• Employees covered by the Nurses Award 2010, Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2020 and Aged Care Award 2010 who are employed by residential aged care providers or are required to work in residential aged care facilities are now entitled to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave following a recent announcement from the Fair Work Commission. 


    What is the Entitlement?

    Permanent and casual employees engaged on a regular and systematic basis under the aforementioned modern awards are now entitled to take up to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave on each occasion they are prevented from working when:

    • the employee is required to self-isolate or quarantine by government or medical authorities or their employer;
    • the employee is required to self-isolate or quarantine following receipt of medical advice because they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or have come into contact with a person suspected of contracting COVID-19;
    • the employee is isolating while they await their tests results;
    • because of measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


    Are There Exclusions?

    Yes, employees will not be entitled to access paid pandemic leave if:

    • they are not covered by the aforementioned awards;
    • they are able to work from home or remotely;
    • circumstances dictate that they should access personal/carer’s leave (for example, if the employee was actually unwell, they would be entitled to personal leave);
    • they are covered by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement that does not expressly incorporate the aforementioned awards.
      Importantly, the leave is conditional on employees taking a COVID-19 test at the earliest opportunity. 

    Employees requesting pandemic leave are also required to: · provide their employer with notice and the reason why they are taking the leave, as soon as practicable; and if required · provide evidence that would satisfy ‘a reasonable person’ that the leave is being taken for one of the specified reasons; and produce a medical certificate.

    Employees are still entitled to workers’ compensation if they test positive for COVID-19 and their paid pandemic leave ceases, provided COVID-19 was contracted during their employment. 


    What About Other Industries?

    At this point in time it is uncertain whether or not this entitlement will be broadened to other modern awards and employers in other industries are understandably curious and nervous. The Fair Work Commission, in their statement, confirmed that the paid pandemic leave is in response to “The seriousness of the position in the aged care sector”, however time will tell if this will broaden further in the rapid changing times. 

    If you have any questions or need any support with your workplace during these times, do not hesitate to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The Fair Work Commission (the Commission) has stepped in to provide support for the real estate industry and commission-only real estate agents who are covered by the Real Estate Industry Award 2020 (the Award), by removing the months of May, June, July, August, September and October 2020 from the calculation of Minimum Income Threshold Amount (MITA) for the preceding 12-month period.

    The MITA will be subsequently adjusted in proportion to the number of months disregarded, provided that, where the commission-only employee’s review date falls partway through any COVID-19 month, that month may only be disregarded where the review is due after the 14th of the month.

    The Commission has also amended the Award to suspend the eligibility for the engagement of further commission-only agents for the period 6 August 2020 to 1 November 2020. Specifically, the Award has been amended to state:

    “An employee who is not employed as a commission-only salesperson as at 6 August 2020, shall not be eligible to be employed on a commission-only basis prior to 1 November 2020.”

    The aforementioned changes are in operation from the 6th of August 2020, however, for those recently employed, they do not take effect until the start of the employee’s first full pay period that starts on or after 6 August 2020.

    You can read the Commission's decision on The Treasury's website.


    Changes to JobKeeper

    The recent changes to JobKeeper announced on the 7th of August 2020 will also provide an element of reprieve for some, with businesses now only needing to demonstrate that their GST turnover has fallen in one quarter, instead of two, in order to qualify for the recently extended scheme.

    Instead of the requirement to demonstrate a decline in turnover for both the June and September quarters, the 7th of August 2020 announcement confirms businesses will now only need to show that GST turnover has fallen in the September quarter, compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

    Employee eligibility and payments have also changed, to the extent that the scheme has been amended to cover those who have been working since at least 1 July 2020, instead of the original deadline of 1 March 2020. The payment rate will also drop from October to $1,500 to $1,200 for full-time workers, and to $750 for part-time workers, before dropping again in January to  $1,000 per fortnight for full-time workers and $650 for part-time workers.

    Employers will need to use the two fortnightly pay periods to either 1 March 2020, or 1 July 2020 to calculate JobKeeper payment tiers and if an employee has been eligible for JobKeeper since March 1, the fortnightly period with the highest number of hours worked should be used. 

    Click here to read the 7 August 2020 announcement from The Treasury detailing the changes to JobKeeper.


    If you have any questions or need any support with your workplace during these times, do not hesitate to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The recent decision in Broadlex Services Pty Ltd v United Workers’ Union [2020] FCA 867 highlights the risks employers will face if they reduce the hours of their employees without consent.

    Broadlex, a cleaning company, experienced a downturn in business which triggered it to advise full-time employee, Ms Vrtovski, that her employment status would be reduced from full-time to part-time, reducing her hours from 38 hours per week to 20 hours per week (with a proportionate reduction in salary).  

    Ms Vrtovski declined to sign a form consenting to the change but nevertheless worked the reduced hours as she felt she had no choice. She later filed a dispute and upon examination, Justice Katzmann of the Federal Court of Australia held that Ms Vrtovski was entitled to redundancy pay on the grounds that:

    1. Section 119 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) confirms that a redundancy requires:

    • the employee’s employment to be terminated
    • the termination to be done at the employer’s initiative because it no longer requires the job to be done by anyone.

    2. by reducing Ms Vrtovski’s hours without consent, Broadlex had repudiated her contract of employment, which was accepted by her when she refused to sign the consent form. This, in turn, had the effect of terminating Ms Vrtovski’s full-time employment and when she commenced working on a part-time basis, she did so under a new contract of employment;

    3. as the termination of Ms Vrtovski’s employment was initiated by Broadlex (when they changed her employment to part-time), who did not require her full-time role to be done by anyone, Ms Vrtovski’s circumstances met the requirements of section 119 and she was therefore entitled to redundancy pay.

     

    Lesson for Employers 

    The decision in Broadlex serves as an important reminder that employers need to be very careful when making changes to an employee’s employment.

     

    If you find yourself in a situation where you are considering making similar changes within your business, we encourage you to contact EL's Principal Legal Advisor – Workplace Relations, Amie Mish-Wills for advice & support:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • The Devil Is In The Detail - When Workplace Redundancy Alternatives Just Don't Cut It

    An employer has been ordered to pay full redundancy entitlements to employees despite offering them other employment arrangements.

     

    The recent decision of Lee Crane Hire Pty Ltd v Sneek and Ors [2020] FWC serves as an important example of when an employer will be required to pay redundancy entitlements to employees, despite offering them alternative means of employment.

     

    What the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) Says:

    Section 120 of the Fair Work Act provides a mechanism for employers to apply to vary the amount redundancy pay owing to an employee (which may be reduced to nil) in circumstances where the employer obtains other acceptable employment for the employee (and they reject it) or the employer simply cannot pay the amounts owing.

     

    What is ‘Other Acceptable Employment’?

    If an employer is able to prove that it offered an employee other acceptable employment and the employee rejected such employment and sought payment of their redundancy entitlements instead, an employer could request the Fair Work Commission reduce the redundancy pay potentially to nil.  

    The onus of proving that the alternative employment is acceptable rests with the employer. There is a body of case law which has set the bar particularly high and involves consideration of a range of non-exhaustive factors including, pay levels, hours of work, seniority, fringe benefits, workload, job security, work location, continuity of service, accrual of benefits, probationary periods, as well as the employee’s skills, experience and physical capacity. The location of the other employment must also not be unreasonably distant from the employee’s original place of work.

     

    So What Happened in Lee Crane v Sneek?  

    Lee Crane v Sneek is a prime example of how the Fair Work Commission assesses ‘other acceptable employment’ and is a cautionary tale for employers, particularly those who may wish to offer casual or far away employment to soon-to-be redundant employees. Here’s what happened:  

    • Lee Crane Hire operates a mobile crane hire business in Gladstone and operates another depot at Biloela (121kms inland from Gladstone). There had been a downturn in business of the Gladstone Depot such that the business could no longer guarantee full time work to the employees based at the Depot. The owner of the business decided to close the Gladstone Depot and operate all his business through the Biloela depot.
    • Employees Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy worked at the Gladstone depot and were offered two alternatives to a redundancy:
      1. continue in the same role, but be based out of Biloela and Gladstone with the only Depot being in Biloela. This option would include payment for time spent travelling to work and accommodation, the same hours of work, a company vehicle supplied, the same salary and leave entitlements. Additionally, as the role was the same mobile crane operations role, the travel to different sites would be largely unchanged; or
      2. to take on casual employment for Lee Crane Hire in Gladstone, this would involve the employees performing the same work, however there would be no guaranteed hours of work.
    • Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy declined the above options and were terminated on the 31st of March 2020.
    • Lee Crane Hire filed an application in the Fair Work Commission seeking the redundancy pay of Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy be reduced on the grounds that it offered them ‘other acceptable employment’.
    • When assessing the alternatives offered to the employees, the Fair Work Commission viewed both alternatives in the negative, and stated:

     

      • [29] It is the devil’s alternative: move to a new location some 121kms away and incur a practical detriment on a continuous basis or, keep your job, but as a casual with no assurance of work in an evidently declining market. This should not be classified as acceptable alternative work that would release the employer from their obligation to pay out a redundancy entitlement. In short, the travel to Biloela makes the options, in line with the authority cited, unreasonably distant.
      • [35] My considered view is that the two employment options offered by Lee Crane Pty Ltd are not ‘acceptable other employment’ for the purpose of s.120(1)(b)(i) of the Act.

    Ouch.

    • Lee Crane Hire were ordered to pay Sneek, Wiemers and Kennedy their full redundancy entitlements which equalled 16, 12 and 7 weeks respectively.

    Triple ouch.

    What’s the lesson?

    Employers need to tread very carefully when navigating redundancies and further, they need to ensure that any offers for other employment are indeed ‘acceptable’ based on the Fair Work Commission’s assessment criteria.

     

    It goes without saying that if you are wondering if your redundancy process is correct or you are wishing you had some expert assistance to ensure your redundancy alternatives are not labelled “the devil’s alternative”, do not hesitate to contact Enterprise Legal’s Principal Workplace Relations Advisor, Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request

  • October is Safe Work Month and is an important time for businesses to review their Workplace Health and Safety procedures and processes and to reflect on the safety of their staff and workplaces.


    Whatever the industry or workplace, every organisation can join Safe Work Month and take steps to keep people safe and healthy at work, including:  

    • Being informed: Staying up to date with the laws, rules and regulations that apply and create the duties and responsibilities of employers, employees and contractors. It is vital that both employers and employees take steps to stay informed and up to date;
    • Auditing Hazards and Risks and implementing risk/hazard mitigation strategies: Identifying hazards and risks is a key step for both employers and employees and involves finding thing or situations that may cause harm. Once a hazard or risk is identified, it is imperative that steps be taken to minimise or remove the risk or hazard. Risk and hazard assessments should be conducted regularly;
    • Training and consultation: Employers and employees must all work together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others and the workplace. It is vital that staff be trained and consulted with every step of the way and includes being involved when identifying hazards and assessing the risks that the work or workplace present and when proposing changes to the workplace which may affect WHS; and
    • Being prepared for emergencies: Employers need to have plans and processes in place to appropriately respond to emergencies, injuries and incidents in the workplace. This includes (but is not limited to) having staff trained in fire and emergency management, having procedures in place for incident/injury reporting and return to work management;
    • Keeping staff wellbeing front of mind: Employers and employees need to remember that safe workplaces isn’t just about injuries and incidents, it also includes staff health and wellbeing. It is important to remember that everyone’s physical and psychological wellbeing should also be a priority.


    There are a wide range of free resources available through WorkSafe Queensland and Safe Work Australia and at Enterprise Legal, we have a dedicated Workplace Relations team that is here to assist and keep your workplace safe and informed.


    If you would like to discuss how we can assist you with your Workplace Health and Safety obligations, contact EL's Principal Workplace Relations Advisor Amie Mish-Wills:

    ☎️ (07) 4646 2425

    ✉️ Submit an Online Request