Workforce levers during sudden lockdowns & restrictions

Posted on 21/7/2021

Business Advisory

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Overview:

As operators manage the impact and flow-on effects of sudden lockdowns and ongoing (changing) restrictions, we have heard many raise questions that echo some of the concerns and confusion that erupted at the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, back in March 2020. In particular, we’ve seen a number of queries related to understanding what levers are available, in respects to managing one’s workforce.
Workforce levers during sudden lockdowns & restrictions

 

Lockdown options for Employers

Cecilia White, Director Perks People Solutions shares, “During a time of lockdown, employers have several options open to them:

1. Where possible, employees can be directed to work from home.

2. Where work from home is not possible, employers can utilise the Stand Down provisions available as part of the Fair Work Act 2009, due to the forced government closure. This means employees are stood down without pay. They will continue to accrue leave during this period.

3. As an alternative to stand down, employees can access paid or unpaid leave entitlements subject to being authorised by the employer.

For many operators, working out what options are available to them takes an enormous amount of mental and emotional strain as they are balancing the economic viability of their business and the human impacts of workforce decisions.”

Top Workforce Lockdown Questions

Whilst the situation in South Australia continues to be less perilous than in other states, it never hurts to be prepared when managing staff and resourcing. Here are some of the top questions that we’ve been helping some of our clients affected by lockdowns in other areas.

Q) What if my employee is required by Government direction to quarantine for 14 days? What are their entitlements?

A) If the employee is unwell, they can access personal leave. If they are well with no symptoms but must still quarantine, they should work from home if they are able to. If the employee cannot work from home, they will need to take annual leave, long service leave or, if they have no paid leave available, leave without pay. Also, an employer always has a discretion to allow leave in advance.

Q) My employee needs to take a COVID test. Is this paid as personal leave?

A) If the employee is unwell, they can access personal leave for time attending for test and while they are unwell and quarantining. If they are well with no symptoms but must still get tested, they will need to take annual leave, long service leave or, if they have no paid leave available, leave without pay. Also, an employer always has a discretion to allow leave in advance, or you may allow them the time off to take the test and make the time up at a later stage.

Q) To stand down a worker, do we need to demonstrate that the requirement to stand them down has been caused by COVID-19?

A) A worker can be stood down for other reasons unrelated to COVID-19. However, under Section 524 of the Fair Work Act, a stand down is when some or all of the employees of a business are temporarily unable to be usefully employed due to a stoppage of work outside of the employer’s control (this would apply during any government enforced lockdown and your business is not eligible to be open).

Q) How does the “Annual Leave at Half Pay for Award employees” work

A) Some Awards provide an employer to allow an employee to take up to twice as much annual leave at half the rate of pay in certain Awards. The agreement would need to be recorded in writing, to avoid any disputes at a later date. Also note that an employee on leave at half pay accumulates their usual leave entitlements (annual, sick and carers’) as if they were on full pay.

Q) Is the Government offering any type of financial assistance?

A) There is the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment for all states other than Northern Territory. Financial support is available if you live in South Australia and can’t earn an income because you must self-isolate or quarantine or are caring for someone with COVID-19.
Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is a lump sum payment to help you during the 14 days you need to self-isolate, quarantine or care for someone. You must be directed to self-isolate or quarantine by a health official. This includes a person employed by:

  • SA Health
  • a state or regional department of health.

Check out this link for more information. 

 

If you have questions specific to your situation, feel free to drop us a line or email us directly.

Talk to our HR Consulting Team

Cecilia White

Cecilia White

With a background in legal practice, Cecilia has developed strong technical expertise in all matters relating to workplace law, including awards, contracts, disciplinary matters, investigations, equal opportunity and HR policy development.

Sarah Hills

Sarah Hills

Sarah’s philosophy is about partnering with clients to get the best outcome for them within the context of their business objectives, operations and resources.

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