Author: Lehanne Bleumink, Gold Seal HR Services Manager

We would probably all agree that 2020 had a difficult start, first with the bushfires, followed by the financial crisis triggered by the COVID 19 pandemic, expected to impact the economy for some time to come. Then recent changes to the Banking Finance and Insurance Award 2020 (BFI Award) introduced annualised wage record keeping requirements, adding to our administrative overhead.

However these difficulties brought out much positive change in our landscape as well, with the government making extraordinary provisions never seen before to keep small – medium sized businesses afloat and to maintain the livelihoods of vast numbers of workers employed who would under normal circumstances have lost their jobs.

There have been many considerations for business owners, particularly in the way we work. For many employers, the focus over recent weeks has been to manage the financial impact on the business; as well as the need to make workplace decisions to ensure social distancing rules are followed and working from home arrangements are implemented where possible.

As the federal government announces the easing of restrictions and the commencement of JobKeeper payments, employers will have further decisions to make which are likely to impact employees.

JobKeeper
It is of course important to understand how JobKeeper payments work. Eligible employers will be able to make temporary JobKeeper payments to staff, enabling a number of options to be implemented in relation to the management of employees who are receiving the JobKeeper payment. This includes:

  • standing down of employees;
  • changes to duties and location of work;
  • changes to days or times work is performed; and
  • taking annual leave.

An employer is permitted to direct employees in the above matters if they cannot be usefully employed for their normal days or hours because of changes to the business that are linked to COVID 19, or linked to government initiatives introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers are required to consult with the employee about the directions above with at least 3 days written notice. If the employee genuinely agrees, a shorter notice period may apply. An employee cannot unreasonably refuse a JobKeeper direction if it is considered reasonable in the circumstances.

Click here for up to date information on the JobKeeper wage subsidy and JobKeeper enabling directions.

Safe Work Australia
As more Australian businesses prepare to return to normal operations, Safe Work Australia has published material on its website to guide businesses on how to safely work with the ongoing threat of a potential coronavirus outbreak. Click here to access it on the website, then select the industry in which you work and the topics of interest. The website also includes checklists that relate to key areas.

Key topics that apply to most businesses appear on the following links:

Annualised wage changes

As discussed previously, it is important to have considered whether your full time employees are paid an annualised wage under the terms of the BFI Award. The new rules were introduced from the first full pay period on or after 1 March 2020. These changes include specific record keeping requirements, including the need for employees to complete a record of hours worked every pay period.

As the COVID 19 pandemic impacted the country around the same time, many employers were preoccupied with the effects of the virus on the workplace. Understandably some are only just starting to consider whether these changes impact any current employees, and also how to manage future employees. Some employers may have a misunderstanding that because they pay above the Award, they don’t need to implement any changes, however the situation is a little more complex.

A full time employee will have an annualised wage if even one of the entitlements that may be ‘built in’ to the employee’s wage under the BFI Award is deemed to be ‘built in’. The entitlements to consider are: allowances, overtime, penalty rates and annual leave loading. For example, many employers don’t pay annual leave loading when an employee takes annual leave. As annual leave loading is a BFI Award entitlement, this practice would mean that the entitlement is considered to be ‘built in’, therefore would be considered an annualised wage.

Click here to read related article which explains annualised wages.

Employers who don’t consider these changes are potentially at risk of not complying with the BFI Award moving forward.

Further information
While there’s a lot of information available online regarding how to manage your business during these uncertain times, we continue to encourage you to view the ‘Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws’ information on the Fair Work Ombudsman website. If you scroll down the page on the website, you will see what has been updated and when.

For assistance on any of your HR/IR requirements –  email Gold Seal at  hrservices@goldseal.com.au