Stage 1 Shutdown - Non-Essential Business Closures and School Arrangements from midday Monday, 23 March 2020 will have further impacts on Employers.

There are now non-essential business closure directions under Stage 1 measures that have been issued by the Federal Government and supported by the States.

Social distancing rules continue to apply and all non-essential travel should now not be taken.

Further, all non-essential businesses and undertakings must not operate that business or undertaking between 12 noon, 23 March 2020 and midnight 13 April 2020. This includes:

  • pubs and registered and licensed clubs (excluding bottleshops attached to these venues) and hotels (excluding accommodation);

  • bars;

  • gyms;

  • indoor sporting centres;

  • casinos;

  • cinemas;

  • nightclubs and entertainment venues of any kind;

  • restaurants and cafes - other than for takeaway meals and meal delivery services;

  • places of worship - other than for the purposes of a wedding or funeral - but social distancing required (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups (where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule still applies); and

  • non-essential mass gatherings are banned for groups of more than 500 people outdoors and 100 people indoors.

Supermarkets, banks, convenience stores, pharmacies, petrol stations and schools can remain open (but in Victoria schools will break early for school holidays tomorrow, Tuesday, 23 March 2020).

From 9pm AEDT 20 March 2020, Australian borders are closed, except for Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members, with requirements to self-isolate for 14 days either at home or a hotel.

Victoria: Refusing or failure to comply can result in fines:

  • individual $19,826.40 (120 penalty units); and

  • body corporate $99,132.00 (600 penalty units).

Victoria will have 500 police enforcing these Stage 1 requirements including self-isolation and indoor and outdoor gatherings. Any businesses or undertakings that can continue to operate must comply with the mass gathering directions - with fewer than 100 people and the indoor space requirement of 4 square metres per person.

In Victoria, school holidays will commence early on Tuesday, 24 March 2020 until Term 2 on 14 April 2020 - unless medical advice requires a change to this.

New South Wales: The NSW Premier is encouraging, where possible, for employees to work from home, and for parents to keep children at home, but schools will remain open at this stage. School holidays in NSW are due to commence on Friday, 10 April 2020.

Non-Essential Businesses and their Employees

  • If your business is impacted by the Stage 1 directions, and you now must temporarily close down all, or part of your operations, you may be able to stand your employees down (with or without pay). However, given the legislative restrictions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) we recommend you obtain legal advice on this first and implement this correctly;

  • If your business needs to consider more drastic measures, including a permanent close down of all, or part of your operations, or commence a restructure and implement redundancies, remember there are still legal obligations under the FW Act, relevant Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements and/or Employment Contracts, and there are costs associated with redundancies, including notice of termination, redundancy (severance) pay and accrued leave entitlements payable on termination.

What else needs to be considered by all Employers?

  • Cancel all non-essential activities, including business related travel;

  • Consider whether any work-related activities/events can be postponed, reduced in size/frequency or cancelled; and

  • Consider flexible work arrangements, including working from home and off-peak travel.

What else can Employers do to manage the risk of COVID-19 in their workplaces?

  • Consider whether workstations can be more widely spaced out, to allow as much space as possible between employees;

  • Consider rotating employees between working at the office and home to minimise key personnel falling ill at the same time;

  • Implement high standards of environmental cleaning;

  • Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces and areas regularly, including access doors, desks and keyboards;

  • Restrict use of communal areas, such as lunchrooms and space out seating;

  • For handling of cash - use disposal gloves with safe disposal of gloves thereafter, perform hand hygiene immediately after handling cash;

  • Continue to encourage employees to practice a high level of personal hygiene at all times (regular and proper hand washing, reduced face contact, cough and sneezing etiquette and safe disposal of tissues, paper towel, cleaning cloths etch, practice physical distancing and not to attend work if unwell); and

  • Prepare an isolation room away from employees in the event an employee falls unwell at work.

What if we have Employees that are impacted by the early school holidays in Victoria?

The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued guidance on this issue. If an employee needs to provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household, and they require that care or support because of an unexpected emergency affecting the member, such as an immediate school closure, they could access a short period of paid or unpaid carer's leave. However, this will only be whilst there is an unexpected emergency, so it would be only available for a short period of time. For example; whilst they make urgent alternative care arrangements for their children.

Thereafter, if the employee wanted to take a longer period of time off work to care for their child during the school holidays, personal/carer's leave would not continue to apply, but you could agree to make arrangements for the employee to work from home, or take a period of leave (paid, such as their accrued annual leave, or if eligible, long service leave) or otherwise a period of leave without pay.

What if Employees in NSW want to keep their children at home and not attend work, so they can care for their children?

Schools are still open in NSW at this stage, so if an employee wishes to keep their children at home and remain at home with them to care and supervise them, and they do not want to attend work as a result, you could agree to make arrangements for the employee to work from home, or take a period of leave (paid, such as their accrued annual leave, or if eligible, long service leave) or otherwise a period of leave without pay.

If you need urgent advice or assistance in managing the ongoing impact of COVID-19 in your workplace, please contact IR Legal Solutions.

These steps should not be a substitute for legal advice and are for information only. Employers should obtain advice that is specific to their circumstances and business operations, and not rely on this publication as legal advice.