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Employment Rights in a time of Coronavirus

Employers and employees alike have responsibilities and rights during this COVID-19 Crisis, and is important not get confused about the facts. He are some quick thoughts on issues that have arisen with our clients in the past couple of weeks.

Work from home

Employers can direct employees to work from home where appropriate because of the coronavirus but they should bearing mind that the employee’s home will be a place of work and so the employer has a duty to ensure that the work environment is safe.

Employees are not entitled to work at home as a right. If they are directed to attend work, they must do so as long as the direction is lawful and reasonable. Evidence of an existing or recent instance of COVID 19 on the site would suggest that such a direction is not necessarily lawful and reasonable.

Where employees are required to work at home, the obligation to comply with reasonable and lawful directions still applies so that reasonable directions as to recording of time worked must be complied with.

Sickness

Employees who are unable to work due to the virus are entitled to take their accrued personal/sick leave. This applies to illness for themselves or members of their immediate family or household who are ill. If they have no such leave accrued there is no obligation to pay them.

Their absence from work due to illness may not be a reason for termination for at least three months. Advice should be sought before any such action is taken.

Employees who are required to isolate the 14 days after returning from overseas are not entitled to be paid but may of course use their accrued annual or long service leave.

Redundancy and stand downs

When a business closes down, all employees are made redundant are entitled to redundancy pay as well as notice of termination, or pay in lieu. Alternatively, where an employee’s job is abolished and there is no ability to redeploy the individual employee affected, that employee is entitled to redundancy pay and notice of termination or pay in lieu.

Where there is a stoppage of work, employees who cannot be usefully be engaged may be able to be stood down. Whilst stood down their entitlements continue to accrue. The better course is to allow them to take their leave entitlements. Government allowances exist for employees stood down.

Employment Contracts

Employment contracts and relevant awards should be considered when taking any steps.

Discrimination

It is important to note that employees may not be discriminated against by reason of the virus. Affected employees will be entitled to make a claim under General protections provisions of the Fair Work Act.

Note: this advice is general and should not be relied on for particular instances.

For more information please contact Stephen Curtain – 03 8600 6042 or 0417 373 545