Bushfires in Australia – Employers’ rights and obligations and employee entitlements during catastrophic weather conditions

FCB Group & HR Assured have established a telephone support line staffed by our team of workplace relations consultants to assist employers. This is a free service available to any employer needing support and HR / workplace relations advice during the bushfire crisis.

Call 02 9083 0020 or please share this service to any employer who may need assistance.

The unprecedented severity of Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis is causing untold distress to individuals, families, and business owners – leading to many people losing their homes and businesses being forced to close in affected areas.

Many employers are now faced with the challenge of managing the impacts the bushfires have on their business and employees. It is imperative employers to understand their rights and obligations when managing employees during periods of natural disaster.

Stand Down under the Fair Work Act

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act) provides that employers may stand down an employee without pay during a period in which the employee cannot be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible, such as a bushfire or other natural disaster.

Only when employees are unable to be usefully employed can they be stood down without pay.

Depending on the size and scale of the business, it is appropriate to first consider whether an employee could be usefully employed in an alternative location or in other meaningful work. For example, considering whether clerical or administrative employees work from home or another location.

It is vital to consider useful alternatives, such as allowing employees to utilise accumulated annual or long service leave, and make appropriate changes where possible.

Where an employee can not be usefully engaged it is important that you provide employees with written notification as soon as possible to confirm the terms of the stand down period.

Notifying Employees of Stand Down

If employees are to be stood down, an employer should inform staff about the decision and provide information on the following:

  • staff will be stood down from work due to natural disaster;
  • the stand down will be unpaid (unless it is paid at the employer’s discretion which should be limited in duration and reviewed frequently);
  • staff will continue to accrue leave entitlements during the period of the stand down as this period is regarded as “service”; and
  • employees may apply for annual or personal/carer’s leave depending on the circumstances.

It is also worthwhile informing employees that they can contact Centrelink or other government services which may be able to provide financial assistance.

We are happy to provide complimentary, obligation free advice on Stand Downs to all employers affected by the bushfires. Please phone 02 9083 0020 to discuss your circumstances or to request additional written information (Fact Sheets).

Access to Leave Entitlements

In circumstances where employees have been stood down or are otherwise unable to attend work due to natural disaster, they may request to access annual leave or accumulated long service over this period to mitigate any loss of income. Employers and employees must reach a mutual agreement before annual leave can be processed.

Employees may wish to access their personal/carer’s leave during this period in certain circumstances. Personal/carer’s leave may only be taken where the employee is not fit for work due to a personal illness or injury, or to provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household due to illness, injury or an unexpected emergency. In order to access this leave, the employee should provide notice and may be required to provide evidence of the reason for the leave upon the request of the employer.

We are happy to provide complimentary, obligation free advice surrounding Leave Entitlements to all employers affected by the bushfires. Please phone 02 9083 0020 to discuss your circumstances or to request additional written information (Fact Sheets).

Community Service Leave

Employees may also be requested to volunteer or assist the community with disaster relief activities, through recognised bodies such as the State Emergency Service or fire services.

An employee who engages in an eligible community service activity is entitled to be absent from work to engage in such activities such as bushfire relief. While the period of time of community service leave is not outlined in the Act, there must be an assessment of whether the absence would be reasonable, considering the following:

  • the time the employee engages in the activity;
  • reasonable travelling time associated with the activity; and
  • reasonable rest time immediately following the activity.

Employees who wish to invoke their entitlement to community service leave must provide their employer with notice as soon as practicable, including the period (or expected period) of absence and satisfy relevant evidentiary requirements.

We are happy to provide complimentary, obligation free advice surrounding Community Service to all employers affected by the bushfires. Please phone 02 9083 0020 to discuss your circumstances or to request additional written information (Fact Sheets).

Army Reservists

The Governor General has initiated a Defence Call Out to assist services with the bushfire crisis beginning on 4 January 2020 until revoked.

Service is protected under the Defence Reserves Service (Protection) Act 2001, and it is compulsory for reserves who are called out to provide their service. As an employer, if the absence of your employee due to reserve service causes significant consequences to your business, you are able to contact the Unit point of contact on the form your Reservist and discuss concerns you have.

The Defence Reserves Service (Protection) Act 2001 further protects employment, and an employee who is a reserve must be released by the employer without being made to take any form of personal/carer’s leave or annual leave during this period of service. Employers may be entitled to financial assistance through government schemes to mitigate any further loss to their business.

Once again, we understand this is a hard time for all Australians and wish to help alleviate stress to business owners in any way we can. If you have any further questions during the bushfires please phone 02 9083 0020

 

Help Those Affected by Donating to Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal 

Every bit counts and a donation to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery appeal will help Red Cross give people the support they need in disasters, whenever and wherever they happen.