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Coronavirus: What It Means For Casual Workers

Published March 18, 2020 (last updated January 4, 2021) -
casuals working during coronavirus

The ongoing effects of the Coronavirus outbreak in Australia is having an impact on almost all Australian businesses. If your business employs casuals, you may have been asking a few questions around a potential reduction in staff numbers or staff hours, leave entitlements and ill staff. This article will hope to answer some of the questions you may have; if you have any other questions, please feel free to visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for more information.

First of all, let’s try to ascertain how you engage your casuals, as this may affect your obligations and their entitlements.

What Best Describes Your Casuals?

Genuine casuals:

  • Those employees who work on an ad hoc basis, that do not work the same time and days week on week and have the ability to reject and accept shifts as they like
  • Regular and systematic employees who have refused to convert to a permanent employee (following the proper process of casual conversion)

Regular and systematic casuals:

  • Those employees who work the same times and days each week for 6-12 months or more.
  • Those employees who work similar hours and days on a roster week on week for 6-12 months of more

Business Is Slow Due to Coronavirus; Can I Terminate My Casuals?

This is an unfortunate circumstance to be in. First consider if termination is necessary in your instance, or could a reduction of hours be more reasonable.

If termination is a necessary step you have to take, you first need to consider the nature of that casuals’ employment. If they are genuine casuals then it may be easier to terminate them. In this situation, you can provide one hours’ notice of termination. However, this is highly dependant on the circumstances of the case. Prior to taking any steps to terminate, call our advice team to discuss and get the necessary paperwork.

In the situation that your casual employee is regular and systematic, then you may not be able to terminate them as easily as the above example. Their length of service will need to be taken into consideration to determine the best course of action; however it is likely that the recommended approach would be that you consider undertaking the redundancy process to lawfully terminate your employees.

Your options will change according to your individual circumstances. To ensure that you are fully compliant with your relevant award and legislation, call our Advice Team for further advice.

Business Is Slow Due to Coronavirus; Can I Reduce My Casual Employee’s Hours?

You may be able to reduce your employees’ hours in these circumstances; however, the approach is different depending on the employee’s individual circumstances.

For the genuine casuals, you can advise them that due to coronavirus, you will be reducing their hours in order to maintain business operations.

However, for regular and systematic employees, you cannot unilaterally change their hours. They need to be treated like permanent employees. You must consult with them about the potential to decrease their hours during this trying time. If they accept, this should be confirmed in writing.

If the employee refuses to reduce their days and hours, you can consider if you will need to commence the redundancy process as briefly outlined above.

If you need more specific advice in relation to your situation, call our Advice Team.

My Casual Employee Is Not Coming into Work, What Can I Do?

The nature of casual employment is having the luxury of being able to accept or reject shifts as they see fit (and the same for the employer). Therefore, in this situation where a genuine casual continues to reject shifts due to the coronavirus, you cannot force them to come to work and you cannot discipline them for this. You can discipline them for breaches of procedure, like not notifying you of their absence appropriately as per your polices and procedures. However, prior to actioning any disciplinary action, call the Advice Team to confirm if suitable in your situation.

However, if your casual is a regular and systematic casual, you can do something about this. This type of employee is considered to be similar to a permanent employee and should be treated as such. Therefore, if your employee is not sick and there is no health and safety risk of an employee coming to work and there is no other mitigating circumstance (such as pregnancy or pre-existing health condition which would make them more susceptible to coronavirus) you can direct them to attend work.

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