The new dilemmas facing Aussie business owners in 2021

Published September 15, 2021 -
Employer Dilemmas

COVID-19 restrictions and the subsequent lockdowns associated with them are presenting employers with new dilemmas as they try to run their business through the pandemic.

Since June, calls to Employsure’s employer advice line regarding workplace vaccinations, working from home safety, and annual leave hoarding have skyrocketed, with many employers left in the dark on what the modern workplace means for them and their staff.


Workplace vaccination requirements:

Last month, Employsure saw the biggest spike in vaccination-related calls to its advice line since the vaccine rollout began, with a 430% increase.

The number one question employers are asking is if the vaccine can be made mandatory or not, and whether or not it can result in legal trouble.

“As it stands, those who want their staff vaccinated may see themselves hit with an unfair dismissal claim if an employee were directed to be vaccinated and sacked as a result of refusing it. Employers have been told by the Fair Work Ombudsman however that in certain ‘high-risk’ industries, mandating a COVID-19 vaccination is possible if the direction is considered lawful and reasonable,” said Employsure employment relations specialist Josh Paterson.

“Tracking an employee’s COVID-19 vaccination status and forcing staff to get a test are other issues also raising questions for employers. In Australia, employers can ask staff what their vaccination status is, and also suggest it to them, however, workers do not have to tell their employer if they have been vaccinated.

“Regarding tests, an employer could justifiably require a negative test result prior to allowing a sick employee to return to work. Obtaining a medical clearance by way of a negative test result for the disease is an entirely reasonable avenue employers can take.”


Working from home safety:

More than 2,400 calls specifically relating to WHS issues were recorded in August – the highest number since August 2020, and a huge surge over the 1,100 recorded in January 2021.

These figures aren’t just a result of the ongoing lockdown in New South Wales, but are also a consequence of snap lockdowns that have occurred in almost every other Australian state and territory since the end of June.

The main WHS concern employers have been experiencing during this time relates to risk management. This includes concerns over whether or not they are liable if an employee or customer catches COVID-19 in the workplace, and what they need to ensure the safety of employees who work from home.

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, even when they work remotely. To guarantee they are fulfilling their workplace health and safety obligations, employers should send a checklist to employees to fill out while working from home to ensure the environment they are working in is safe.

Checking in on an employee can have psychological benefits as well. Because everyday encounters with colleagues do not happen spontaneously when working from home, employers can urge their employees to reach out to fellow colleagues to maintain a social connection. Staying connected not only helps reduce stress and the feeling of isolation, but it can boost productivity.


Leave Hoarding:

Calls relating to annual leave have spiked 51% over July and August when compared with May and June. The main concern from employers is that over the past 18 months employees have built up vast amounts of annual leave.

This can represent an additional financial strain many small businesses cannot afford where leave balances add to a business’s liabilities, or annual leave is paid out at a higher pay rate than when the employee first accrued the leave.

Employers can remind employees they are still entitled to an extension in annual leave flexibility under some awards. Until the 31st of December, employers can agree for staff to take their annual leave at half pay and double their time off work. In other words, the employee gets paid one week of their annual leave entitlement over a fortnight. Employers worried about employees accruing excessive amounts of leave should encourage staff to take the leave at half pay.

“Employers should urge their staff to take time off over the coming months or risk leave accrual becoming a financial burden to them,” continued Mr Paterson.

“Employers should regularly encourage ‘mini breaks’ for employees to help avoid burnout and a bottleneck of leave requests. Many employees may not have taken a holiday since the pandemic began, and as such should be urged to take at least a few days off to rejuvenate themselves mentally.”



Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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