Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: Industrial Relations Changes and HR Challenges

Published October 07, 2020 Views: 6


In today’s session of Friday’s With Ed, topics covered included updates on JobKeeper, industrial relations changes and HR challenges for business owners.


  • Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: Industrial Relations Changes and HR Challenges

    Ed: Welcome to our Friday session. I’m coming to you with a few bits of information today relating to JobKeeper. Also lots of talk in the media still about industrial relations, changes that we’ll go through. And then I’m gonna talk a bit more generally about some, what you might broadly call HR challenges or issues for businesses at the moment, including your return-to-work strategies. And then finally, just some concepts of communication in the workplace that I was talking about with someone yesterday, and I thought might be useful for you to hear.

    Before launching into any of that, I’m gonna just show you our return-to-work strategy at Employsure. So we have got as yet a nameless puppy who is here at Employsure, who we’re going to presume if we put this on our intranet and so forth, that everyone will actually want to come back to the office pretty quickly. So I’d recommend it highly. He seems to be very popular in the office today and seems to be a very good return-to-work strategy or return-to-the-office strategy.

    So, any of the big global landlords as well, you probably could do with getting a few of these and putting them in the foyer of your big office buildings, and people might be a bit more inclined to go back into the office. So he doesn’t, I don’t think, wanna hang around for the whole of the one-hour live stream and I do. So I will let him go and have a little sleep which is kind of what I’d like to be doing after my first night with him last night. It’s pretty much having another baby. And I hope that that doesn’t go on forever. But we’ll see how we do. Right.

    Let’s talk first of all about JobKeeper 2.0. So you will know, and if you don’t, I hope this isn’t a blindside bit of news but JobKeeper 1.0, 1.5 finishes this weekend officially. For many of you it will be finishing today. It’ll be the last time that you’re getting the benefit of JobKeeper if you have…if you do not qualify on the basis going forward. And consequently, you’ll have a number of employment relations issues coming through, including what to do with people that are currently on stand down whether you’re entitled to do stand-downs going forward.

    Those of you that are probably ahead of the game, we’ll have some grip on whether you’re going to continue getting JobKeeper 2.0, whether you’re a legacy employer, what your rights and obligations are, and I’ll answer questions today on that going through what the stand down and JobKeeper enabling directions rules are before we go into specific questions a bit later in the session. I would say this, that we’ve got a great information resource on our website. If you click on there, and you’ll find that there’s a really, I’ve just been using it myself actually, just to really break down into stages using quite a clear flowchart the different stages of looking at JobKeeper enabled directions. The thing that really worries me at the moment is this, is the businesses that are under a lot of pressure and we all are at the moment.

    And maybe either deferring or they didn’t know they needed to have some difficult conversations over the last few days. It’s a bit of a…that’s the dog not anyone [inaudible00:03:28.400] working for Employsure, I hope. That they haven’t deferred those conversations and consequently find yourself in a position where you’re going to wind up having to bring people back, potentially making redundancies, and consequently having to pay wages during that period where you really should have done it at an earlier stage under JobKeeper 1.0.

    But we can talk about those sorts of things today. They’re pretty sort of lengthy. The rules so…and the rules are out by the way and they’re detailed if you go onto our website in the handy guide that’s on there. Just check what the link is. It’s

    Male: Coronavirus.

    Ed: Coronavirus, but yeah, that seems like a fairly logical thing to call it in this circumstances. So the Just go and have a look there. Those materials are free for you to download and use, again, genuinely just trying to help people through this difficult period. And it is incredibly difficult to work out what your obligations are. Bear in mind that officials… Whilst JobKeeper 1.0 finishes officially on Sunday.

    In reality, you can’t truly tell whether you’re a JobKeeper 2.0 business until at least the Monday because you’ve got to have had a 30% downturn based upon the September quarter. So the September quarter doesn’t finish till Sunday either. So it’s all pretty touch and go. You’ve got lots of employees to be worried about, and you’ll be no doubt asking some questions about that as we go through.

    So that’s the JobKeeper 2.0. The second thing that I wanted to talk about was some industrial relations change. So there’s been, you probably saw in the media or if you follow this tour, maybe it’s me, just bear in mind this is what I do for a living. I find this stuff interesting enough to read. You might be fed up with reading about it. But basically, the government put together these committees to talk about industrial relations.

    So it was this concept that everyone seemed to be getting on smashingly coming into the crisis. There was lots of collaboration pleasingly between unions, ACTU, particularly the council of trade unions, and various employer groups, and so on. And they seem to want to get, make the best of that situation and have some committees meet to talk about industrial relations reform. There was quite a lot of optimism about what could be achieved given the spirit of things going into it.

    There was a big blow-up last week over the last week during which, you know, the number that blow-up seems to be this is that the Business Council of Australia, which is a peak body for big businesses, essentially, they seem to in a side room come to a bit of a side agreement with the ACTU which really frustrated other employer organizations there. I talked a bit about it last week, including the Master Builders Association. And I fully understand why. And essentially, the frustration was that the BCA and the ACTU were saying, “Look, if you are a unionized employer, and you want to enter into ABA, that should get sort of fast-tracked before the Fair Work Commission.”

    And the outcry was, well, you’re obviously incentivizing then people that wouldn’t otherwise be unionized to unionize, which employers typically don’t see as a positive thing in the workplace. That’s not a universal truth but it’s just a general-ism, but a reality. So, yeah, so this sort of discord really set in over the week, and it seems like fairly predictably, nothing much is gonna get done.

    The one thing that I’m personally and Employsure are sort of leaning on, putting its weight behind is saying that, if you look at some of the small business groups, particularly COSBOA, they said some really positive things, I think about how to simplify industrial relations, employment relations for smaller businesses. I’d urge you if you are interested in this stuff, to go on and have a look at it.

    Yeah, I’m cautious about that because whilst, you know, we ideally in business should be looking forward to things like change and having a voice on them the reality is we’re all a bit tired of hearing so much about change that never really occurs, and feels like it’s out of our grasp anyway. But COSBOA is an organization that stands up for small business. And they’re proposing a number of simplifications that are really, I can say are very much things that I would agree with.

    They’ve got seven simplifications that they’re proposing, they’re looking to have what they call an all-hours rate for employees and small businesses. They want to be able to have flexible part-time work. They want clearer rules around stand-downs, clearer rules about redundancy for all small businesses rather than it being award affected, and so on. The nub of it is that the industrial nation system through the modern award system is just too confusing for small businesses.

    And I would vouch for that, perhaps a bit cautiously. I might argue that Employsure as a business has grown to the extent that we have because of the confusion that everyone faces. So maybe I’ll do myself out of a job by saying that we should have a much simpler system. But we receive thousands of phone calls a day from small businesses. The largest issue that we receive from small businesses even in the COVID crisis relates to how much to pay your staff.

    And I just find it absolutely amazing that such a fundamental part of an employment relationship. And if you really get down to the basics of what an employment relationship it is, is that an employee promises to provide the employer with their time and skill and in response, the employer provides them with remuneration. And fundamental as you will actually pay up the right amount of remuneration. And that question is so difficult in Australia, so difficult, so many people get it wrong, as we know.

    And I think for the sake of business, indeed, businesses like ours as well, we have various awards in our business. We had to be alert to the changes about people on permanent contracts working full-time hours that came through, and we’ve had to implement the tricky things like clocking systems for certain staff groups and so on. And it’s hard, very hard for us to get right. And it is even harder for small businesses without the resources that we’re now able to apply to it, and the expertise that we have to get it right.

    So it’s just a bit of a round-robin. The reality is none of these changes are anywhere near taking effect. So you might say, “Well, stuff it, tell me when they’re on the cusp and get back to me.” But if you are interested in having a voice about it, then that there be a good place to start as a small business would be to look on the COSBOA website and look at that and see if you’re interested in lending your support to that. That’s where I’d suggest you put it.

    So next one was return-to-work strategy. So I’ve seen in the media this week, a bit of a change in narrative about office-based businesses, and how over the last few months there’s been lots of talk about you know, the world will never be the same again. People are gonna work from home. Now pleased to see the narrative is changing slightly. There was quite a good example of it. I think, in that, I think the head of some section of Google came out and said, “We should get people back into the office.”

    Now bear in mind that Google was one of the pinups for kind of forward-thinking companies in the midst of the crisis, said no one has to turn up in our workplaces until 2022, or something, some huge commitment like that. So they seem to now be contradicting what they were saying before. And I think more and more over the coming weeks you’re gonna see people realize that actually whatever the benefits are of working from home for people, there is also a downside, and we need to be very real about that.

    And that downside, as we’ve talked about before, is a downside in concepts of collaboration and productivity, which I saw in one media article referred to as being a bit woolly, so you can’t really pin those things down. To be honest, if you can’t pin down what your productivity measures are in your business, you probably should start thinking about that. You know, we’re very clear here on what equals productivity. If you’ve really got woolly concepts of that, then as a small business, you may well be wasting money on your staff and resources, and you need to be thinking about defining your productivity metrics.

    So it shouldn’t be woolly. You should be able to understand clearly about whether someone is more or less productive from home. Things that do seem a bit woolier are things like the ability to collaborate and have ad-hoc conversations with people. I also really worry in the workplace, particularly as your workplaces scale, where you have layers of management, that ultimately young people learn to become managers by watching how other people do the job.

    You can have all sorts of formal training and so on but people tend to learn through the inspiration of seeing others do it. And so much of management and also leadership is really hard to pin down or write down. It’s in the way someone characterizes their behaviors, the way they treat others. You can’t see any of that on things like video chats in a true way. You can get it touches of it through Zoom, and so on but it’s nothing like the reality of that. So what you don’t want is a dearth of succession resources in your business because you’ve decided that everyone should just stay at home forever.

    There’s a second reason for it, which is actually I think you’ll find that as the tide turns and people start talking about coming back to the office more and more, I think your employees will increasingly want to do it. And so I read some analysis on this that suggested that only three months ago only 10% of people wanted to work at the office or thought, I think it was that they thought it was safe to do so. Now 50% or 60% do.

    So there’s a big swing in sentiment there as to whether people are gonna work from the office or not. And I think that’s only gonna continue. I get quite riled up when I pick up something like the Financial Review and it has, you know, the clich├ęd CEO of a big listed company sitting there in a mahogany-lined home office, saying, “This is great. I’ve really enjoyed spending more time at home. And I’ve got to see my family in ways that I didn’t previously,” and things like that.

    It’s all very well if you have a big mahogany-lined office. But the reality is for most people, that’s not the case. And I think that you need to be very careful with your staff to try and empathize to whatever their personal situations are. I know for me when I tried to work from home, I find it very… Both my wife and I tried to do it. We don’t have the space to have separate rooms to do that.

    The kids realize we’re at home when they get back from school, and makes it very hard to work from anything from about 3:00 p.m. onwards and people are in varying degrees of that situation. And I think you’ll find that increasingly people want to come back into the workplace, at least on some form of new flexible basis, which is what we’re using here. And I’m happy to talk to that if people are interested in understanding those sorts of policies and how they apply them in their workplace.

    The final reason in which I talked about last week is the cost of work from home. There was an article in the Financial Review this week that suggested that people on average spent $450, on setting up their work from home. And I talked last week about the fact that really that there’s a question mark, in my mind about who pays for that. That money, there’s money that’s already been spent typically.

    I was speaking to a relative of mine who works at Google the other day, and I was asking them about their setup. And they said, “Oh, yeah, just expensive, expensive.” Now that’s all very well for Google to do. But in small business land, if someone starts coming and knocking on your door with $450 expenses, and say, “Well, that’s gonna get a chair and a desk. And I only did that because you told me I had to work from home.”

    And so there is a risk that you’re going to end up with this very hefty hidden expense for work from home, which worries me going forward for small business. There’s all expenses to get people back to work as well. Aside from puppies we’re having to do various things here. We’ve just, and I have to say it was worth it. It was a very bitter pill for me to swallow as an MD, but I just signed up a whopping sum of money that to go on putting up plastic screens in various places around our office, which I’ve no idea if they’ve got any epidemiological benefit, to be honest.

    I’m no scientist. Yeah, and this seems slightly spurious. But what is important with it is that people feel safe coming back to work. That’s why we’re doing it. We’re not doing it, because we think we’re scientists, and that’s gonna solve the problem. We want to give people an environment that they feel safe coming back to, because the alternative to that is, instead of bringing people back in with carrots and start using sticks, which is not very productive to a workplace culture.

    So you may have some questions about that and we’ll talk about that in a moment. The last thing is talking of that, then communication. And I did it really interesting. I was invited to do a podcast yesterday. And it was asked quite a bit about how we’ve communicated through the crisis of which we talked about historically on here quite a bit.

    And a couple of other people have asked this a bit as well. And I still speak to our business every day. And I’ve now recently gone to a very strict routine as to how I do that to try and give people a familiarity through the crisis. And a few people said, “Well, you know, when are you gonna stop that? When are you gonna?” And the answer to that is when it doesn’t seem necessary anymore because people don’t need the information.

    Wonders of technology mean that I can see how many people are reading, and listening, and clicking open on emails and so forth, which tells me if people are still needing communication. I’d much rather go on too long than I would too short. I’m not trying to win a popularity contest, I’m trying to communicate well with the business. And in doing that, I’m trying to be regular in the way I’m communicating.

    We’ve all seen that even the leaders that have perhaps done brilliantly through the crisis or being the better leader through crisis, a lot of them sort of seem to run out of steam a bit and started to finish up their communications and the communication they do provide, we’re never sure what it is. A lot of them seem to have a bad habit of trying to do communication at the same time as this live stream.

    They have politicians trying to steal the thunder from the Employsure live stream. But the problem with that is that their communication isn’t regular or consistent. Now, remember, we talked about those three C’s of communication here, be clear, concise, and consistent. And I’d urge you all to make sure you’re still doing that through the crisis.

    This crisis is not over. Had a very sobering read last night when I was picking up on what’s happening in the UK with their equivalent of JobKeeper. And the government there has just agreed to pay a large portion of employee wages for another six months on top of what they’ve done today.

    Now, governments don’t give money away for free. And the fact that they’re committed to that tells me that they know something about the future. They’re significantly worrying. We’ve had recessions before, governments never reached into his pocket to pay wages during those. So they seem to see something in the future which is far more significant than perhaps, day-to-day activities might suggest.

    And I’d say the same is true in Australia. And we’ve got to stay true to that mantra of preparing for the worst but planning for the best. So there is my intro. We’re now gonna turn to some questions if we’ve got any, Steve.

    Steve: Ed, let’s kick it off with a couple of comments. Juniper says, “Haha, very cute mascots. Very good strategy,” and backed up by Sue, I’m presuming, referring to the dog as well as saying, “It should be mandatory.”

    Ed: It should be. Juniper is a very good name. Maybe not that manly for this little boy. But we’ll have to…we’ve still got to think of a name. Yeah, it is a very good strategy. It’s been what is known as a shameless strategy but it’s a good strategy. So as you can see, it’s pretty well behaved. So yeah, we’re doing all right with that.

    Steve: And before we launch in, our esteemed colleague has asked me to read out there’s some financial questions may come through Ed, not always our area. And we do encourage people to speak to their accountants and registered tax agents, but we’ll do our best based on what we know.

    Ed: Well, it’s been quite liberating. It means I can just totally ignore all these questions. The downside of that is a lot of finance team here with its sect, that when we were going through a JobKeeper 1.0, this gave me the opportunity as a business owner to make sure I was deep in the rules and understanding exactly what could and couldn’t be done. And so, yeah, just be careful.

    Guys, do take good advice on this from your accountant. Have a deep look as to whether if you’re a JobKeeper business, whether you’re entitled to carry on being a JobKeeper business. Whether you’re a legacy business or not you’ll need some advice on that.

    Steve: Ed, this is from Maryland. “Hi, there. I have a worker on JobKeeper but don’t have enough work for her going forward. She’s a casual. Can I terminate her?”

    Ed: So Maryland, job you’ve got a casual who’s on JobKeeper so they’re regular and systematic. You can because they’re regular and systematic, you’d have to go through a proper dismissal process to ensure that you don’t expose yourself to an unfair dismissal claim. You might say, “Well, I didn’t think casuals could claim unfair dismissal.” They can’t typically. But what sometimes happens until this JobKeeper thing came around, there was always a risk that someone would work for you so regularly and so systematically that they could claim unfair dismissal in certain circumstances.

    In essence, by applying for JobKeeper for this person, you’ve admitted that they may have extra rights like unfair dismissal rights. So you could just say, “You’re not entitled to work here anymore.” You need to go through a fair process.

    Steve: Okay, good one here from Joe. “Are there any alternative tests for JobKeeper 2.0 if you have no September 19 to compare to?”

    Ed: There are alternative tests. I’d say chat to your accountant. But yeah, if you’re a newer business, and there are some other circumstances as well with them, you can potentially qualify through.

    Steve: This one from Angela. “I have a part-timer who worked 75 hours in February, but 80.25 hours in the June month. Can I use the June month for her eligibility to receive full JobKeeper allowance? “

    Ed: Sorry, say that again. Part timer?

    Steve: Part-timer worked 75 hours in February, but 80.25 hours in the June month. Can I use the June month to measure her eligibility?

    Ed: Okay. I presume this is being done because of a desire to, it’s less to do with eligibility. If it’s someone that’s actually part-time it’s about when they were part-time, not how many hours they did. But if you’re talking about the eligibility in terms of how many hours you can reduce them to, that’s a trickier question. And it doesn’t sound like even at a minimum they’re doing 70 hours, it’s not a question of whether they get the lower JobKeeper payment or not. So maybe it is if you’re suggesting that they were getting below this the 20-hour amount, it sounds like an accounting question, unfortunately.

    Steve: And this may be one too, Ed from Kristin. You might wanna let us go through the keeper, “Do we have to use the FN13 code to pay last pay for JobKeeper 1.0?”

    Ed: I don’t even know what that is. I’m sorry.

    Steve: It had a few followers.

    Ed: I’m not much used to it for anything. I’ve got a puppy. That’s my only thing. Yeah, I don’t unfortunately, yeah, can’t help with that.

    Steve: Lauren, “Hi, Ed. We will be eligible for JobKeeper 2.0. And although things are stable enough at the moment, we’re prepared for more unexpected surprises. So just so I’m sure under the new rules, would I still be able to stand down my staff if I absolutely have to?”

    Ed: So that the under the new rules with… Sorry, who was that for?

    Steve: Lauren.

    Ed: And does she…she says she is eligible for 2.0?

    Steve: We will be eligible.

    Ed: Yeah. So you still have the stand down rules. And there I’d urge you to have a look at the fact sheet and the flowchart that’s on that fact sheet on our website. So yes, you can. In essence, you’ve got to bring them back from whatever the stand down they’re on at the moment to do it again, making sure you comply with the requisite notice requirements and so on. But just have a look at that fact sheet. It really steps you through it stage by stage, and you’ll get a decent sense as to what you need to do.

    Steve: Okay. Ed, this is from Peter. And clearly, he was tuned in last week because it was apropos of a comment you made. He says, “Like you, I wasn’t invited to the Talk Fest in Canberra either. Why doesn’t the government ask us to get involved? What they’re proposing does actually impact us.”

    Ed: It does, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s been always been a problem with small business. Because we’re such a disparate group of people with quite often with quite disparate interests. On this case, I think that there’s actually a lot that we share common ground on. But collectively, small business employs more people in Australia than anyone else. So you would think that the voice of small business should be therefore much louder.

    Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to coordinate all of those voices, which is why you know, I think we could have added some value in explaining exactly what we see as an organization that has 27,000 client members. And not only that, but you’re calling us every day about the things that trouble you at work. You know, I’ve mentioned a few times on here, what I perceived to be the state of how things are going out there in the economy.

    And that’s not because I’m an economic expert or anything like that, but I do genuinely think as small businesses you’re much more likely to, for example, make someone redundant than you are to default on a loan. And what we’re hearing about here is how many people are getting made redundant day-to-day. And that seems to me to be a leading indicator on how things like JobKeeper are going and so forth.

    But no one seemed bothered to ask that either. So the only thing I can say is that I’ve been pretty busy over the last few months. So I’m not sure I would have had the time for Talk Fest down in Canberra, though, it would have been nice to be able to contribute part of small business.

    Steve: Ed, this one from Kylie and it’s related to a comment you made in your opening stanza. “Ed, I had a one-on-one with an employee working from home this week and she asked about her home internet use and whether our business will be helping contribute to the cost. She hasn’t put in a formal request as yet but I think it’s coming. I think we should cover legitimate business use, but I don’t much like the idea of paying her for Netflix streaming. Any advice?”

    Ed: It’s difficult Kylie, isn’t it? I sort of feel like I’m sort of saying this in a bit of an echo chamber at the moment. We’ve looked at it very carefully here for our staff, and I’ll give you an insight as to what we’re doing to try and belt and brace this process. So I think during the crisis where everyone was forced home, there was a lot of sort of goodwill that went on where employees were willing to use what was otherwise already available to them.

    And what we did, for example, if someone said that they wasn’t available, or there wasn’t a good enough service, whatever. Rather than saying, “I’ll go and upgrade your service,” we are giving people 4G dongles, and things like that. So as our starting point, we shouldn’t have too many circumstances where someone can legitimately say, “I have an expense that I didn’t already have.” But then what we’ve done is second to that and said, “Okay, from a certain point forward and we’re just going through the process of doing it now, from a certain point forward we are having a new flexible work policy where you can agree with your direct manager here, the prospect of working from home some or all of the time.

    Now, in those circumstances, we are saying that that is at your election. And in essence, what we are doing is providing you with your workplace here. If you choose not to use that and would rather use your own workplace then that’s a matter for you but you can’t do it unless you’re able to be in a workplace at home which is health and safety friendly. Now that is a form of belt and braces.

    It’s a world that’s pretty untested, to be honest. There’s always a risk that people say, “Well, hang on a second. You say that I’m choosing to work from home but ultimately you’re agreeing to it, and there’s a risk that you end up with problems as a result of that.

    Steve: Thanks, Ed. This from Sue, she says, “Under JobKeeper 2.0 is the less than 20 hours per week rule actually less than 40 hours per fortnight? What happens if one fortnight is, say 30 hours and next fortnight is, say 42 hours, as this could mean that the top-up is $750 and the next is $1200?”

    Ed: Yeah, spot on. So it’s measured at a particular point in time. So have a look at the fact sheet on our website. And you’ll find that a useful way of working through the challenge in assessing that.

    Steve: Yeah. This one from Sarah, “Does the JobKeeper 1.0 just automatically stop or do we need to formally notify the OTO that we’re not applying for JobKeeper 2.0?”

    Ed: It will just automatically stop. There’s no notification process to say, “I’m not 2.0.”

    Steve: From John, he says, “Hi, Ed. Redundancies may be unavoidable for us. What is the “at-risk” process? Is this a meeting I need to have with the employees or something I can do independently as a business owner without their input?”

    Ed: So the concept of an at-risk meeting or notification is that you should be telling your employees that they are at-risk of redundancy before you do that, and this is something I suppose as employment relations people we don’t always talk about is that, you’ve got to go through some mechanics to understand whether redundancy is the right thing for you. It’s not always and you’ve got to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, in that redundancy does cost money regardless of whether you are a business that…or your staff are, things like they don’t have the service to claim redundancy, will be entitled to redundancy, I should say.

    It still cost money. You still got to pay people at notice, you’ve got to pay them any accrued leave, and all those sorts of things. So it’s not always the cheapest option. So redundancy tends to be a medium-term solution. If you’re saying in the medium term, I cannot see this work returning, whatever it might be. You need to slice and dice that in terms of your financial modeling for your business.

    I can’t tell you as an individual business owner how to do it but do go through the exercise looking at that. That will create a scenario which you’ve decided that maybe you’re gonna make people redundant. And you should then notify any people that may be redundant that they are at-risk. Now depending on the size of your business, you might do it to everyone. In slightly bigger businesses, I tend to say don’t do that because it can spook the horses a bit. You’d only be talking to the people that might be at-risk of redundancy.

    And remember, you’re making roles redundant, not people. And so if you’ve got two people in the same role, you wouldn’t just notify one person and say you’re at-risk of redundancy. You need to say to both of them, your role is at-risk and redundancy. It looks likely that one of you will be made redundant. Then from the at-risk process, you go to the next stage, which is consultation and actually sitting down going through with each of those people individually in my example, and asking them whether they have any suggestions as to alternatives for redundancy.

    Listening to them, being as open-minded as possibly can be about their possible responses. I always think it’s, as we’ve talked about on here before, it’s hard for employers in that situation. See employees in reality don’t…they don’t have the transparency that the employer has as to what’s really financially going on in the business. They’re not sitting in the, so-to-speak, the director’s box in the stadium, so they don’t have the perspective that often a business owner can have.

    And then after that, you would select if there was no alternative to redundancy that was reasonable, you would end up selecting in my example, one of the people see if they can be redeployed elsewhere in business and if they can’t you’d move forward to redundancy. So very long answer to the question of the at-risk piece. At-risk ultimately refers to a notification to the employees. But there is a separate part prior to that at which you would determine whether you need to enter into that redundancy process.

    Steve: Thanks, Ed. From Michael, he asks, “How do voluntary redundancies differ to the regular kind? Is this a feasible option for a business? I have 20 employees.”

    Ed: Yeah, so voluntary redundancies certainly are a feasible option. They normally come at a slight premium. And by that, I mean, this is that you would normally elect, this is where they can be risky as well. You would normally say to, let’s say you have a category of role in your business. You’ve got 20 employees, let’s say five people are doing that role but going forward, you think you only need three, voluntary redundancy would normally involve you going to the group of five and saying, “I’m looking to see if two people are willing to leave on a voluntary basis without having to go through a formal selection process.”

    And in order to incentivize that you might add something on top of what would be their redundancy entitlement. And that’s how it worked typically. And the problem with voluntary redundancy situations in those cases is that quite often if you just won’t go in with a truly voluntary scenario, the most likely people to put their hand up are those that are gonna get paid most on a redundancy. So it can actually end up costing the business quite a lot of money.

    They might not be the same people that will get selected. It might be your most experienced people, for example, they’ve been there longest therefore get the biggest redundancy payouts may turn around and say, “I’ll take the voluntary package, please.” So you just got to be a bit careful that you don’t end up scoring own goals with it. But in essence, a voluntary redundancy just refers to a period before going into that more tricky situation, during which you ask to see if anyone wants to put their hand up to go based on the at-risk scenario.

    Steve: Ed, this from Jenny. “Can I outline a specific amount of home internet use that we will pay for in an official working from home policy?”

    Ed: Oh, you could do Jenny, it’s a good idea. You can potentially put something in a policy which says that you will pay the odds over and above any usage that they were already paying or any fee that they were already paying. If people have got specific there’s a specific way of measuring how much usage is gonna be attributed to your work, you could do that. There are all possible things that you could look at, yeah.

    Steve: And, Ed, again, regarding working from home this one from Paul, “If a staff member goes and purchases some of their own office furniture that we pay for, does that mean that we own it if they leave the business? And also how can we check that it is ergonomically correct?”

    Ed: Really, really good questions, Paul. This is the sort of stuff that keeps me up at night, aside from the puppy that also now keeps me up at night. So we have a situation here, for example, when we sent people home, a lot of people were saying, a lot of the back end now we were saying, look, I don’t have…we didn’t have everyone on laptops, for example, we had a lot of people that run stationary PCs in the workplace. So we sent them home with that equipment and we have screens and things like that.

    Other people on laptops wanted screens on top of the laptops and so on. So we sent out a lot of equipment that was definitely ours, so there was no doubt about that. And you try and mitigate against that by essentially sending people out on a cheat where you’re getting a pre-agreement that if it’s certain circumstances that that equipment’s damaged or not returned, that you’re authorized to make deductions from their wages.

    So you can’t just ad-hoc deduct money from someone’s wages because they’ve broken or lost something that’s yours. But if you get pre-agreement to it, you potentially can. So those are the sort of things you put in place. If you’ve then actually allowed people to either expense you or you’ve paid for things like office chairs, and so on, the same sort of thing applies, because if it is very hard in circumstances to actually recover that stuff.

    So you want to look at having some form of agreement in place for anything that is truly yours. Then on the flip side of that, if you haven’t actually paid for that stuff, the risk is other people have gone out and paid for it. And then as we’ve highlighted on here, if you don’t have a clear policy about that you end up being asked to pay them back.

    Just on the question of risk, the… So you can do risk assessments in a couple of ways. You can ask people to complete risk assessments virtually or we actually offer it as a service to our clients where we’ll do virtual risk assessments through Zoom or you might ask them to do it through a desktop assessment, essentially looking at questions and a list that they’ll provide answers to. Then finally, you can actually go visit the site to check that it’s a safe work site. So there are three ways to do it. You don’t actually have to go to the site to do it.

    Steve: And, Ed, you’ve touched on this before but worth revisiting this time from Michelle. “Do we need to get staff to resign a nomination form for JobKeeper 2.0?”

    Ed: I believe that you do need to be re-nominated but check with your accountant as well.

    Steve: This from, Dan, “What would happen if an employee is registered for tier 1 and does not fulfill the 40 hours required for the fortnight. Can they be moved to tier 2?” Do you understand?

    Ed: Yeah, I do. So the assessment is done based on a snapshot in time rather than on actual hours worked. So have a check of that.

    Steve: This from… “If staffing in a role is to be reduced is there a guideline to decide which staff is to be made redundant? E.g. like the most junior in the role, etc.?”

    Ed: The guideline, I suppose is the legislative framework. It’s interesting in hearing. One, I’m quite relieved I can answer some of these questions. Some of them are ultimately these JobKeeper financial questions that you need to ask your accountant. But redundancy seems to be my sweet spot today. And it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of people are having questions around this.

    But if you have to go through a selection process, so the first part of it is a business question, which is you need to examine your business and the work that needs to be done. And look at whether there are any specific roles that are, therefore, gonna be made redundant. So it’s not just simply don’t just look at all employees and say, “How do I run out cost? Who’s the cheapest or most expensive?”

    And the reason you don’t do that is because the framework that you’re asking about is the legal framework. And there’s always a risk with applying very broad brushes to groups of people like I will get rid of the last person in, you end up with things like discrimination claims. That person’s likely to be younger, they can potentially claim that they were discriminated against on the basis of their age, because you picked on them, and not the older people, those sorts of things that can occur if you get it wrong.

    I think actually, I saw something in the paper this week about one, I think BHP or RIO who was getting sued for the way in which they applied big broad brushes during JobKeeper. And it’s alleged that they’re therefore discriminating against people. So you’ve just got to remember that you’re making roles, redundant, not people.

    And if you’ve got a particular role or roles that are potentially being made redundant, and you’ve got more than one person in that role, you might have to select a person in which case you would apply as far as you possibly can an objective criteria to working out whether one person should be kept ahead of the other. And that might include things like their performance reviews, it might factor in things like attendance, but even that’s quite risky because you’ve got people that, someone has legitimately taken absence under the Fair Work Act if you ended up treating them negatively because they had taken sick leave, for example, you could be sued for that.

    Steve: This is from Mary. “We have a person starting with the business next week. At what point would they be eligible for JobKeeper 2.0?”

    Ed: So Mary, check the rules or your accountant on eligibility dates, but I don’t think they would be, unfortunately.

    Steve: And, Ed, this one from Sally. “If a company is sold, can current JobKeeper eligible employees remain on JobKeeper?”

    Ed: There are certain circumstances again a bit of a financial one that one so there are circumstances in which…even if the company is sold they can carry on on JobKeeper.

    Steve: Time for one more?

    Ed: Time for one more.

    Steve: From Tony, a client. “Always thankful for you sharing what you know. It is a big help. We have an employee recruited on the 22nd, June 2020 and became an eligible employee under JobKeeper 1.5. What period would we use to calculate hours worked for their eligibility under JobKeeper 2.0? I’m reading it is Feb and June. And if it is June for this employee, there’s only one week’s worth of hours. I could be misinterpreting the periods to use though.”

    Ed: I feel a bit bad. Tony’s just said thanks for help and I’m gonna not help now or her. I’m not sure which but that’s an eligibility question really is an accountant’s question first and foremost. But we can help Tony with the employment relations aspects of that.

    Steve: And a nice comment from Alicia. She says for work from home expenses, we have resolved the question of office expenses by agreeing a dialing up. This covers portion of internet, printer ink, incidentals, etc., etc.

    Ed: Good, it’s a good idea. The underlying theme for what this is, make sure you sort it out. Don’t just bury your head in the sand. And so often my advice on any employment relations issue is actually, this is fairly shameless, [inaudible 00:44:52] to try and… and obviously trying to get more likes towards the end of this just by having a bit of puppy time. But let’s yeah. So make sure you’re getting policies written up is the short answer. You just don’t wanna ignore this as an issue, particularly if you are saying, “Going forward on some level of permanency I’m gonna have more and more people working from home.” Get a grip on those issues.

    Steve: And finally, Ed, this comment and I can say hand on heart, it’s absolutely genuine. Ed, you need to update your photo on the Coronavirus hub. You’re much better looking than when that photo was taken.

    Ed: That’s I think a compliment. Right back at you, Steve. I can see Wayne is asking whether the puppy is in fact you. So, take that as you will as to what Wayne thinks you add to the scenario.

    Steve: Shall do. I’ll sleep on that on Ed. Thank you.

    Ed: Yeah. All right. Well, thanks, guys. We’ll see you next week.

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