The difficult decisions are never easy
I was recently asked to assist a business owner to have conversations with their staff informing them there was no work for them as a result of the restrictions being placed on them due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The emotion of the owner's face said it all. It was a gut-wrenching experience, one that even the seasoned HR professional like me found very difficult.
Letting go of staff is not an easy choice to make; particularly as the decision you are making will impact on the livelihood of others. Therefore, it is important to show compassion with all of your actions and communication — which I am very confident you are doing.
For many, your staff are like family, and you feel a sense of helplessness in this current situation. This is natural.
During this challenging period, it is important that you keep on the ‘right side’ of the employment legislation. Below are some key points to keep in mind as we all navigate these unprecedented circumstances.
Standing down staff
Stand downs should be exercised with caution, with the employer being able to demonstrate that:
There is a stoppage of work.
The staff members that are being stood down are not able to be usefully employed within the business.
The cause of the stoppage must also be one that the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible for.
It is important to also keep in mind that an employer is unable to stand staff down because of a deterioration of business conditions or because an employee has COVID-19.
Other key points to keep in mind include:
Employers are not required to pay staff during the stand down period, however they may choose to do so.
Staff accrue leave as normal for the duration of the stand down.
A staff member who is taking authorised paid or unpaid leave is deemed to be absent and is not considered to be stood down during this period.
Where practicable other options to consider
If you currently find yourself in a position to let staff go, you may wish to consider the following instead of standing them down:
Seeking staff agreement to take paid (or unpaid) leave for a period.
Where possible, ask staff to work from home.
In limited circumstances, directing staff to take paid annual leave.
In limited circumstances, negotiating with staff to change regular rosters or hours of work.
Terminating the employment of staff; in which case the employer may have to provide redundancy pay.
If you are in doubt of what your obligations are, please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website www.fairwork.gov.au. They have a special page available to support businesses during this period.
Looking after yourself
As for yourself, the saying ‘you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others’ is critical. I encourage you to avail yourself of key support, whether that is personal or professional/business.
Communication with your trusted business advisor or accountant during this period is also critical as they will be able to provide the much-needed support to navigate the coming months. Many councils and the Regional Development Australia offices are providing low cost or free support to businesses in need. I would encourage you reach out to them and access their services.
These are unprecedent times, so please reach out if you need any assistance with regards to sourcing key information, next steps with regards to your staff, or even to have a chat. You are not alone; we are all in this together.
[Evelyn Pollard is a human resource and workforce specialist with extensive experience at both a strategic and operational level in human resource management, work health safety, injuyry management, customer service, change management and continuous improvement. She works closely with businesses to navigate the complex legislative environment that surrounds looking after their people. Evelyn has assisted businesses across many industry sectors including hopsitality, engineering, fitness, local and state government, manufacturing, transport and hair and beauty. Further information can be viewed at www.epollardconsulting.com.au]