, the Government will guarantee 50% of new loans issued by eligible lenders to SMEs.
• Temporarily increased threshold for which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive. This includes temporary relief for directors, from any personal liability for trading while insolvent.
We advise employers to remain regularly updated via official channels to avoid missing any important announcements regarding financial aid.
Useful and reliable sources we’ve identified are:
- Prime minister media release
- Coronavirus information and support for businesses
- Australian tax office – dealing with disasters
Monday 16th March 2020
Government support for small businesses includes $25000 cash boost
The Morrison Government has announced a $17.6 billion economic plan to support Australian households, businesses and the economy through the coronavirus crisis.
The PM has explained the stimulus package will focus on keeping people in work and supporting small to medium sized businesses so they can continue to operate. He added that “By acting decisively, this package will put Australia in the strongest possible position to deal with the economic challenges we face and to make sure our economy bounces back even stronger.”
The stimulus package has been described as temporary, targeted and proportionate. It includes five parts:
1. Supporting business investment
In an attempt to support continuing business investment, the instant asset write-off threshold has been increased from $30,000 to $150,000. It’s been expanded to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million and will remain in place until June 30th, 2020.
$3.2 billion has been allocated to support business investment and economic growth in the short term using this 15-month investment incentive.
2. Cash flow assistance for small and medium sized business
$6.7 billion has been allocated to boost cash flow for employers. Eligible businesses that employ staff and have a turnover of less than $50 million will receive a tax-free payment of up to $25,000.
There will also be $1.3 billion available to support the jobs of 120,000 apprentices and trainees in small businesses. This will be through a wage subsidy of 50% of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage for up to nine months. Applications for this business incentive will be accepted until 30th September 2020.
3. Household stimulus payments
To support the wider economy $4.8 billion will fund one-off tax-free payments of $750 to pensioners, social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. This is expected to help up to 6.5 million people who will begin to receive this payment from 31st March 2020.
4. Targeted support for the most severely affected regions
Sectors, regions and communities who have been disproportionately economically affected by the coronavirus will benefit from $1 billion in support. This includes a waiver of fees and charges for some tourism businesses.
5. Support for casual workers
Concern for casual workers has been growing due to the economic hardship they will suffer if they are required to self-isolate or indeed, become ill. To address this issue, the government has announced it will waive the one week wait period for access to sickness allowance for casuals and contractors (but not sole contractors).
Advice for your business during the coronavirus crisis
The Government stimulus package is a welcome relief for many business owners during such economic uncertainty. But we know that employers will also have questions about how best to manage employees during this time as well. The importance of a business contingency plan was paramount during the bushfires and employers may need to revisit their strategy regarding disruption as a result of the coronavirus.
News regarding cancelled events
A precautionary measure has been put in place to ban non-essential events (sports, music and arts festivals) and gatherings of more than 500 people. At the time of writing, essential gatherings such as work and school have not been cancelled although some universities are now only offering online lectures.
If you require urgent advice on business contingency or people management, please contact us.
Friday 13th March 2020
How to protect your workplace against coronavirus
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has had an enormous impact on our supermarkets and, chances are, you’ll feel the uncertainty in the workplace as well.
Following sensible hygiene practices can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus at your workplace;
- Ensure staff have a clean place to wash their hands with hot water and soap and encourage them to do so … OFTEN
- Supply hand sanitiser gel and tissues
- Remind staff to cough into their elbow, not their hands
- Increase your general cleaning routines for surfaces such as door handles, handrails etc.
- Communicate openly and regularly with your people. Provide the latest information from reputable sources e.g. health.gov.au and listen to their concerns.
- If you haven’t already got one, develop a business continuity plan and regularly review it as the situation changes. Consider what functions/roles are essential and what can be changed or stopped for a period of time.
- Test your systems and infrastructure so you know whether people can work remotely if required.
We advise you suspend non-essential international travel to high-risk countries. If travelling abroad, staff should practice good hygiene. Encourage them to use disposable gloves in public places and to take hand sanitiser to reduce the chances of infection.
While away and upon their return, encourage them to monitor their health. Get them to seek medical advice and diagnosis if they experience symptoms while travelling or within 14 days of returning to Australia.
For the latest travel advice, see SmartTraveller.
Do you run a business and have a HR question about coronavirus?
The HR Dept provide outsourced HR support to employers. If you are an employee we would suggest that you contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Looking for expert HR support?
We can help you focus on your business by taking care of all your human resources needs.
Let us know how we can help or ask about our free initial HR review.
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