Whether you want to minimise your exposure to COVID-19, or you simply want to be home to help with the kids, is it OK to ask the question?
And what if you’re an employer? What if you need all hands on deck but your staff are asking to work from home and take days off?
How do you manage this?
Danny King from employment law firm Danny King Legal says that empathy is the key, regardless of what businesses can legally do.
“It is a scary time for employers as the competing priorities of solvency and employment are forcing a lot of urgent and significant decisions to be made in a state of panic,” she says. Her advice for employers is simple;
“Focus on the humans, and then apply the law, and you will come out of this as best as is possible in the circumstances.“
This is a scary time for everyone, and just because the law says you can do certain things, doesn’t mean you should do them without at least talking to your people.“Your staff may well have better ideas than you do – so give them the opportunity to show you what solutions they think may be the key to getting you through the crisis,” says King.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has issued a statement that it will vary 103 modern awards to allow employees to take unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave at half pay. The variations will remain in place until 30 June 2020 - more information here.
The terms of the variations include up to two weeks’ unpaid leave if the employee is required, by government or medical authorities or acting on medical advice, to self-isolate or is otherwise prevented from working. This is considered a workplace right and is enforceable through FWC.
The other variation is that - providing the employer agrees - any employee can take annual leave at half pay. This means one week of annual can be stretched over two weeks at half the rate that would usually be payable.
According to jobwatch.org.au, if you feel as though your health and safety is being jeopardised by being asked to go into your workplace, you have the right to refuse to do unsafe work. For example, if you have asthma, you can get a medical certificate to support your request to work from home as you are at higher risk from a respiratory infection. However, if your employer’s direction that you must attend work and not work from home is lawful and reasonable under the circumstances, you must obey it. For more information contact JobWatch or the Fair Work Ombudsman.
If you are a permanent employee (full-time or part-time) you are entitled to access your paid carer’s leave if you are absent from work because you need to provide care or support to a member of your immediate family or household who is ill, injured or affected by an unexpected emergency (ie schools and childcare centres shutting down). Regardless of whether you are working from home or working in your usual workplace, if you wish to take paid carer’s leave you will need to comply with the usual notice and evidence requirements - more on that here.
If you are a casual employee you are entitled to two days’ unpaid carer’s leave per occasion (this also goes for permanent employees who have exhausted their paid carer’s leave entitlements). If you have run out of paid carer’s leave but you still have some other form of accrued paid leave (ie annual leave or long service leave) you may ask your employer to access that paid leave.
As a minimum, parents of school-aged children who are permanent employees and have at least 12 months’ service with the same employer are entitled to request flexible work arrangements. Employers can only refuse if they have reasonable business grounds. Check your modern award, enterprise agreement or employment contract in case you have more generous benefits about flexible work arrangements.
For more information about the legalities around working from home for both employers and employees under the current COVID-19 circumstances, here is a comprehensive guide from the Fair Work Ombudsman that goes through all the eventualities.
Beyond the issue of working from home, there is also the issue of whether businesses can afford to pay their employees during the downturn. For more information on the Australian Treasury’s Jobkeeper payment scheme, click here. And if all else fails and your employer won’t legally allow you to work from home - and your personal morals, ethics or health concerns won’t allow you to continue to attend your workplace - there is always the option of applying for the new Jobseeker payment. More on that here.
Mums & Co have created a special taskforce to support our 345,000 + members to best manage throughout the coronavirus crisis. The taskforce includes 15 experts, who will be answering your questions via daily webinars and making themselves available for individual consultations, if you need. We’re also developing a chat-bot to support you, 24.7. Access to our taskforce is available via a Mums & Co premium membership, which we are providing for free for the next 3 months.
We’re here to support you and we’re stronger together. Join us here.