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Employee Entitlements During Natural Disasters or Emergencies

Published February 05, 2020 (last updated September 15, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety
Employee entitlements during natural disasters or emergencies: Employsure image.

Australia can experience a variety of natural disasters and wild weather conditions, such as floods, bushfires, tropical cyclones, and severe storms. These events can cause devastation and major disruptions to the people, businesses, and workplaces that are affected.

What If an Employee Cannot Attend Work Due to a Natural Disaster or Emergency?

In some circumstances, an employee may have entitlements under their Award or Agreement that are relevant when an employee is unable to attend work due to an emergency or natural disaster. If no such entitlement exists, there are a range of options available to employers and employees depending on the circumstances.

What If I Need to Temporarily Close My Business?

If you decide to temporarily close your business or workplace as a result of a natural disaster or emergency, it is important to ensure you apply the correct employee entitlements during the closure.

This may include offering the employee with a choice of taking their paid leave, or in some cases, standing down employees without pay.

Can I Stand Down Employees Without Pay?

The Fair Work Act includes provisions which enable employers to stand down an employee without pay. However, the scenarios in which a business can stand employees down without pay are narrowly defined including that;

  • Your business’ stoppage of work must be caused by something that an “employer cannot reasonably be held responsible” – such as a natural disaster; and
  • The employee cannot usefully be employed during this period

However, it is not mandatory for stand downs to be unpaid. If the stand down is legally allowed to be unpaid, you may still choose to pay your employees at your discretion.

You should check the Award or Agreement or contract to see if it contains any additional stand down provisions.

If you choose to stand down employees during this time, it’s important to notify those employees in writing (where possible), including the date which the stand down begins, whether the employees will or will not be paid, and the impact on other employee entitlements.

What Are the Alternatives to Standing Down Employees?

Before you stand down employees without pay there are other options that you should consider. For example, these may include:

  • Asking employees if they are willing to take a period of paid annual leave
  • Where appropriate, consider flexible work arrangements, like working from home.
  • Where there is more than one worksite or workplace and not all sites are affected by the disaster, consider options for sharing work and hours among sites.

For more information about employee entitlements during natural disasters or emergencies, please contact the Employsure Advice line on 1300 651 415.

About Employsure

Employsure is Australia’s largest workplace relations specialists. We take the complexity out of workplace laws to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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