From time to time, services have to deal with natural disasters such as floods, bushfires, tropical cyclones, severe storms and even earthquakes. Operators are often concerned about what their obligations are to staff when employees cannot attend for work either because they are prevented or, the service is not able to operate through damage or by government sanction.
Neither the Children's Services Award 2010 or the Educational Services (Teachers) Award 2010, have specific provisions to deal with absence due to natural disasters.
What if an employer must temporarily close?
The Fair Work Act 2009 includes provisions which enable employers to stand down employees, without pay, where they cannot usefully be employed during a period because of any stoppage of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible. This would reasonably include situations such as a natural disaster or an ordered closure.
If you decide to stand staff down, they should be notified in writing including the date which the stand down commences, whether the employees will or will not be paid and the effect on other employment entitlements. Make sure you update staff regularly and keep them informed when the stand down will end.
Employees who are stood down without pay can also contact Centrelink to discuss options available based on the employee's individual circumstances, including income support payment options and other assistance.
What are the alternatives to unpaid stand down?
Employees can choose to access accrued paid leave (for example, annual leave). By agreement, leave could also be taken at half pay. Multiple service operators might even be able to offer to temporarily redeploy staff.
NOTE: It is not mandatory for stand downs to be unpaid and a service provider could choose to pay employees at their discretion.
Check with your insurance provider before you do anything to see if your policy covers employee wages or to what extend.
Employees wanting to take care of themselves or their family?
Employees (other than casual employees) affected by a natural disaster or emergency might be able to take paid personal/carer’s leave or compassionate leave depending on their credit. For example, if an employee was injured during a flood or bushfire they would likely be entitled to personal leave or to carer’s leave if their child’s school is closed due to a natural disaster or emergency.
Keep in mind that an employee is entitled to Personal/carers leave:
For this article an unexpected emergency would include a natural disaster.
Employees who have exhausted their paid personal/carer’s leave entitlement, are eligible for up to 2 days' unpaid carer’s leave per occasion to provide care and support to a family or household member due to illness, injury or in the event of an unexpected emergency.
FURTHER HELP AND ASSISTANCE
If you need assistance understanding your rights and responsibilities as an employer contact DJMIR on (02) 61 500 800