In light of the current COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen Fair Work Australia implement 20 years’ worth of changes in a few short weeks which has resulted in large scale changes to the employment landscape.

We have summarised the details for you below.

Changes to Fair Work Act
With the introduction of JobKeeper there have been numerous changes to the Fair Work Act.

The new provisions enable employers who qualify for the JobKeeper incentive, and who are entitled to JobKeeper payments for their employees, to give directions called ‘JobKeeper enabling directions’.

This means employers have the ability to temporarily:

  • Stand down an employee (including by reducing their hours or days of work)
  • Change an employee’s usual duties
  • Change an employee’s location of work.

The new provisions also enable employers to make agreements with their employees to

  • Change days and times of work
  • Take annual leave in certain circumstances

These provisions are currently in place until 28 September 2020.

Leave update
The Fair Work Commission has confirmed that 99 Modern Awards have been amended to support the implementation and operation of the JobKeeper incentive.

As a result the following arrangement are now offered to employees from 8 April 2020 to 30 June 2020:-

  • 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave
  • Annual leave at half pay

To review the list of awards affected visit here.

What is unpaid pandemic leave?
If an employee under one of the
affected awards is unable to work as a result of required self-isolation, medical advice or enforceable government direction restricting non-essential business they can access up to 2 weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave.

It is worth noting the following:

  • The leave period can be extended after agreement with the employer
  • The leave is available for full-time, part-time and casual employees and is not pro-rated
  • The leave is available immediately, there are no accrual requirements to take the leave
  • Unpaid pandemic leave can be utilised at employees discretion in place of paid leave
  • The leave needs to start before 30 June 2020

An employee is required to let their employer know that they’re going to take unpaid pandemic leave and the reason for taking the leave as per current leave processes in place.

  • An employee must notify an employer this has to be done as soon as possible and can be after the leave has started
  • The employee should advise how long they’ll be off or expect to be off work
  • An employer can ask an employee to give evidence (medical certificate) that shows why they took the leave

Note: An employee receiving JobKeeper payments from their employer can still take unpaid pandemic leave under their award at the same time as receiving the JobKeeper payment.

Annual leave at half pay
An employer can request an eligible employee to take paid annual leave (as long as the employee keeps a balance of at least 2 weeks paid annual leave).

This means an employee gets 1 weeks’ annual leave payment (including annual leave loading if applicable) for every 2 weeks of annual leave they take.

  • The agreement must be in writing and the employer needs to keep it as a record.
  • The leave needs to start before 30 June 2020

An employee on leave at half pay accumulates annual leave and sick and carer’s leave as if they were on leave at full pay.

An employer must not dismiss the employee or take any other adverse action against an employee while they are on leave.

For an example of how this will be reflected visit here.

If you have any questions about your workplace obligations or entitlements we will assist you as best we can, or you can contact the Fair Work Coronavirus Hotline on 13 13 94 or visit their website. You should seek professional advice and consult the latest information provided by the Australian Government before acting on any of the contexts.

Further, if you would like to discuss any of the above measures or the financial impact you are currently facing, in general, please feel free to email your AHJ contact or or call (07) 3253 1500. Please note, however, that our office is currently unattended and our telephones are diverted to messages. We will endeavour to call you back as soon as possible.