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    Managing staff in natural disasters

    By Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association Executive Manager Employment and Training Elisha Radwanowski.

    In the land of flooding rains and raging bush fires businesses need to be aware of how to appropriately manage employment during natural disasters. This HR Highlight goes into more depth on the practical concerns for employers in the downstream petroleum industry.

    Stand Down

    Section 524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) outlines provisions allowing employers to stand down employees, without pay, when they cannot be ‘usefully’ employed for a specific amount of time, because of a stoppage of work that is outside of the control of the employer. This includes natural disasters, as well as major or key equipment failure that cannot be attributed to the employer (well-maintained equipment).

    The term ‘usefully’ is important here, it means that if the business can still utilise the labour of the employee in another area, on another machine or at another work location then they must do so. However, if these options are not available to the business then they may stand down the employee.

    Notice of Stand Down

    In the event of a stand down the onus is on the employer to notify employees of the situation that has necessitated the stand down, to communicate the payment situation and to keep the employees apprised of when the stand down is expected to be lifted and normal duties resumed.

    Payment and Stand Down

    How and what is paid to an employee in the event of a stand down is governed by the employment instrument the contract, Award or agreement. If the industrial instrument does not refer to stand down provisions then Section 524 of the Act prevails.

    The Act states that provided the stand down meets the requirements outlined above the employees can be stood down without pay. This does not mean that the business cannot choose to pay the employee or allow the employee to dip into accrued leave entitlements.

    In the downstream petroleum industry the employment instruments generally are:

    • Clerks Private Sector Award 2010does not have any stand down provisions so the Act prevails;
    • Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020 does not have any stand down provisions so the Act prevails; and
    • Road Transport and Distribution Award 2020does not have any stand down provisions so the Act prevails.

    Special considerations

    During a natural disaster, safe access to work may cause a stand down or prevent employees from presenting for work. Consideration should be given to these situations before allowing access to the workplace or activating performance management for absenteeism.

    Further additional leave provisions may be available to employees who volunteer for community service in the event of a natural disaster.

    Fair Work Ombudsman Guidance

    Further information is provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman on stand down during a natural disaster see; https://www.fairwork.gov.au/pay/pay-during-inclement-weather-and-stand-down#1751-1761.

    Here to help

    ACAPMA Employment Department professionals are available to assist members with stand down and all employment provisions via employment@acapma.com.au.

    HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice. Members are reminded that they can seek further advice on their situation by emailing employment@acapma.com.au, which is free for members.

    Published with permission from ACAPMA.

    Source: https://acapmag.com.au/2021/06/managing-staff-in-natural-disasters/

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