State of emergency – considerations for employers
Dorothea MacKellar summed it up perfectly when she described Australia as a country of “droughts and flooding rains”. We do indeed live in a land of extremes. Whether we’re battling bushfires or bracing ourselves for tropical storms, it’s important to have a discussion about how employers can support staff who volunteer in our emergency services.
From managing staff who are also volunteer fire fighters, to ensuring appropriate workplace evacuation procedures are in place and allowing flexible work arrangements for those caught in the crisis, there are a number of considerations for employers when a natural disaster occurs.
Leave arrangements – what are the options?
There are a number of factors in the event of a bushfire that may prevent an employee from attending work; personal properties destroyed or under threat, transport links to work disrupted, carer’s responsibility for dependants.
Options for employees in these circumstances include;
- Working from home
- Taking paid leave
- Taking carer’s leave
- Community service leave
- Being ‘stood down’ – i.e. leave without pay
Should an employee be unable to attend work due to factors outside of their control, their pay entitlement will depend on their applicable Award, Agreement or Employment Contract. Knowledge of how the law applies to these circumstances is crucial, and CCER urges clients to get in contact with any questions.
Putting a policy in place for workforce management in the case of emergencies can ensure that dealing with a crisis once it arises is much more manageable.
When to stand down
Where an individual’s employment contract does not reference the standing down of an employee, (s524) of the Fair Work Act describes the circumstances in which an employee may be stood down without pay.
Under the Fair Work Act, an employer may stand down an employee who cannot be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for which the employer themselves cannot reasonably be held responsible. It must be established that the employee cannot be usefully employed and that the employer can show that they have taken all possible steps to try and find useful work. The onus lies with the employer to justify the reason for standing down the employee without pay.
Many Catholic organisations are currently faced with questions around whether they can permit paid carer’s leave should an employee be absent to care for dependants in the event of, for example, a school closure.
An employee may take paid personal/ carer’s leave if the leave:
- is taken to provide care or support to a member of the employee’s immediate family, or a member of the employee’s household; and
- if this person requires care or support because of an unexpected emergency.
Personal/carers leave may be provided in the instance where employees must provide unexpected care for their children.
CCER recommends employers judge each instance on its individual merit and contact us should you have any concerns about when this may apply.
Volunteer fire fighters
Employers with staff requesting leave to take part in the volunteer fire brigade will have access to Community Service leave under the Fair Work Act. Unless their Enterprise Agreement or applicable Award provides otherwise, this leave would be unpaid.
Alternative working arrangements, such as working from home may provide the best solution in managing a crisis situation. But employers must remember that workplace health and safety is still a consideration for those employees. A working from home WHS policy can help to provide assurance that employers are meeting their obligations under the relevant WHS legislation.
Have any questions? Contact a member of the CCER team on 9390 5255.