KNOWLEDGE CENTRE

JobKeeper Directions – Is Your Business Exposed?

With businesses starting to receive JobKeeper payments, the economy is in the midst of transitioning to the ‘new normal’ and business owners are finally starting to feel like they can, at least somewhat, breathe again. Consequently, now is the time to ‘take stock’, conduct an audit and ensure that the measures that your business implemented (most likely in haste), over the past few months are not now leaving your business exposed to potential claims and other legal risks.  

Notably, a new section was introduced into the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act), which allows the Commission to deal with disputes specifically regarding employer ‘JobKeeper directions’. This dispute mechanism allows for employees to lodge an application (at no cost) detailing their dispute, to which an employer must then respond to the application in the relevant time frame. Once the application and response has been submitted, the Fair Work Commission will deal with the dispute via arbitration, mediation, conciliation or alike, and it has broad powers to make orders “to give effect to a direction, set aside the direction, substitute the direction for a different direction or any other direction it considers appropriate”. There are also civil penalties that can be imposed on the employer, in certain circumstances.

New figures revealed by the Fair Work Commission show that its overall workload is already up by 40% compared to April 2019, with the increase apparently due to more cases about unfair dismissal, JobKeeper directions and JobKeeper payment disputes.

As at 7 May 2020, the Fair Work Commission had already received 212 disputes pertaining to the JobKeeper scheme, with the leading dispute topic being JobKeeper directions pertaining to changes to employee working hours. 

Most businesses had to respond quickly to be able to adapt to the COVID-19 impacts and this saw a number of businesses taking drastic measures both in the restructuring of their businesses (such as new service offerings and operating hours), but also in the restructuring of their employees and the basis on which they are employed (such as reduced hours, different hours, change of duties and roles, change of location of work and so on). Most of these changes to employees’ employment can be made legally in certain circumstances, provided they strictly comply with the requirements of the Act. The problem is, most of these changes were made in a ‘reactive’ manner by businesses and when businesses ‘react’ they can often fail to comply with the myriad of applicable legal requirements. 

Here are a few things that employers must know in relation to JobKeeper payments:

  • no employer is entitled to (and is taken never to have been entitled to), a JobKeeper payment unless it complies with record keeping requirements under the relevant Acts and Regulations - this could very well mean, that if employers and businesses have been receiving JobKeeper payments but they did not comply with the record keeping requirements, they could be required to repay the JobKeeper payments;
  • JobKeeper enabling directions cannot be made retrospectively - this means that directions given before the Act was amended on 9 April 2020 are not authorised, meaning they could be construed as unlawful and employees may have remedies against their employers in this regard (or civil penalties may apply);
  • JobKeeper enabling directions will not be valid unless an employer gave the requisite written notice to employees (3 days before the direction commenced) and consulted with the employees in accordance with the requirements under the Act; and
  • the JobKeeper payments must be dealt with strictly in accordance with the relevant parts of the Act, otherwise the employer risks a claim by the employee and also civil penalties being imposed against the employer.

The above examples are a mere snapshot of certain key considerations that employers ought to turn their mind to, so as to avoid unnecessarily exposing their businesses to legal claims and potential civil penalties. 

It is now critically important that businesses audit the decisions they made over the past few months, to ensure those decisions strictly complied with the relevant laws, regulations and rules. Where it is found that decisions didn’t comply, a number of corrective measures are available to businesses to correct or mitigate any potential impacts.  

If your business needs assistance, our team of employment law experts are standing by ready to guide you through this audit process. 

EL has further put together an exclusive JobKeeper Audit Package, available to the first five businesses (with under fifteen employees) who contact us, under which we will audit your business and provide you with a compliance report and summary of required corrective measures (if necessary) for a fixed fee of $2,200.00 (incl. GST).

Call our team today to take advantage of this exclusive offer:

☎️ (07) 4646 2621

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Temporary Insolvency Law Changes May Keep Businesses Afloat During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In response to the current Coronavirus pandemic and the impact that it has had on businesses, the Federal Government recently introduced temporary measures that will assist in relieving companies and their Directors in these times of financial difficulty. It is no secret that impending insolvency and/or bankruptcy is currently a very real risk for many Australian businesses and as any Director will know (or should know!) the implications of trading insolvent can be significant.

What is the Government’s Intention?

The intention of the relief being provided by the Government at this time is consistent with the overall theme of the relief being provided to all businesses and that is, to keep them trading while we all navigate these rapidly changing and challenging times by:

  1. helping them to stay solvent during the pandemic; and
  2. reducing the imminent threat of personal liability for Directors if a company does become insolvent as a result of the pandemic.

What Measures Have Been Introduced?

The relief measures that were passed by Parliament in late March will be in place for the next six months and include:

  1. an increase to the threshold amount and time to respond to statutory demands;
  2. an increase to the threshold amount and time to respond to bankruptcy notices against individuals; and
  3. a temporary ‘pause’ on Director’s personal liability for insolvent trading.

Both the threshold amounts for statutory demands and bankruptcy notices have been increased significantly, to $20,000, and the time to respond has been increased to six months. What this means is that the Government has recognized that companies and individuals alike may very well incur more debt while their businesses are affected during this time and will likely require more time to ‘get back on track’ and be in a position to pay their creditors. It seeks to ensure that companies and individuals are able to ‘stay afloat’ for as long as possible, rather than having to enter voluntary liquidation or declare bankruptcy.

These measures will no doubt provide some comfort for businesses who are concerned about outstanding debts owed to their creditors.

What About Personal Liability for Directors?

In the event that a company does find that the impacts of the pandemic have effected their business to a point where they are still struggling to pay their debts, the Directors of that company can rest assured that they may be relieved of any personal liability associated with insolvent trading that occurs over the next six months. It is extremely important for Directors to understand that this relief only applies to insolvent trading that has occurred during the ordinary course of the company’s business, it does not apply to cases of dishonesty or fraud (which will still be subject to criminal penalties). Directors must continue to ensure that they are still taking active steps to deal with financial stress and consider options for ‘staying afloat’, but are simply being given some breathing room to do so.

What Should Businesses Do Next?

Regardless of the relief being provided by the Government, it remains as important as ever for business owners to consider how they might diversify their businesses to keep income coming in and keep the debts owed to creditors down. For that reason, we encourage businesses to seek professional advice wherever they can these matters and how they might take advantage of the other forms of relief being provided by the Government. Every business’ situation will be different, especially given the current climate, and seeking assistance earlier rather than later could make all the difference to how a business comes out of this on the other side.

We Can Help!

As a small business our self, Enterprise Legal is extremely passionate about assisting businesses wherever we can in these difficult times and have already identified ways in which we can do so. To that end, we have prepared a number of free ‘Coronavirus Resources’ for businesses which are available via our website. 

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us to chat about how your business has been effected by the pandemic and how we might be able to assist you to survive and thrive!

☎️ (07) 4646 2621

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Coronavirus – What Do I Do With My Employees?

Obviously one of the biggest areas of uncertainty regarding the impacts of COVID-19 is on staff. Our expert Employment Law Team has put together the following overview, regarding standing-down employees and making employees redundant as a result of the current pandemic.

Employee Stand-Down

Pursuant to sections 524 and 525 of the Fair Work Act, employers can stand employees down without pay during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed because of:

  • equipment breakdown;
  • industrial action, when it’s not organised by the employer; or
  • (most relevant given the corona virus outbreak) stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible.

During a legitimate stand down period, employees do not need to be paid but they will accrue leave in the usual way.

Whether a particular employee can be usefully employed is a question of fact to be determined having regard to the circumstances that face the individual employer and the specific employee. “Usefully employed” has not been defined, but Courts have in the past determined that if an employer is able to obtain some benefit or value for work that could be performed by the employee, then the stand down provisions will not apply.

For example, let’s say a local take away shop has to ‘shut its doors’ due to a government lock-down proclamation, then it may be reasonable to stand the front-line employees down without pay, but employees who do accounts, bookkeeping, marketing and alike may not be eligible to be stood down because there may still exist an opportunity for them to be ‘usefully employed’.

Awards, Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and Employment Agreements could alter the statutory position above, so EL always cautions clients against taking an action as drastic as stand down without pay until considered legal advice tailored to that client’s business and the specific employee(s) have been obtained.

Because of the significant impacts stand down without pay can have on employees, EL would treat such a step with extreme caution. Fair Work guides at the moment are saying that ‘best practice’ would be to discuss different options with each employee, and consider letting employees take leave on the basis of paid leave such as sick, annual, long-service etc. where available, or to allow them to work from home where possible.

However, EL recognises that sometimes when there is a stoppage of work, standing employees down without pay may be the only option available to our clients, and in those circumstances we encourage clients to contact us for a tailored, short-form advice from $1,350.00 (including GST).

Redundancy Option

Some EL clients may see their business take such a downturn that they need to consider making employee(s) positions redundant.

Essentially, a redundancy could be a potential strategy for employers where an employee’s position is no longer required by the employer due to restructure or operational changes in the employer’s business, which renders the position unnecessary. The work or role must no longer be required to be performed by any employee.

The Fair Work Act has strict requirements that employers must meet prior to qualifying for the redundancy provisions, and a relevant Employment Agreement, Award or Enterprise Bargaining Agreement may create complimentary and/or additional onerous obligations on employers in this regard.

Given the current climate, EL’s advice is to approach any redundancy decision with caution, and always ensure you have sought tailored legal advice so as to minimise any risk or unnecessary exposure to your business.

Contact Us

Our expert Employment Law team can also assist your business by developing a range of customised and appropriate policies and documents – please contact us to obtain a fixed fee quote for these services. In the interim, our team has prepared a generic Coronavirus Policy for your free download and use, to ensure that your business is on the front-foot.

The application of the existing law to the current situation is rapidly-developing, so we encourage all clients to ensure they regularly check our platforms for updates or to contact us directly with any concerns that they have.

☎️ (07) 4646 2621

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Coronavirus: Let's Get Practical - Information for Business Owners

It is difficult to know what has spread more prevalently over the last two weeks – COVID-19 itself or the vast, vast amounts of information, misinformation, tips, tricks, commentary, opinions, guidance etc. regarding COVID-19! Like all things at EL, we don’t seek to ‘add to the noise’ by replicating some of the great content that has already been published, but instead, our focus is on assisting business owners to implement practical, easily-adoptable strategies to help lower the immediate impact of the Corona-situation on their business.

So, you own or manage a business? Read on to find out what you can do…

Have staff? Read this Info and Download this Policy...

Obviously one of the biggest areas of uncertainty regarding the impacts of COVID-19 is on staff. Our expert Employment Law Team has put together the following overview here, regarding standing-down employees and making employees redundant as a result of the current pandemic.

Of course, it is imperative for businesses to understand that the application of the current law to their employees can significantly differ on a case-by-case basis, so be very wary of adopting generic advice. Our Employment Team is across this topic and can provide properly-considered, tailored advice to ensure your specific business is covered.

We can also assist by developing a range of customised and appropriate policies and documents – please contact us to obtain a fixed fee quote for these services. In the interim, our team has prepared a generic Coronavirus Policy for your free download and use, to ensure that your business is on the front-foot.

The application of the existing law to the current situation is rapidly-developing, so we encourage all clients to ensure they regularly check our platforms for updates.

Have a Shopfront? Let’s Negotiate…

Brick and mortar stores are already suffering, with people (rightly) avoiding unnecessary trips to the shops. If you run a business with a shopfront, we strongly recommend that you engage us ASAP to commence negotiations with your landlord regarding potential rent reductions, delayed rent payments or adopting other mitigation strategies. There are plenty of commercial proposals that can be put to landlords during this time and reaching early agreement on these matters will assist businesses to survive and landlords to keep their shops tenanted. The terms of your lease may also offer some assistance at this time.

Service Provider? Can You Cancel? Can Your Clients Cancel?

Face-to-face service-based businesses will unfortunately suffer hardest from COVID-19, particularly those in the wedding, events and conferences sector. Business operators and customers alike are shortly going to have to make some tough decisions about cancelling contracts and the implications around refunds and re-bookings will be important. Contact EL ASAP so that we can advise you on your legal obligations in this regard and provide you with practical, commercial suggestions for ensuring the long-term survival of your business.

Losing Customers? It’s Time to Innovate!

The EL team is of the view that businesses need to be careful not to assume that they can ‘simply weather the storm’ of Corona, by holding tight for a few months.. The reality is that no-one really knows the length of the economic disruption that Covid-19 will cause, so our advice is for all businesses to stop and consider how they can innovate within their business during this time. Already, there are plenty of businesses leading the charge in this regard, with home delivery, new product development (hello family roll – Google it if you haven’t come across it yet!) and new delivery methods being adopted by small business in an effort to leverage opportunity from an otherwise difficult situation. There has never been a better time to evaluate your businesses’ strengths and weaknesses and pivot so that it is heading in the right direction!

Feeling Overwhelmed? Keep Calm and Carry on!

Unless you are a doctor or a scientist, the number one way that you can help society at this time is to be a socially-responsible human being, who adopts and promotes common sense at all times! This extends to making sensible, balanced decisions for the ongoing viability of your business and not ‘sticking your head in the sand’ about the situation.

The Enterprise Legal team are not your average lawyers – we are able to assist you with navigating this challenging time for your business, by bringing our uniquely commercial approach to the legalities of the situation! Call our team today.

☎️ (07) 4646 2621

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