SESSION 2: LIVE Q & A 
COVID-19 Obligations.

With everything going on, it’s normal to feel unsure about what your obligations are as an employer. To help answer some of those worries, your hosts and industry experts will talk through:

  • Employees’ rights to leave and pay 
  • Employer duty of care when employees are working from home
  • Forced redundancies
  • Forced stop-works and;
  • Live Q&A 

WATCH NOW

To watch the session, please provide a few short details:

Meet the Masters

Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson is the CEO and founder of Employment Hero. He is an employment laywer, a businesses owner and has well over 20 years experience in the Australian employment landscape. A self confessed geek, Ben has boundless curiosity, enthusiasm and ambition. He thrives on creating innovative solutions, industry firsts and disruptive offerings that redefine markets.

 

Simon Obee

Simon Obee is the Principal Lawyer at EI Legal, General Counsel & Head of Professional Services at Employment Innovations. He has over 15 years experience as a lawyer in the employment law space - he is an absolute power house when it comes to understanding employer obligations and navigating the complex Australian employment laws.

 

Transcript

Ben (00:00:00):

I'm Ben Thompson, as Julia said, the CEO and cofounder of Employment Hero. And it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to help you navigate these difficult times. Simon who's joining me is the Head of Professional Services at Employment Innovations and is responsible for the teams that provide workplace advice and outsourced HR services. He is also the principal lawyer in EI legal, a law firm focused solely on providing advice and representation to clients on employment law. So today we wanted to cover some other topics. On Monday we had over 300 questions by the end of the session and obviously we couldn't get through them. So we've tried to consolidate those down and focus on a handful of topics that we hope will be most relevant. And I can see we're already getting dozens more questions.

 

So towards the end we'll try and come back in and do some quick fire questions and address some of those more specific issues that you've raised. The things we'll cover today are recent updates and news regarding COVID-19. And the effects that may be having on your business. A recap of key questions and themes from Monday's session, just for those people who didn't attend on Monday. Five alternatives to redundancy. We'll explore what we can do to preserve as many jobs as possible and preserving as many businesses as possible. We'll look at financial assistance that's available to employees who may have lost hours or in fact lots of their employment. And and then as I mentioned, lastly, we'll just cross to Q&A. We'll also be running some polls during the session, so please make sure that you stay involved. And answer those surveys as much as possible. So with that we'll, we'll move to the first discussion item, which is recent news that may be affecting you and your business. Simon, did you want to sort of touch on the key points there and then we'll come back into some more of the data?

Simon (00:02:15):

Yes. Thank you Ben. And good morning everyone. So one of the big pieces of news, I guess since Monday has been an extension of the list of businesses which are either directed to close or are  permitted to open, but with some restrictions in place. So just to update too on, on what the full list is now. And the new changes with kind of stage two changes came into effect at midnight yesterday. The following businesses are permitted to open registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels, but not the accommodation of the hotel. Licensed premises in pubs, casinos and nightclubs also can't open. Also cinemas and entertainment venues, auctions and open house inspections can't take place. Personal services such as beauty therapy, tanning massage and tattoo parlors aren’t permitted to open but physiotherapy practices still can as can and barbers and hairdressers.

Also amusement parks and arcades, indoor and outdoor play centers, galleries, museums, libraries, and swimming pools and gyms and indoor sports. They also have to be closed. There are restrictions on outdoor training, sort of boot camps and personal training, that sort of thing. There must be a limit of 10 people and as we discussed on Monday, restaurants and cafes can only offer delivery and take away services. And a new restriction is food courts in shopping centers may now also only offer take away. And weddings are restricted to five people and funerals to 10 people. So some of the businesses which can remain open shopping centers and other shops including bottle shops, medical centers, pharmacies and those sorts of businesses. 

Ben  (00:05:15):

If you can just give us an indication of whether or not your business has been forced to close by the shutdowns. The list mentioned it'll help us guide that. The answer is just to understand exactly how many people are directly affected, just like without running. Now I know there's been a lot of confusion and things are changing while the prime minister was announcing those close downs and, and even as recently as last night, we've learnt that hairdressers don't need to stick to the 30 minutes time period of time cap for, for each haircut. So this is a movable feat. And, and you should watch day by day as it continues to evolve. So it looks like we've had about a thousand participants online. We've got about two thirds of them have responded so far. 85% are not covered by that list. I'll just share the results of that poll now. Okay. So do you want to get into some of the other legal changes that have occurred in the last few days?

Simon (00:06:34):

Yeah, sure. I'll mention just two, two more things. The first is that there have been changes that have come into force in the hospitality award. The hospitality award as you may know, is the award which covers pubs, casinos, hotels, and not restaurants and cafes generally who are covered by the restaurant industry awards. So changes to the hospitality award allow employers, once they've consulted with employees, to reduce the ordinary hours by up to 40%. So talking here, about permanent employees, is the employer right to reduce their hours? If they do this, annual personal leave accruals continue to operate on the employees previous level of hours. The other changes to be award allows employers to put employees in other roles as long as the employees have the the skills and qualifications to do that.

 

So an example, the a that's been given is, is a food and beverage attendant being asked to do deliveries, that kind of thing. Or I suppose someone having to take on more responsibility. But it's, it's the employer directs the employee to do that sort of thing they just still remind them on the same pay - they don't get a higher duty allowance or anything like that. And the other change is employees can give employees 24 hours notice of having to take annual leave, which is a lot shorter period than, than would otherwise apply. And it also gives the employers and employees the opportunity to agree that employees can take twice the allocation of annual leave, but at half the normal rate of pay. So they can take double the annual leave. They've got accrued, but it get paid half rates to pay during that during that time.

 

What is the purpose of these changes is, is fairly clear. It's to try and give employers a bit more flexibility about how they organize their workforce with the hope, I suppose that the maximum number of employees can be retained, avoiding being stood down without pay or avoiding redundancies that, that sort of thing. I suppose it's question questionable about how many employers are going to benefit from this when we hear a large number of our hospitality clients, have been forced to close their doors temporarily at least. I think this is probably just the start of the process and we're going to see a lot more awards amended to give employees that kind of flexibility particularly around working hours as we discussed on Monday. But the general position is employees can't reduce permanent employees and hours of work without their consent.

Simon (00:10:21):

So if you’ve got a full time or part time employee, you generally can't reduce the hours without getting them to agree to that. These changes to the hospitality award and if they made other awards, gives the employer a degree of flexibility to reduce those hours. There is an obligation to consult the employees, but they don't have to get the employee's consent. I think it could be a good news story for employers giving them a bit more flexibility. But the key thing is to keep a lookout for changes to other awards. We'll obviously announce them as they come. But yeah, the devil's in the detail, so kind of keep abreast of whether your award is changing.

Ben (00:11:08):

Yeah, we'll keep you updated with any changes we see coming through to other awards. You'll also, you should probably understand that the way the awards get changed, it's not quick. It requires a hearing in the Fair Work Commission with the union responsible and the employer association making representations and then having that determined by the Fair Work Commission, so that can take days for each award to be amended. So it's gonna take some time before we say this flowing through. Simon, there was also a change to long service leave and new South Wales. Did you want to talk us through that? Yeah. 

 

Simon (00:11:51):

So there's been a change which came into effect, I think yesterday. Which just provides a bit more flexibility for employers and employees about how leave is taken. The usual position under the New South Wales act was an employer would have to give an employee a months notice before they required an employee to take a period of long service leave. That period of notice can be waived if there is agreement between the employer and the employee. The other change, which is probably more significant, is previously it wasn't possible to take long service leave in small chunks, generally had to be taken in large amounts. But the changes allow employees to apply for basically any lengths as long service leave. So again, these measures obviously aimed, I'm giving a bit more flexibility in the workplace for employees to access paid leave when they might otherwise be in a position where they would perhaps be stood down without pay, etc. I think those were the main sort of legislative updates that have come in since Monday.

Ben (00:13:17):

Look, we're gonna move into the next section, which is just a recap on the main topics from, from Monday, which I think were pertinent to most people on the call, and I can see already that there's a lot of questions still popping up in the Q and A section around obligations during stand down and, and particularly leave. So, Simon maybe if you kick off that first part, what is what is stand down, and start to go through that, then I'll, I'll try and come in with some of these questions as you're going through it.

Simon (00:13:53):

Yeah, sure. Okay. So yeah, just, just to recap what we went through on Monday. The general position and employment law in Australia is for full time and part time employees, there's no ability in normal circumstances for an employer to say to an employee, you need to stay at home and I'm not going to pay you. In other words, if you direct an employee to stay away from the business, the employee would still be entitled to their wages. 

 

There's an exception in the Fair Work Act for what's called a stand down, which in essence is an ability for an employer to force an employee to take a period of unpaid leave. And so to say to them, stay away from the business. And there isn't an obligation for the employee to be paid. In order for an employer to rely on that provision, they need to satisfy a couple of things. Firstly, there is a stoppage of work. Secondly, that the reason for that stoppage of work is for a reason outside of their control. And there must also be no other meaningful work for the employee to do. The most obvious clear example of that arising in the kind of current climate we're in is when the government has ordered a business to close.

Simon (00:15:52):

So, you know, one of those businesses on the list that we talked about at the start of the webinar. In those circumstances where the reason for the closure is outside of the employers control. So long as the employees in question can't be given alternative duties, working from home or working from another location. The employer will be able to rely on the stand down provisions and basically, so kind of regrettably and due to the circumstance we find ourselves in and we have to close the doors and there isn't an obligation to pay employees at this time.

Ben (00:16:47):

I'm Simon Simon, can I just jump in there’s an interesting question here. The Australian Dental Association has directed dental surgeries to move to level three restrictions. However they're not, they're not on the list. And the government says there's only level two restrictions in place. So does that, is that the type of direction from an association, would that be sufficient for a business to stand down or does it need to be the federal government directive on the list of businesses that have to shut down? I think it'd be a lot of businesses that are sitting in a bit of a gray area where they may have, they may have somebody like an industry association telling them to shut down and, and such as hairdressers, even today, I know that they industry association was, I was asking the government to tell them to shut down, but they hadn't. So where does that leave people?

Simon (00:17:44):

Yeah, and it is a question that is coming up a lot and is as you say, a grey area around this. It's not the case that a government, a directive from the government would be the only circumstance that would justify stand down. I think it would be the most kind of certain and the most sort of safe for an employer to rely upon. But, but you're right, we're, we're seeing lots of businesses standing down employees who aren't on that list. Retail is another good example where retail shops haven't been ordered to close, but a number of businesses we've seen saying that they can't operate because they don't believe they can do so safely. You know, they can't give the unnecessary social distancing between their employees and customers for example, say.

 

I think it's hard to comment on individual circumstances, but I think, you know, what we, what we can say is although there hasn't as of yet been any guidance from the government or the fair work ombudsman which says, but the usual rules about stand down apply. I think in the current climate and the unprecedented nature of the situation we're facing, you would be surprised if the court or the government took a particularly kind of strict approach to the definition of stand down. 

 

Ben (00:19:56):

I can empathize with so many of the people on the call where you are in that grey position. You know, the last thing you want is to expose yourself to a legal challenge after all this passes because of what you've done. So yeah, we will try to keep you up to date as much as possible and I think you just have to, you know, play it by ear and make the best judgment call you can in the circumstances.

Simon (00:20:23):

Just sort of, just to jump in on that, that I think, and I completely agree with everything you've said and, and I think that's the safest way to, to deal with a situation where you, you're looking like you need to close your doors, but the availability of stand down isn't, isn't clear. The safest approach would be to do it with the agreement of staff if, if employees sign up to a period of unpaid leave, then really there's minimal risks in doing that. If you have employee consent and you know, in the next few days or few weeks and you know, the situation could, could well change. It could be that there is a directive that all non essential services should shut, and then you know, that would obviously put you in a much safer position.

Ben (00:21:29):

So if we move to the next point, if stand down isn't available, so you're not on the list what are the other options?

Simon (00:21:37):

Yeah, so I think the other options or for businesses if they’re finding that they can't maintain the level of staffing at the previous levels that they have used, I guess there are a couple of things they can do. Firstly they could look at reducing the number of hours employees are employed for. And, and obviously with, with that, there would be a reduction in pay, which would save costs. For casual members of staff, you can really have a great degree of discretion as to whether you roster someone on or not or how many hours they rostered on for. For full time and part time employees, as I said earlier, generally you would need to get their agreement before reduction in hours subject to, to anything in an award which provides greater flexibility. The other option is agreeing with employees for pay cuts and again, it's virtually impossible to do that and lawfully without the employee's consent or getting employees to agree to take a period of unpaid leave.

 

And what we're finding from speaking to our clients is, it's the kind of messaging about the need for employees to agree that those measures is delivered correctly. I think you hopefully will find that most if not all employees are willing to kind of buy into that sort of, you know, for the purpose of safeguarding the future of the business and their jobs. I think the options you have you have is agreeing with employees to take a period of paid leave or in some circumstances, you can require employees to take paid leave. That obviously doesn't help with kind of cashflow I suppose. But reducing your leave balances on your balance sheet at this time could sort of be beneficial to you in the future.

Ben (00:24:14):

Just on that. So I mean there's a couple of questions here. We might be able to quickly address; The long service leave change in new South Wales. Is that permanent or was that only a fixed period of time?

Ben (00:24:26):

I see. I'm pretty sure it is a fixed period of time. Yeah, I don't have the end date in front of me, but we can certainly put up some information about that after the webinar.

Ben (00:24:43):

Yeah. And somebody asked, are there any changes to the Victorian long service leave provisions? No, not that we're aware of. Today. any change to the amount taken in advance? I.e. the minimum of a month currently. Yeah. I think that was the point of the changes that you don't need to provide the notice and employees can take less than a month. Is that correct? Exactly. Yeah. And I guess one of the questions I'm sort of seeing here today and on Monday is around this third point. What if employees don't agree to a reduction in pay or hours or to go on or to go on unpaid leave? What are the obligations that, you know, can you terminate or is it a redundancy?

Simon (00:25:35):

Ultimately if, if you can't get an agreement from the employees in regards to those measures and stand down isn't available, then that would be a valid reason to terminate an employee's employment. Obviously that is very much an option of last resort. If you were terminating employment for these financial reasons, that is a redundancy and that flows on from that is that the employee may be entitled to a redundancy payment depending on how long they have been employed. Generally employees have to have at least 12 months service to be entitled to redundancy pay but that certain awards change that position such as building and construction  award. And the other the other criteria to bear in mind is most businesses that have less than 15 employees are exempt from the obligation to pay redundancy. But again, it's important to check any award that applies to your businesses because there are exceptions to the exception.

Ben (00:27:07):

Okay. so I'm just going to launch the next survey. So has your business reduced headcount already? Or is it planning to reduce headcount within the next seven days?

The next, the next section we're going to talk about just after answering a few more of these questions is what are the alternatives to redundancy and actually reducing headcount. We've looked at five alternatives to termination that businesses can explore. So this might be relevant to this answer. Another question: If you go into shutdown and somebody is already on paid sick leave well I guess for that matter, paid annual leave does the employer have to continue paying for those previously approved leave times.

Simon (00:28:26):

Yeah, the short answer is, yes. And  it's clear from the legislation that stand down and paid leave don't operate at the same time. So the consequence of that is, as you say, if an employee has already been on a period of leave, when you implement a stand down they will continue to be on, on the leave bit - annual leave, personal carer’s leave. And I guess for the stand down for those employees will commence when they come back. The other the other thing to bear in mind is employees still have rights to take leave during a period of stand down. So if an employee was ill or had caring responsibilities during the period of standout, they would still be able to access and personal and carers leave, subject to providing proof that that was required, EG medical certificates, etc. The other thing to bear in mind is that employees still have entitlements to public holidays during a period of stand down. So if they would have ordinarily worked on a public holiday, they will still get the benefit of that. And even if the businesses is closed because of a stand down. I suppose lastly on the question of leave, the employees leave and will still accrue during a period of standout. So,they will still get the annual leave and personal carers leave balance will continue to rise as if they were normally employed. And whilst that stand down is going on.

Ben (00:30:49):

Just one more question and I think the poll results should be showing on people's screens. About 60% of businesses aren't, haven't reduced headcount. And aren’t planning on reducing head count. And 38% have had to reduce headcount. I think we had a similar question on Monday and, and the response was much more like 15% who had reduced head counts so clearly more and more companies are being forced into that situation. Just the one question before we move on, which is what happens if employees refuse to either come to work because they feel that it's unsafe or what happens with employees who are actually required to work from home but don't feel they're capable of working from home because they can't use the technology provided? I think we're seeing a lot more questions coming to me about that type of scenario where employees just aren't prepared to work because they're afraid  they're not capable of really working effectively from home.

Simon (00:32:05):

Yeah. It's a real difficult issue and I think they're dealing with the first issue first. An employee says that they're not prepared to come to work because they're scared of I guess you know contracting a current coronavirus. I think if the employer is able to provide a workplace where the employee is, is reasonably safe, then if an employee refuses to attend you would, you would treat that like any other kind of unauthorized absence. E.g. there wouldn't be an obligation to pay the employee. I think given the government has been quite clear that the only workplaces that are required to shut are those on the list we talked about at the start of the webinar, it would be open to an employer to be quite strict about this if they, if they wanted to, to say that we're, you know, we're following the government's health guidelines -- we're not a type of business which is required to shut so you are required to attend work.

 

Obviously, most employers are going to try and be as understanding as they can be and  if someone has any particular concerns, I think you do need to deal with that on a case by case basis. That might be impacted by how does the employee get to work, you know, to do they have to get public transport and is there other ways that they can get into work? Can you make you be more, more flexible about start and finish times so they're not traveling in peak hour. And I think it does highlight the need for employers to do all that they can in terms of, you know, making sure employees have access to the ability to sanitize themselves with washing facilities and hand sanitizer that, that kind of stuff.

 

But I think it is a difficult question. The other thing which might arise in that situation would be an employee raising concerns, that if they were required to attend work this would cause an undue sort of anxiety and stress. I think you run the risk, if you're being kind of very strict with an employee has expressed those concerns, but, and what it's going to eventuate is then them going from a position where they're saying, look, I don't feel comfortable going to work, to a position where they're saying I'm too sick to come to work because of the stress in involved. That that would then give them an ability to not attend work and and to claim personal carer’s leave. As long as that doctor agreed that the stress or anxiety was too much where they were unfit to attend work. So I think the practical approach in that situation is really to do all that you can to accommodate employees. I know it's not always going to be possible, but I hopefully that for most businesses there will be something that you can do to be flexible about this even if kind of the working from home arrangement isn't, isn't possible.

Simon (00:36:44):

And just so I know on the second point and Ben, what is the situation if, if an employee doesn't feel able to use that, the technology and to work from home? I mean, I think again, employers need to do everything they can to support employees in that situation, one would hope that  with a bit of work you could get the employee to the level where they could use whatever kind of technology is required to, to work from home or work for remotely. I guess ultimately if it was question of they just couldn't grasp it, you would ultimately have a right to, to treat that as a performance issue. Like any other kind of performance issue and have a process whereby, employees were given adequate opportunity to improve. We've offered training that was necessary, but if they still can't get it, you know, you'd ultimately, I guess, be entitled to, to think about you know, issuing warnings and ultimately dismissing them. I don't know if you have any ideas, Ben, from a kind of an employer's point of view.

Ben (00:38:09):

Yeah, that's a great answer. I'm just conscious of time and we've got a lot more to cover so we might, we might progress. I think I just as I'm moving into the next topic. Patrick asked if you do need to stand down people and you have 50 employees and stand down 48, how do you, how do you choose who, who isn't going to be stood down? Is there any requirement like redundancy or can you just just pick whoever's going to be the essential employees?

Simon (00:38:47):

Yeah, I think would have a large degree of discretion. I mean, the important point is, is whether there's any meaningful work for the employees to do. I suppose the situation Patrick's talking about is, you know, there will still be enough work for two people to do. But how do you choose those two people? And I think as long as you're, you're basing your decision on a rational basis, you know, to deal with that performance or their abilities that that'd be fine. And obviously similarly, you know, you wouldn't want to base it on the exercise of workplace rights? So whether they've accessed sick leave or whether they've made a complaint. But apart from that, I think you'd have a great degree of flexibility, particularly in these times.

Ben (00:39:53):

Now we're gonna move to the next section, which is what are the alternatives to redundancy? So what other things can a business access to avoid a loss of head count? Simon, if you want to kick off with the first one.

 

Simon (00:41:04):

One of your alternatives is rather than letting people go, let them take whatever paid leave, they have you know, get that off your balance sheets at this time. And is an ability to require an employees to take annual leave and long service leave in most situations you just need to check the provisions of the awards that applies to, to see what, what the rules about requiring employees to take that leave is. Some of the other things that we've seen on businesses implement as an alternative to letting people go is switching the business to maybe a four day week, particularly if that's implemented across the board. You might get buy in from the employees, especially if it's coming from management down. Obviously as we've said, that kind of arrangement needs to be employees' consent. If it's presented as a, you know, as an alternative to redundancies being made and that might be possible. And on a similar level, you could switch to a kind of one week off, one week on arrangement and maybe splitting the staff between the two weeks or you always had people available at work.

Ben (00:42:41):

On the switching to a four day workweek there might be other benefits in that. Obviously there's a, there's a big benefit in that you can potentially reduce your total labor costs by 20% by switching to a four day work week. But also there's some opportunity for casuals and contractors who've seen their hours reduced by 20% or more. They might be able to access some of the government financial subsidies. So you might be able to help employees in some ways by reducing their hours.

Simon (00:43:20):

Yeah, absolutely. The other thing that we've seen some businesses think about doing it is switching to a job sharing arrangement. So if you, for example, have worked out that you need to reduce your head count by one, rather than making that one person redundant, would it be  possible to to have two people share a role you know rather than losing a whole person. And of course as we talked about at the start, there are options for some businesses to stand down employees without pay or, to agree with employees to take a period of unpaid leave. And the other thing, I've mentioned it in this context just briefly, is there is help out there for businesses in particular SMEs, in terms of incentive packages, financial packages for businesses.

 

So just to name a couple of things which we know have been introduced. So the federal government has introduced a system of grants of up to a hundred thousand dollars, for businesses with employees who have an aggregated annual turnover of less than 50 million. We know the big banks and putting pauses on repayment of small business loans. And we also know that the government has pledged to help small businesses by offering a wage subsidy of 50% of apprentice and trainee wages for a period of nine months. And similarly the state governments have also introduced a number of incentives and benefits such as payroll tax waivers and interest free loans. So that there is help out there. And I think Ben, there is an intention to, to let people know a bit more about that sort of thing in a future session.

Ben (00:46:02):

We are trying to get a webinar together next week where we can cover with some accountants that they will be able to talk us through the types of benefits to business or solutions that businesses can access. So I will be running a final poll at the end of this session, just asking for your feedback on other topics that you'd like covered. So keep an eye out for that one. For the moment I've just launched a poll asking, has your business taken advantage of financial aid government, banks, etc. Can you just have a look at that and, and then we'll move into the next section, which is what can employees do if they have been stood down or terminated through redundancy. I'll just quickly cover some of those benefits available to employees in that scenario.

Ben (00:46:57):

Just want to thank Damian Terry from, from a retail food group, one of our clients for helping put this material together. And it's also been added to our content hub. So I'll show you that at the end of this session. Okay, so there's still a few people responding, but it looks like around 72% of companies haven't accessed any of those financial aid packages are available to business. There's the results there. So 73% haven't access them and 27% have. I think if, you know, if you're under that $50 million turnover threshold, then at the very least the payroll tax discount would be particularly advantageous. It's easy to access. So that we'll spend more time on that hopefully next week. Okay. So I'll just take over now and talk you through some of these offer financial supplements that are available to employees.

Ben (00:48:10):

As I mentioned, I'll go through this quite quickly cause this is an article you can download. So it's not advice -- like all of this, we're not, you know, we're not capable of giving advice to specific questions, but we're trying to throw it together as best we can. Just Googling this this morning found it very hard to find a consolidated list of benefits available to employees. So it might be quite helpful to share this with any of your employees who have been affected or their family and friends, I guess. So the coronavirus supplement is a $550 payment that is available from the 27th of April to people who already have access to jobseeker payments, allowance, youth allowance for job seekers, parenting payment. There's the single end partner parenting payments, the partner allowance, the sickness allowance and the farm household allowance. It's not pro-rata, it's the full $550 per fortnight. Job seeker payments previously called new start allowance are available for people who were permanent employees who have been stood down or lost their job -- casuals or contract workers whose income has been reduced. And I think the threshold is by 20% or more. And somebody caring for somebody who is directly affected by coronavirus. 

Ben (00:49:47):

There's also a first economic support payment, so that's a $750 one off payment. If in receipt of an eligible payment between the 12th of March and the 13th of April, that is people who are job seekers family tax benefit A, family tax benefit B, parenting payment and several other government payments that's links in this article where you can go and look at those additional eligibility criteria. There's also a second economic support payment, which is a $750 one off payment. You may get this if you were eligible on 10th of July for any payments that were eligible for the first economic support payments. So that's, that's coming later and it's available to people who would have otherwise already got the first economic support payment. There's also early access to superannuation. You employees can access up to $10,000 of their superannuation.

 

It's available for those who are in receipt of the coronavirus supplement. So they would have already been eligible for other payments and employees will need to apply online through my gov before the 1st of July to access the superannuation. There's also rental assistance. So services Australia is available can provide rental assistance to persons who are in receipt of either the certain payments from services Australia, like the jobseeker payment that I mentioned earlier or more than the base rate of the family tax benefit. I'm not familiar with exactly how that works, but there are rental assistance programs available through that. Also worth mentioning that there is relief from mortgage repayments as well. So you can negotiate directly with your bank for relief from mortgage repayments. ANZ are providing a two year fixed  reduction in interest rates and also on request a deferral of home loan repayments for up to six months.

 

Commonwealth bank is again on request providing relief from relief payments. It doesn't specify for how long and. Westpac are providing relief for a period of as well. There's also, I guess the the opportunity to direct employees to alternative employment opportunities. I know that services Australia are trying to recruit 5,000 people, Coles 5,000 people, Woolworths I think a similar numbers, Uber eats, Baptist care. There's a lot of organizations obviously having to care and support all of us right now. So there's a lot of additional employment opportunities in those areas and hopefully some of your staff can access that if necessary. And then finally other suggestions for employees is to review all of their non essential spending, cutting back where they can, canceling all of their nonessential subscriptions, reducing childcare hours if they're going to be at home and now care directly for the children. And then also just trying to access some discounts such as 5% groceries at Coles and Woolworths, which people can get through Employment Hero through our benefits offers. And I'll come back to that a little later on. So there's quite a lot there that's all covered in an article, which we will share with you later on.

 

So Simon, just moving to that next point I guess actually  quick fire questions then with the last few minutes remaining, is there any that you've seen Simon that you can answer directly?

Ben (00:54:09):

Okay. I'll, I'll start to answer some, just as you're looking one here - do employees need to agree to a stand down? No, they don't. If you are covered, if your business is covered by the stand down requirements, then it's necessary for you to shut down and there is no agreement required. If we go into a period of stand down, what happens with people on worker's comp? I presume that's still covered. Is that right? Simon, have you looked at that?

Simon (00:54:40):

I haven't, but I can't imagine that it would have any effect on worker's comp. I'd be very surprised if it made any difference at all. We can clarify that. It's interesting that you raise workers' comp cause I just sort of a question about workers' compensation and, and virus and whether if someone contracted the virus at work or doing a work activity, whether they would be able to access worker's comp for that and, and the guidance that safe work has put out, it's just made it clear that an employee can access worker's comp if they did contract it at work or work was a significant contributing factor. I think the difficulty is going to be for employees to to prove how and where they did contract coronavirus but I suppose in a situation where, for example of somewhat someone had been required to travel to a high risk area for work and, and returned having contracted the virus, I would thought that would be one example of where they would be able to access worker's compensation.

Ben (00:56:15):

Okay. Hey, so what I'm going to do I’ll flip over my screen. I want to show people some of the resources that we've put together. We're nearly out of time. But then we might continue just with Q and A after, after this, if people want to stay on the call where we can have, we can continue asking questions for another 10 minutes or so. So let me just share my screen and while I'm doing that, I will also launch our next poll, which is just to get your ideas around the topics that you'd like us to cover and we've had lots of offers from people externally to come in and provide guidance and direction to people around these topics. And we can also look at other topics as well. We just want to make sure that, you know, as we're all going through this, at the same time, I think we're all experiencing very similar issues and we want to try and address those. So I'll leave that poll running while I share my screen and just show you some of the materials that we've put together to help.

 

Ben  (00:57:41):

This is a new, COVID-19 resource hub. Our amazing team at Employment Hero and Employment Innovations have managed to put all of this together in the last couple of days. You'll find here each one of these has a lot of information in it. For example, the COVID-19 employer response pack includes all sorts of templates and things. We've created a Slack community if you're a Slack native. We're having ongoing discussions within the Slack community answering these types of questions for people and also a Facebook community. So if you're more of a Facebook user, then please join one of those communities and we can continue asking or answering questions and dealing with problems. At Employment Hero, our relief package three months of Employment Hero, for businesses with 20 employees or less. I won't go through all of these, but you can see here just how much content the team has managed to put together. It's incredibly useful. And that's just page one. There's another another page here.

Ben (00:59:00):

It is a phenomenal job that the team has done. To put all of this together for you. Employment Innovations have also put together a package to provide ongoing phone access to people like Simon answer all of those workplace or workforce related questions that you have. There's, it's, it's month to month. Usually this would be a 12 month contract, but they realize people need access to professional advice and guidance and so they've made this package day, a month to month package. So feel free to look at that and sign up if it's going to be helpful to you. And then lastly, just an example of some of the things we're doing with Employment Hero. We've now launched a new wellness widget within the product, with articles that will help employees such as prioritizing mental health during our time of uncertainty, six ways to improve productivity while working from home, how to safely work from home. And then helping people budget and get through these tough times. So we're building a lot of functionality into Employment Hero to help people through this process, but also work from home more productively. 

 

So thanks for that poll. It looks like the number one thing is ways to increase morale and address isolation when working from home. And that's fantastic cause we were planning on running that next week anyway. So we will run a session on that and we will try and run as many of those other topics as we can and, bringing experts to provide some guidance. So let me just share that. So I mean, we're back to, back to the quick fire questions. Anything else that you've seen that you think you can answer?

Simon (01:01:09):

I saw something come in while you were talking, Ben saying, can you please advise on sick/carer's leave versus annual leave whilst someone is waiting full testing on a period of self isolation. I suppose the short answer to this is personal and carer's leave or, or sick leave as people sometimes refer to. It is only available when an employee is actually unwell themselves or is caring for a member of the household or immediate family. So clearly if an employee has, has contracted coronavirus and is feeling unwell then sick leave or personal leave would be the type of leave they would access. If someone is self isolating because for example, if they have returned from overseas or has been in contact with someone with coronavirus, that sort of thing, the guidance from the fair work ombudsman is that type of absence wouldn't be paid. And that would be, that would be a period of unpaid leave unless of course the employee wanted to access annual leave or long service leave or something like that. They wouldn't be able to access personal carers leave if they are not actually feeling unwell. Obviously if the employer can arrange them to be working from home during, well during the period of self isolation, that would, that would obviously also be possible and then the employee would just be paid the normal wages and salary.

Ben (01:03:28):

That's great. Okay. Look, we were over time and there's just so many questions and we're trying to prepare as much as we can. I just want to say that, you know, we're all in this together. Employment Hero and Employment Innovations exists to help employers and their employees. We exist to make employment easier and more rewarding. And right now you know, with businesses being shut down forcefully, it's more important that we can help than ever. So please continue providing us your feedback. Let us know how else we can help. We will continue running these sessions and thank you for your ongoing support. Look forward to staying in touch and and seeing you in one of those communities.