Covid-19 - Employer HR Update

Updated: Apr 5

As Covid-19 continues to develop, so does the employment relations landscape in Australia.


This update focuses on changes relevant to the heavy industry and professional services clients that Edwards HR is known for specialising in. If you are reading this as a business leader from another industry, we encourage you to get in touch with us for information specific to your situation, or to visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website for relevant updates.


OVERVIEW OF CHANGES


Given the velocity of change we are experiencing thanks to Covid-19, the Fair Work Ombudsman has a page dedicated to guidance and updates to help you understand changes to Awards and how to implement workplace laws in your business.


Before you begin making or discussing changes with your team, we encourage you to read our latest blog post which provides guidance on options for employers and what to you should consider before jumping straight to stand down or redundancy.

CHANGES TO CLERKS AWARD


Effective the first full pay period on or after 28 March 2020, a new Schedule applies to the Clerks – Private Sector Award. Schedule I allows flexibility during the Covid-19 pandemic for:

  • Varying employee classifications and duties

  • Reduced minimum engagement for part-time and casual employees

  • Varied span of hours while working at home (6am-11pm Mon to Fri, 7am – 12.30pm Sat)

  • Temporary reduction to ordinary hours for full time and part time employees

  • Directions to take annual leave


This temporary Schedule is in place until 30 June 2020, but may be extended at the Commission’s discretion.

PROPOSED CHANGES TO OTHER AWARDS


On 1 April 2020, the Fair Work Commission advised if its intention to vary 103 other Modern Award to provide the following:

  • Entitlement to unpaid pandemic leave

  • Flexibility to take annual leave at half pay


These changes have not yet been confirmed but are proposed to operate until 30 June 2020 once approved.

FIFO WORKERS (QLD ONLY)


In an effort to keep FIFO workers and regional communities safe, Queensland will close its borders to all non-critical resource sector fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers to help slow the spread of coronavirus from midnight, Saturday 4 April 2020.


Read more here on the Queensland Government website.


It should also be noted that many mining and resources employers have established their own contingency plans and restrictions. Businesses dealing with these companies should consult with them directly to understand how your employees may be affected.

LONG SERVICE LEAVE FLEXIBILITY (NSW ONLY)


Amendments to the Long Services Leave Act 1955, introduced on 25 March 2020 will allow the following:

  • Waiving the one-month notice period for taking leave (by mutual agreement between employee and employer)

  • Greater flexibility for employees to take this leave in shorter blocks if they wish (rather than traditional monthly blocks).

The legislation will be in effect for 6 months with the possibility of an extension to one year at the discretion of the NSW government.

JOB SEEKER PAYMENTS


The Job Seeker Payments recently introduced help employers cover the costs of their employees’ wages, so that more employees can retain their job and continue to earn an income. Keeping your team employed has other benefits for employers too, which we explored in our latest blog – read it here.


In summary, the Government will provide $1,500 per fortnight per employee for up to 6 months if the business meets the following eligibility criteria:

  • Turnover of less than $1 billion and their turnover has fallen by more than 30 per cent (of at least a month); or

  • Turnover of $1 billion or more and their turnover has fallen by more than 50 per cent (of at least a month); and

  • Business is not subject to the Major Bank Levy.

There are also guidelines and eligibility criteria relating to employees (for example employment dates and citizenship/visa status).


The subsidy will start on 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by employers in the first week of May. Businesses can register their interest on the ATO website.


Be sure to speak with your Accountant about balancing dollars with sense for long term sustainability, as well as the other Government Stimulus Packages you may be eligible for.

GOVERNMENT ENFORCEABLE DIRECTIONS


It’s hard to keep up with the directions we are receiving daily from federal and state government, but it is important you do to ensure your business is compliant and your employees health, safety and wellbeing remains paramount. You can find all the links you need here.

WORKING FROM HOME


With working from home now ore common than working in the office, it's time to set some guidelines and establish a written agreement with your employees.


Head over to our shop to download your free working from home toolkit, complete with policy, employee agreement and home work space checklist (normally valued at $495).


Please add this product to your cart and use the code COVIDFREE to download at no cost (no credit card details required).

ANNUAL SALARY ARRANGEMENTS


While our attention has largely shifted to the Covid-19 crisis, its important to not lose focus on the other change introduced to several awards from 1 March 2020 – new requirements for annual salary arrangements.


What are the changes?

Employers are required to implement payroll and HR practices that ensure employees are adequately compensated by the annual salary at all times, including:

  • Annual calculations of what the employee would have been paid under the award versus the annualised salary actually paid.

  • Performing reconciliations and back-paying any shortfalls within 14 days.

  • Keeping a record of start and finish times on all days worked, including any unpaid breaks taken, for each employee paid an annualised salary in order to perform the calculations and reconciliations.

  • Such records must be signed by employees or acknowledged as correct in writing each pay period or roster cycle.

Depending on the Award that applies, other changes may include the requirement to advise employees in writing of:

  • The award provisions that apply to them which will be satisfied by an annual arrangement;

  • The mathematical calculation by which the annual salary has been determined;

  • The number of outer limit ordinary hours the employee can work before overtime is payable.

What do I need to do?

We recommend you assess the impact these changes will have on your business, remembering that at minimum, most companies have administrative staff covered by the Clerks - Private Sector Award. After consideration of the relevant Award requirements, businesses should review, adjust and/or implement HR and payroll practices to ensure compliance, and ensure employment contracts are updated for all employees affected.

It really is an unpredictable and unprecedented time and most businesses need support with adapting to change, managing their employees and understanding their employer obligations – that’s where we come in! Edwards HR is the trusted partner for many heavy industry and professional services businesses. Here’s how you can reach us:


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