An employer needs to ascertain their obligations to their employees in the event that a business has to temporarily close as a result of a natural disaster or emergency. Employers need to be aware of the industrial instrument their employees fall under (i.e. award, agreement, or employment contract) as well as the Fair Work Act 2009 to determine any entitlement an employee will have in this situation. Inclusions such offering the choice of taking accrued paid leave, or in some cases, standing down employees may be present.

Fair Work Act 2009

When an award, agreement or contract of employment does not specify stand down provisions, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the provisions within it will come in place. The provisions within the Act permit employers to stand down employees, without pay, where they cannot usefully be employed during a period because of any stoppage or disruption of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible, such as a natural disaster. Stand-downs can be unpaid; however, an employer may chose to pay employees at their discretion.

Some awards or agreements under the Fair Work Act 2009 may include provisions requiring an employee, or allowing an employee to take paid annual leave in particular circumstances, but only if the requirement is reasonable. Employees who are award or agreement free can be required to take paid annual leave if the requirement is reasonable.

Where possible, employees should be given written notice where a stand down is taking place. This notification should also include the following information:

  • The date which the stand down commences
  • Whether the employee will or will not be paid
  • The effect on other employment entitlements
  • And the date the stand down will end (where possible)

Possible alternatives to standing down employees could include:

  • Invite employees to take a period of accrued paid leave (for example, annual leave). Some industrial instruments permit annual leave to be taken at half pay and some have terms which allow the employer to require annual leave to be taken by employees
  • Offering to move employees to an unaffected worksite where possible
  • Where appropriate, consider flexible arrangements, like working from home

Any arrangements to alter an employee’s working patterns would need to be implemented in accordance with the Fair Work Act 2009 and any relevant award or agreement

If you want to know further about your obligations on stand-down provisions, please contact our team of accountants and lawyers on 02 9223 9166 or submit an online enquiry form today.