The number one question employers are asking me at this time is: ‘what are my options for managing my workforce through COVID-19?’.
Up until last week, the three main options were:
- Reaching an agreement with employees to vary hours of work or salary and/or utilising leave strategies;
- Issuing a stand-down notice; and/or redundancy measures -but only if the business met the circumstances set out in the Fair Work Act;
- The Job Keeper payment package announced by the Federal Government in March offering financial relief by subsidising wages.
However, on Wednesday 8th April, the Job Keeper legislation was passed by Federal Parliament—Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020—and it contained a very powerful additional strategy for businesses trying to manage through this crisis; and I am amazed more attention hasn’t been paid to it.
The legislation now gives an employer the ability to issue a Job Keeper enabling direction which may include any of three powerful variations to their current job conditions:
- Job Keeper enabling stand down – to work reduced hours or days of work (or none at all) if the employee cannot be usefully employed for their normal hours due to COVID-19 business impacts;
- Change in usual duties as long as the changed duties are within the employees’ skills and are safe; and/or
- Change in location of work, which can include working from home.
To be able to do this, both the employer and employee need to be eligible for the Job Keeper payment and the basis for decision making has to be reasonable and based on valid information—not used as an opportunistic move to change work during COVID-19. This new law amends the Fair Work Act and will apply for six months, effectively overriding any modern awards, EA’s or employment contracts, thereby loosening up these pre-existing restrictions.
Based on the conversations we are having with employers, this is potentially huge for businesses trying to keep their head afloat and also keep their employees working in any way they can through the crisis. I think this is a game changer.
Australian research released in 2019 showed that pre-COVID-19, 40 per cent of Australian workers felt insecure about their job, and job insecurity is one of the causative factors of workplace loneliness. So having workforce management options available that make it easier for employers to keep their teams employed has huge benefits not only for business continuity but also on people’s mental health and wellbeing, which we know is under incredible stress at this time.
If you’re trying to navigate your way through the complex options available to you to manage your workforce through COVID-19, firstly, you’re not alone! And give us a call at A-HA, we’re here to help and are all about creating human friendly workplaces in good times, and the tough.
Wish you could talk over these sorts of tricky issues with other business and HR leaders?
Join us at A-HA’s fortnightly webinar series which deep dives into all different aspects of navigating your business and people through crisis.
Dr Lindsay McMillan OAM, Workplace Loneliness, a future that works, 2019 Reventure Ltd.