Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: Introduction and FAQs

Published August 30, 2020 Views: 9

21/08/20

On today’s live stream, Ed provided updates on the current coronavirus situation and on the pandemic leave. For those tuning in for the first time, he also gives an introduction to who Employsure is.

Transcript

  • Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: Introduction and FAQs

    Ed: Ron, Ed here. Just keeping you on your toes. I think a couple of minutes late, really building up the anticipation and excitement, I’m sure. Just want to do a brief intro today because I think we’ve got a good, quite a number of new viewers watching. We’ve been simulcasting this, which is something that is a word I never knew about before, but we’re simulcasting this today with Dynamic Business. So, there may well be people watching today who have no idea who I am or why they’re bothering to watch me, to be honest. The answer to those two questions are that my name is Ed Mallet. I am the founder and managing director of a company called Employsure. So, across Australia and New Zealand, we are the largest provider of employment relations and health and safety advise to small businesses.

     

    We set up these casts live streams a while ago for the purpose of chatting to both our clients, but also non-clients and providing a resource for people to a form of free advice and support through the crisis. Now, I hope that if you are new to watching this, that you find that we achieve that for you. To give you a bit of a sense of the structure of the sessions and the structure today, what we tend to do is give a bit of a sense of the state of play as to how things are going, that might include an update as I’ll do today about what the crisis is looking like for Employsure, just to give you some insight into, I suppose, a small business land really.

     

    You all have your own individual stories as to how the crisis is going, but I can give you some insights across our group of 27,000 small businesses which are relatively unique. And I think that when we’re reading the paper, you get a certain sense of what’s going on in the crisis and perhaps some economic dooms dang which might sell papers, but isn’t necessarily entirely accurate with what we’re seeing in small business land. So, I’ll give you a bit of an update on that. Sometimes I’ll tell you a bit about what I’m doing to lead my business through the crisis, not that I’m necessarily an expert, but just to share some of my practice, whether it’s even best practice, I don’t know, that people can leave or take as they like. We then do a few updates. Things are so fast-moving at the moment that it tends to be an update on things like JobKeeper, pandemic pay, pandemic leave pay, other aspects of the crisis that we go through that relate to the subject matter of what we do, employment relations and health and safety.

     

    If you’re really lucky, I then, add on a rant. I normally get a bit carried away about some new tortured rule, which is stopping me from doing my job properly and I end up ranting about it instead of doing what I’m actually paid to do, which is manage my business and the risks that we face rather than criticizing people that are making decisions about lockdowns and so forth. And then finally we move on to what tends to be people’s favorite bit, which is the Q&A, and I can already see quite a few questions coming through to ask us questions about employment relations and health and safety issues that you might be facing during the crisis. There’s also a bit of a thing that people like hearing the voice of Stu, who is my handsome alter ego who sits in the background and I never let him get on-screen otherwise I would never get any of the limelight.

     

    So, that’s the way it goes. I hope that you find it useful if you’re new to this and just to kick off then as promised we have a bit of a state of play. So, I want to give you a sense and hopefully some bit of peace of mind as to what’s going on in small business land. I think that you can easily in reading the papers and generally on walking down your streets, get particularly worried about where this is all going. It feels like there’s increasingly two very different mindsets growing in our society here in Australia, I’ll say the same in New Zealand where, very broadly speaking, what I have seen is this, is that in the casual labor force and people that are really at risk during the pandemic, they’re probably quite keen, they are quite keen to get back to work in some format talking of things like hospitality and so forth.

     

    At the other end of the spectrum, business owners like ourselves are also very keen to get back and get cracking. And perhaps, therefore, come to terms with maybe even suppress the risk of the health crisis in our mind to justify getting back to work. In the middle, what worries me is that there’s this growing, if you like, middle-class of workers who actually seem quite happy with work-from-home, concepts of lockdown and are quite reluctant to get back to work. And I can see a growing conflict and friction between those three groups, where, for example, to give you a mini-version of that, you’ve got big corporate employers in cities like Sydney that are not bringing their staff back to work and starting to talk about working from home on a longer-term basis and forgetting, of course, about, you know, what about the cafe owner that serves up thousands of coffees in that building a day?

     

    What are they going to do in the future? What about the childcare center that’s in the building? All of these questions that people are trying to work out at the moment. So, my insight from the front line of it is this is that if our metrics in our business are anything to go by, what I’ve seen is that with the Victoria and also over in New Zealand renewed lockdowns, what we see is a growth in activity of people calling us looking for help. There’s almost a sense of panic initially when there’s change like that. And then it settles down quite quickly and it has done again over the last week or so. And equally when we look at how many businesses can continue to afford to engage our services, and that’s a key measure for us during the crisis in trying to work out how we’re doing as a business, what we see is many spikes when there is a big government reaction to something.

     

    So, in Victoria, you saw a spike in cases of small businesses ringing us up and saying, I can’t afford this anymore. And again, that levels out relatively quickly, pleasingly, relievingly for us. And I think what I interpret that as is this is that we are as small business owners very susceptible to panic, both in ourselves, which is the not so real version of panic but also in the consequences of a government making a quick, rush, sometimes even a bold decision that means our customers and so forth panic, and we trade ultimately off confidence, again, both in ourselves and in that of our customers. And if there’s any advice from that I suppose, would be that we need as business owners to consistently detach ourselves from the drama we talk on here, a fair bit about having that mantra, that worrying just isn’t thinking.If you’re worrying and you’re panicking, then you’ve got somehow detach yourself from that as a business owner, as a manager of your business to make sure that you’re actually thinking critically about the health of your business, rather than thinking in drama, thinking in panic, because of all the things that you can’t control any given time.

     

    So, the long and the short of it is that I’m not saying that the problems don’t exist in the economy. I’m as worried as I’m sure a lot of you are about what the long-term effects are on the economy, what’s going to happen as JobKeeper starts to come to an end or is at least reduced? How many of us have been burying our heads in the JobKeeper sand? And I’ll be talking about that in a minute. And will there be the proverbial cliff that we are all reading about in terms of businesses that can’t survive on-set support and dries up? I’m not seeing that at the moment though, I’m not seeing a lot of the drama that creates that worry in us that the media portrays.

     

    Things are definitely not normal, but I am seeing businesses and we’re a resilient bunch in small business land and bouncing back, innovating, working hard against all the frustrations and obstacles that they’ve got to achieve what they can through the crisis. And certainly, you’d say that small business has shown resilience in spades during the crisis and continues to do so. So, that’s the update on the state of play, some updates on things that I know perhaps a bit more about, workplace relations, employment, relations, health, and safety, HR, whatever you want to call it. I have obviously been keeping an eye on all of the moves and changes that may affect your business over the coming weeks and months. The big one that no doubt people are thinking about, or at least I hope they are is JobKeeper 2.0 as it’s come to be known. In that over the next week, coming week, what you’ll see is a parliament sitting and it will be fairly high up the agenda, if not top of the agenda for them to determine what’s going to happen with JobKeeper. It’s not clear yet whether it will pass through in the format that has been much publicized in the press with the limitations on who’s actually going to receive JobKeeper 2.0, whether the amounts received under JobKeeper 2.0 will be the 1,200 and so on amount that’s being rumored in the media and released by the government.

     

    All of those things need to be debated. So, my strong message to all of you through this would be, don’t spend your time sitting on, clicking refresh on any Australian government websites. You’re wasting your time. You’re probably sending yourself into worrying, not thinking. Your time at this stage is better off spent preparing for the worst, which would be, as we believe is going to happen to our business, that we won’t continue to get JobKeeper beyond the end of September. So, what we need to be doing therefore is modeling our cashflow, setting ourselves some targets based upon that outcome. And if you are either blindly assuming that you’re going to get it, notwithstanding the fact that it hasn’t come into law or that you are just ignoring what might happen if you don’t get it, then you’re probably not doing your job, which is to manage and lead your business through the risk of the COVID-19 crisis.

     

    So, don’t spend your time worrying about JobKeeper for now. I’m going to be quite blunt in response to any questions that we’re getting about JobKeeper 2.0. One thing I would say is that make sure you’re appraised of the changes that occurred during JobKeeper 1.0 to enable you during August and September to get JobKeeper for employees that were eligible under the July test as it’s called. There wasn’t a lot of noise about that in the media, to be honest, I think there’ll be a lot of businesses that are perhaps able to get some support for employees that weren’t otherwise eligible for JobKeeper. That became eligible when the July test came in. So, just to make sure that you’re checking to see whether you’re fully utilizing JobKeeper for what it’s intended for at this time. And then don’t spend too much time worrying about JobKeeper 2.0 other than what you’re going to do if you don’t get it.

     

    The sort of things that you will need to be asking yourself in that context are what’s my cash flow look like if I’m no longer getting the $1,500, but more personally to our position as advisors on workplace relations is you might have a series of people on forms of stand down or reduced hours at the moment, who in principle at the end of September are meant to be coming back to their old contractual hours at full pay that you will have to fund. There may be changes to that. There may be that the right to do JobKeeper enabled stand-downs, JobKeeper enabled directions as they’re called are extended, but at the moment, it looks like if you don’t get JobKeeper 2.0, and maybe even if you do this might be amended or finessed. Some of these rights that you’ve had as employers to impose decisions on your employees about being stood down or paying them their holiday pay, instead of paying them their wages, subject to the limitations on that might be taken away from you.

     

    So, you need to really remember that at the end of September, you might have some problems. This is why people are talking about the economic cliff, and you need to be preparing for that now. You don’t want to be wasting say four weeks at the beginning of October, going through a consultation and redundancy process, let’s say, to avoid liabilities for things like unfair dismissal if you could be doing that now. Because you’re going to end up spending a month’s worth of wages, which might be cash that you simply don’t have, or would certainly better not spend. That’s why I bang on about taking your head out of the JobKeeper sand. I see it a lot with businesses and have to remind myself not to do this, to be honest, where we’ve sort of gone into a bit of COVID fatigue, almost an autopilot where you’re just trucking along, almost being tempted into thinking, “Oh, well, that wasn’t quite as bad as we were all expecting. That’s good. Things are going to be okay soon.”

     

    In a very twisted way, the Victorian lockdown as being a good thing to shake me personally out of that thinking and to remind me that I do need to prepare for the worst. I can’t spend, or I can’t waste time nor can I waste company resources making slow decisions that only occur on a reactive basis. I need to be controlling the business, thinking preemptively about what might happen to our cash flow. Therefore, my cost requirements are and what I might need to do about my staffing levels, for example. So, make sure you’re not sticking your head in the JobKeeper sand, don’t spend your time worrying about JobKeeper 2.0 that’s not thinking, instead, what you need to be doing is spending your time planning as though you’re not going to get JobKeeper 2.0 and what that looks like.

     

    If you do then get it, great. You’re in a better position. It’s much easier to manage a business on that basis. Now, just draw a brief parallel on this. So, in a long period ago now, when I had a hell of a lot more hair and more eyesight as well, and other things that I’m losing quickly, I used to play sport for a living, and will come as no surprise, it wasn’t badminton, it was rugby. But I used to play rugby for a living. And what I saw happen from the really good managers of teams there is that they prepared us as players for every eventuality. So, you would know that what would happen if at 75 minutes in the game, you are 5 points down and you were in a certain position in the field, what are you going to do about it?

     

    And if you look at the really, really good teams, and I was certainly never at this sort of level, but you look at the New Zealand All Blacks, who are famous for being brilliantly prepared, they all know, collectively know the routine that they are going to go through in each of these different environments and circumstances. And that’s a brilliantly drilled team. You know, we all have heard that term drilling a team. And businesses can learn a lot from that, I think, where you’re really, really well drilled so that you don’t feel like you’ve just been punched in the face when you get told you don’t get JobKeeper at the beginning of, or the end of September, beginning of October, and suddenly you’re panicking and you’re wasting time, you’re wasting money on not acting quickly. The really well-drilled teams know exactly what the processes are and they know exactly what to do in every eventuality, including the worst ones. So, you want to be a well-drilled team. Ideally, you want your whole team to understand the drill, not just yourself, but start by you understanding the drill.

     

    So, a couple of other things, this is where I thought I might veer into a bit of a rant. It’s not really got nothing to do of workplace relations, but it, well, it might have something to do with workplace relations. You’ve seen the new South Wales state government came out and added some rules to state schools during the week, which is going to mean the cancellation of formals and things like that, which the way it affects us in terms of workplace relations and the way it affects you as small businesses that you may well be a catering company or something like that. Let’s just add a further kick in the groin as a result of what seems like quite a random decision in many ways. And some of the things are quite contradictory. Now, I know that for example, there are bans on playing school sport but community sport is still allowed.

     

    And I don’t say that promoting anything other than community sport is continuing to be allowed, but if you had a business that was related to school sport or school formals, you’d no doubt be very frustrated about those contradictions. I should say amongst you all there’s a bit of black humor in that my daughter plays clarinet. I don’t think it would be rude to say that I’m not convinced she’s going to be in a professional orchestra in the future. Maybe she will, she might surprise me, but her clarinet playing days have just being brought to a grinding halt by the New South Wales rules. Interestingly that you can carry on playing a trumpet. So, the poor parents that have to listen to that as I read the rules anyway. So, my daughter’s now being put in the position that she has to turn the pages on the music from the trumpet person, but she’s not allowed to play her instrument herself, which seems like an unlikely way of restricting COVID.

     

    But the reality is I make a bit of a joke out of it to try and make this point. These things are all out of our control, and there is no point in worrying or thinking about things that we can’t control. We can only control the controllables. And if you are a business that has been impacted by what can seem like random and erratic rules, you’re not going to serve yourself or your business well by spending your time ranting about it. And we all do it, we just got to try and contain it. Nor, you know, sending stinky emails to the state government and whatever else I suspect that you’re not going to get much response, you just need to respond as best you can because you should be preparing for the worst and know exactly what you’re going to do because you’re so well-drilled at the moment.

     

    There’s going to be a Fair Work Commission hearing later this week on the question of paid pandemic leave, whether there’s going to be an extension to, at the moment, remember there’s just three different awards that are related to the age care industry in which the concept of paid pandemic leave has come into play. And that’s aside from the state support, which we’ll come back to in a moment, and there’s been a push by the relevant unions to say that those working in the ambulance business, ambulance industry should also get the benefit of it. There’s a dispute going on as to whether that should be the case. I don’t think that’s going to impact that many people, to be honest, I feel like it’s a lot of people in what’s sometimes negatively referred to as the IR clubs sort of finding themselves things to do during the crisis because it doesn’t seem to me that actually finding that pay pandemic leave for ambulance drive really supports anyone given that the government of Victoria and state, sorry, the federal government is offering up a form of paid pandemic leave for those in Victoria anyway, it’s just sort of, everyone’s wasting money on legal fees instead of dealing with proper issues.

     

    And on that note, remember there is that concept of a sort of paid pandemic leave by the back door for a disaster payment in Victoria. There’s also an equivalent thing up in Queensland. If you have employees who are being required to self-isolate and quarantine, get them to have a look at that and the restrictions on that. I can speak to that if anyone’s got any questions on this session. Couple of final things before we turn to the bit that you’ve all been waiting for and hearing Stu’s voice again. The first is that there is this committee going on at the moment. There was a really good article today by a lady called Judith Sloan in “The Australian.”

     

    And she’s got pretty strong opinions, opinions that are not too dissimilar to my own though, in the waste of time that we see from the inertia of people just talking and having, I think she called it a sort of corporate talk fest in the article this morning, of people sitting around in these new committees that the government has created to talk about IR reform. So, a couple of things, first of all, I find it amazing that I’m not aware from a single one of our 27,000 clients that anyone has had the either humility or respect to go to those small businesses and say, “What would you like to see from IR reform?” No one, absolutely no one. Instead, what they’ve done is gone and employed a load of people where you have very little in common with those small businesses and very little contact with them to go and represent the views of employers.

     

    And they’ve also got unions their representing the views of employees when, again, unions only represent the interest of about 15% of the workforce. So, there’s a real underrepresentation of employers and employees there, but particularly in small business land, the consequence of which is the same thing we hear time and time again, then they’re spending a lot of time waffling on about things that don’t count small businesses. They’re talking a lot about enterprise bargaining, for example, enterprise bargaining is just not something that really affects small business. One or two of you might have enterprise agreements in your workplaces. My strong recommendation to all the small businesses I speak to is that enterprise bargaining is a waste of time for them. It’s not set up structurally for them. It’s mainly for big businesses and it’s a waste of time for big business as well, frankly. The sort of thing that Judith Sloan promoted this morning that I’d love to see happen would be the creation of a small business award so that we can have a really simple set of rules for those that employ people, say, less than 15 full-time equivalents, which is what is proposed by Judith Sloan.

     

    I know that that’s something that the small business Ombudsman is promoting as well. I’d say I like the idea. There’s quite a lot to get detailed on it, but I do like the idea of it so that you can have one place instead of a myriad of places. And some very small businesses can end up with multiple awards, multiple pay rates, which we all know is the core confusion behind problems like come to payments. So, it was a really good article, if you get a chance, go and have a look at that.

     

    Final thing, a couple of outstanding questions from last week about, there was one question about paid parental leave in JobKeeper. Just a reminder that if someone is getting government paid parental leave, they’re not entitled to JobKeeper. But otherwise, they can do subject to the other entitlements. So, you might need to understand what the rules are to do with government paid parental leave as well if you’ve got an issue there. So, Stewie, some questions, please.

     

    Stewie: Let’s kick it off with a couple of comments, this from Ruth. Great. Another week of stage four behind us here in Victoria, great to be tuning in to Ed and the team once again. And this is from Tonya Woodvine. Thanks for coming back onto the live streams. We’ve all missed you.

     

    Ed: Oh, thank you. I’ve been here. You’ve just clearly not been tuning in. So, no, yeah, I did take a little break. A cheeky break. Yeah. It was at the time it felt to me, I need to focus on my business as well. I was doing them daily for a while and I wanted to…it felt like things were settling a bit and now, obviously with the second wave, we’ve had a second wave of issues occurring as well. And crikey, how quickly you can stop being up to date with it. It’s fair to say that, you know, my day to day world is managing my business, not being on the phone advising to you guys, obviously, we employ a big team here to do that. But in doing the live streams, I was required to make sure I was up to speed with that. I’ve realized now, even as an employer, that things have been changing, that I’m not sure I’ve been on top of, and I’ve got to check and I can only imagine, frankly, if you’re not dealing with workplace relations as a specialism, as most people are not, just the confusion that’s coming out. We’re still having people come to us that are unclear about whether they should have ever applied for JobKeeper, let alone what a JobKeeper direction is. So, I’m sure that’s something that you can empathize with,

     

    Stewie: And Ed, these first three are coming from our friends at Dynamic Business. Question number one, from your time as a barrister, what deficiencies did you see in the employment law advisory space that compelled you to start Employsure?

     

    Ed: Good question, Dynamic Business. So, that was my old job. I was a barrister in the UK specializing in employment law, and it was in doing that I recognized the need to set up Employsure. I know it’s probably best described as this is that barristers really only deal with the sort of tip of the iceberg. By the time everyone’s got into their corners and is fighting about what’s happening in the workplace. And that happens a hell of a lot for every single size of employer. The reality is if you put groups of people in a room, whether it’s a pub, workplace, home, wherever it is, if they stay in that room for long enough, they’ll have an argument, just happens. And barristers are just mopping up the mess at a very late stage in that. And I started to want to explore wherever I could get under to the substance of the iceberg and help people stop those disputes or reduce the chance of those disputes happening.

     

    The reality is you can’t do that on the old fashioned way of charging as low as barristers do, it just costs too much. You know, you charge hundreds dollars an hour and people are not going to ring you up and take proactive advice. That’s just the way it works. You’d much rather sort of stick your head in the sand and hope you never have to meet me at my old job. Versus the model Employsure deploys, which is we do a subscription model to our clients. We want them to ring us as much as they can. We’re open 24 hours a day. So, they can also ring us particularly things like weekends, a lot of small business owners ring us because they want to talk to us about their issues without, when they’re out of earshot of their employees and so on. Really, it was this, the mismatch between the pricing model of lawyers and the problems that employees…sorry, employers faced versus the pricing model of lawyers. Yeah.

     

    Stewie: Question number two from Dynamic Business. The legal industry has evolved so that companies can receive quick and trustworthy legal advice from legal tech and new law companies. How is Employeesure keeping up with such disruptions?

     

    Ed: With respect to the guys asking that I don’t see that. I think law firms for too long have thought that a big disruptive element is coming from some bot or technology or something somewhere. I don’t actually think that’s the biggest threat of disruption to lawyers. I think the biggest threat to disruption is customer service. I always remember my dad was a medic who was a surgeon and he used to teach me that one of the most important things he did was to, in his bedside manner, and giving his customers, his patients, the belief in him that he was going to be the right person to cut them open and do his job, and too many surgeons, but also too many lawyers forget that. And they think that they’re being paid just to do the job rather than to give comfort to their client.

     

    And we focus hard on that here. I think lawyers as a rule are generally pretty terrible at customer service, and that’s their biggest vulnerability is that people start to attack their business model by working out the way in which customers prefer things to be packaged, including things like how much they charge and when they charge, you know, paying someone by the hour, it’s got obviously an inherent conflict of interest, if you do that. It’s in the interest of the person to take bloody ages to do it. So, yeah, those are the things I think that I need to focus on and stop hanging on about bots and AI and all the other things that lawyers seem to be fussing about.

     

    Stewie: And just to wrap up question number three from Dynamic Business, how is Employsure making sure that they meet the demands of clients as state/territory government employment directions are constantly being updated?

     

    Ed: We’re totally winging it. No, we’re not. We have a whole team here who spend their time doing everything from digesting the news and media every day, to looking critically at the law changes. So, classic ones recently, things like the double-dipping case on casuals going to the High Court, that is something you might have some questions about. Other cases coming through about how you calculate sick leave, which came out recently, and we have a team that jumps on those things and is analyzing them and making sure that, you know, our 150+ advisors here are speaking to our clients correctly.

     

    So, I should just say, as well just regular guys and I don’t think Dynamic Business would mind me saying this, is that don’t take this as some new product placement version of us. You know, we just said to the guys at Dynamic Business, we’ve done some work with them before and written some articles for them. We just said, “Hang on a second. Would your readership be interested in seeing this on your live stream?” And there’s no commercial, you’re not going to start seeing me wearing Dynamic Business, tee-shirts and things like that. Well, if you’ve got any free ones, they’ll take it, but that’s not part of the arrangement.

     

    Stewie: And this one from Seriah, I have a small business in New South Wales. Can I let an employee go who refuses to wear a mask?

     

    Ed: Good question. It depends a bit, Seriah about what you’re doing and how necessary that mask is as part of your COVID-19 plan. So, you should probably have completed that COVID safe plan, and having a mask may have been part of that. You’ll notice you get very different experiences in some customer-facing environments. So, I went to a shopping center here in Sydney yesterday, some shops are very clearly decided not to wear masks. Others are very clearly wearing them and so on. And the reason for that is that there is no strict rule about it. And if you haven’t created that rule within your COVID safe plan, it would be difficult to then enforce that against that employee and to dismiss them.

     

    And more importantly, I think that, I don’t think Seriah said whether the person was casual or not. So, obviously, you need to look at their length of service and so on, not wearing the mask. You know, frankly speaking, you get to, before you ever got to a dismissal, even with a casual worker, who is not giving them hours, you’d hope you are having an upfront conversation. Remember that iceberg I just talked about? That’s a classic situation down at the bottom of the iceberg, have a chat to the employee rather than rushing to the “You’re fired” conversation.

     

    Stewie: Ed, this is one from Jeanette. Will government reconsider JobKeeper for industries that continue to be shut down. that is conferences and business events? We’re effectively shut down at least until the second quarter calendar ’21.

     

    Ed: Yeah. So, it depends, I guess the question who asked…sorry, who asked, Stu?

     

    Stewie: Jeanette.

     

    Ed: Jeanette. Relates not to your accessibility of it now or under JobKeeper 2.0, but what happens in 2021. I don’t know. They may well look to extend it. They seem quite clear on not going for industries. Then you might have heard me, Jeanette, speak here before. I’m quite pro them avoiding trying to find industries that have been negatively impacted because there’s so much risk of unfairness in that. So, if you think about something like the hospitality industry, that coffee shop sitting in the bottom of the big corporate building is being really badly impacted, but the coffee shop now sitting near me where I live, for example, seems to be packed at the moment because there’s so many more people that are there during the week.

     

    And so, to suddenly say that that industry should, or shouldn’t be get support would seem a bit unfair. It also ignores the reality of supply chains, which is in your industry, in conferences and business events, there’s a huge supply chain as you well know. You don’t need me to tell you that, but what happens to any of the outsourced elements, your business, or supplied elements, maybe catering, things like that. Do they also get the support? So, I don’t think they will go into narrow industry-based support, but let’s see how this plays out because even when they announced JobKeeper 2.0, they’ve already had to backpedal a bit on that, realizing that there was going to be some unfairness, particularly in Victoria with businesses that were going to miss out because they weren’t going to qualify under the new proposed test.

     

    Stewie: Ed, this has a touch with the financial adviced questions about it, but it’s been by a few people. So, you might want to give it a shot. Tamara asks, have you seen anything relating to the cash and boost refunds with PAYG continuing? I would think it would go hand in hand with JobKeeper?

     

    Ed: As a consumer of that, I suppose no, I haven’t seen anything about it. But yeah, it’s a case of keeping an eye out for it.

     

    Stewie: From Ryan, do the employee eligibility changes apply to businesses who are eligible for the current JobKeeper scheme or only to businesses eligible for JobKeeper 2.0?

     

    Ed: Say that again. Ryan, was it?

     

    Stewie: Yeah. Do the employee eligibility changes apply to businesses who are eligible for the current JobKeeper scheme or only two businesses eligible for JobKeeper 2.0?

     

    Ed: So, there were some changes, Ryan, to what’s now called the July test, which is basically four fortnights beginning, August 3rd, sorry, that there was a new consideration of who’s eligible. And it doesn’t substantially change the nature of the employment relationship as to eligibility. It’s just the time at which they were employed, but it basically means that for people that might have become employed after the March date, that there may be more people that you could be claiming JobKeeper for, and therefore supporting your business better. So, have a look at those, but as to the rules for JobKeeper 2.0, no one knows what they are yet, because they haven’t been determined in parliament.

     

    Stewie: Ed, this is from Lis or Lisa. We’re looking to hire our first role since COVID started. Our whole team has a fairly conservative approach to health measures and we all feel safe in our work bubble as a result. What can we legally ask about potential team members during the interview process to maintain ourselves in a safe environment, both actual and perceived? Concerned about the line between work and personal when it comes to COVID, I run a food manufacturing business, so roles are unable to be worked from home.

     

    Ed: I’m good, Liz?

     

    Stewie: Liz, you’re reckon.

     

    Ed: I reckon. Yeah, tell us if we’ve got it wrong, Liz. So, what can you ask in the interview process? So, you remember way back when there were a lot of people asking about whether you could force people to download the app and things like that. And the app seems like a thing of distant past, I’ve not actually even heard anyone really talk about it as something that’s productively used. So, I wouldn’t get into the mess around that. Your obligation as an employer is to provide a safe workplace to all of those working at the workplace, including this potential new employee. So, really what you’ve got to do is establish the boundaries by which someone enters into your workplace and making sure you’ve got consistent and clear rules about what to do, if they’re feeling unwell and so forth, and making sure they’re not coming in and putting people at risk.

     

    And then also you potentially have in your COVID safe plan, wearing things like PPE, which in food manufacturing is obviously very important. Now, whether you can, I’m not sure what else you’d want to ask, let alone what you can ask of someone’s coming in. I suppose you can ask them whether they have been sick, the sort of questions you might be getting asked. I know for example, when I take my kid to community sport, they have a list of questions about whether I felt unwell, whether I’ve had COVID, whether I’ve been in the vicinity of anyone that has, we asked similar questions of our new clients when we’re going out to see them at the moment, you could ask those sorts of things. But I don’t think that you could then sort of start making subjective based judgments on, you know, the quality of their social life or where they live or things like that.

     

    You’d run the risk of stumbling into discrimination issues. So, to give an example of that, which might or might not be possibly the sort of thing that could happen in practice, but let’s say that there are certain suburbs, as we know in Melbourne that have got higher rates of infection. If you turned around and said, “I’m not hiring someone from that suburb.” You run the risk then of that person say, “Well, hang on, that suburb has a predominance of people of this race or this religion. You’re therefore discriminating against me. And I just that’s the sort of minefield that I wouldn’t want you to get into, so don’t use big, broad-brush rules that you are, I suppose, creating your own expert belief as to the risk. Instead, focus on your workplace and having a risk process for your workplace, risk management process.

     

    Stewie: This is from Anita, she’s a client, H2O Swimming Works. We’ve been fully closed since the 1st of April and remain closed with 20 staff on JobKeeper phase 1, our remaining 60 staff are all casuals that have all been stood down since the 1st of April. Is it mandatory or optional for us to offer JobKeeper 2.0 to these other 60 staff?

     

    Ed: No one knows yet. Lisa, what was it?

     

    Stewie: Anita.

     

    Ed: Anita. Sorry. I’ve got Lisa on the brain after our debate about that. So, Anita, first of all, I would, I’m going to go out and check. We’ve got a big photo of one of our swimming club clients on the wall over that. We’re going to see if that’s you. If not, I was actually chatting to one of our team here called Josh who told me his mum was a client of ours who had a swimming school with a huge number of employees, as it sounds like you’ve got so, 80 odd employees, that’s a remarkable business. Well done. So, what do you have to do about those that are currently stood down? So again, the question became the JobKeeper as it is, is meant to be this one in all in, who knows what will happen with JobKeep 2.0? Don’t worry yourself with that at the moment.

     

    I think you need to assume, prepare for the worst, assume that you’re not going to get JobKeeper 2.0, what does that mean to those 60 people at the moment? I don’t know if they’re getting JobKeeper, whether they’re on a JobKeeper enabled stand down, whether they’re casuals that you’re just not given hours to, and so forth. So, the best thing I can recommend is to give us a call as a client, or we’ll call you just to talk. We won’t go through the JobKeeper 2.0 stuff, because that’s no one knows yet. And that may well be a question better for your accountant, but what we can go through with you is looking at what might happen if you don’t get JobKeeper, what do you need to do about your staff costs? Whether you need to start proactively looking at management of those costs reduction in your workforce.

     

    Stewie: Ed, this one from Tanya. If a casual was given the job on the 27th of June, 2019, and we’re assuming that could be a typo, perhaps you mean 2020, June 2020 and contracts were signed, but they didn’t have their first shift until the 19th of July, 2000. And, no, it is 2000. [crosstalk 00:43:00.322].

     

    Ed: Yeah. It’s the year everyone [inaudible 00:43:00].

     

    Stewie: So the staff was given the job on the 27th of June, 2019 and contract signed, but they didn’t have their shift until the 19th of July, 2019. Do they qualify for the new JobKeeper program?

     

    Ed: When we say new JobKeeper program, I think you mean the July rule, and it’s the same as the old position, which is you need to look at when they were employed from not when they signed documents and things like that. So, it sounds like probably not, but it’s also JobKeeper eligibility things. So, I’d have a chat with your accountant about that as well.

     

    Stewie: And somewhat related, Ren, not a client, yet, they say. With new rules, do the casuals need to have been employed for 12 months prior to the 1st of July, 2020, or not?

     

    Ed: For the July rules, that is by understanding that there needs to be a 12-month regular and systematic arrangement for that period. Yeah. But when you say new rules, be careful of the difference between, let’s call that JobKeeper 1.5 rather than JobKeeper 2.0, that was a rule that was come into place to allow for the August and September fortnights for people who didn’t otherwise qualify because of the previous March cut off. There’s now this July cutoff for regular and systematic casuals and also permanent staff. So, my recommendation to everyone, including myself, is to make sure you get a look at those rules carefully. It may be that you’ve got employees that you should be claiming for that you’re not.

     

    Stewie: And Ed we’ve touched on this before but worth revisiting from Janelle. Can you request a new employee to get a COVID-19 test before commencing?

     

    Ed: I don’t know that you can necessarily…can you request to get a COVID-19 test? I think you can ask people about their symptoms and so forth. It’s risky. You’re starting to push into that. It depends. If you’ve got a small workplace, there’s not a strong reason why you couldn’t necessarily, I can think of someone who would scream out at me if I’m getting this wrong, but it just feels quite invasive to say, you must have a test in order to attend our workplace. But it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Put it that way. But I wouldn’t do it here, but it would be more difficult to manage here because there’s too many people. But I do have a strong policy in place about what to do if you have symptoms and equally that you shouldn’t be attending work if you have been in contact with people who have symptoms and so forth.

     

    Stewie: And Ed, this is big question from Andrew. What options are available to us if we determine redundancy is not an option? We have many staff with the same job role, we’re currently implementing some of the following, redeployment, conversion to part time, retraining, performing the combined multi roles, etc.

     

    Ed: It sounds like you’re covering a lot of the bases. So if you, for example, you might say redundancy is not an option, maybe because of the cost. I don’t know if anyone saw that stuff about Qantas yesterday they did in their AGM. I think the cost of their redundancy has been certainly in the hundreds of millions. It’s extraordinary. So, they’ve obviously got thousands of people that have been made redundant. But just the cost of business of that is huge. And quite often, you’ll be saying the last thing I need is to be paying people money for redundancy when cashflow is my biggest burden. So, really what then happens on a general level, Andrew, is, you enter into a consultation/negotiation with your staff and say what else can we do, guys? Shall we job share? It may be that we need to look at reducing our personal income subject to minimum wages. Can I redeploy you into different jobs? Or all of those things you’d be looking at before you make redundancies, which will cost you more rather than less in the short term.

     

    Stewie: This is from Sue. She is in a service-based business. She says, if we don’t get JobKeeper 2.0, can we ask employees to temporarily take a pay cut if they are not generating the required amount of income?

     

    Ed: So, certainly it’s a couple of things. If JobKeeper 2.0, you’re not eligible for that. There is a chance that the government is going to say, you still get the right to make JobKeeper enabled directions. And now, one of the JobKeeper enabled directions is he can’t direct people to take a pay cut, you could request that they take less hours. But you could, regardless of JobKeeper, speak to your employees about a pay cut subject to their minimum wage. You just can’t go below minimum wage just because of the crisis.

     

    Stewie: Ed, this is a great example of a business owner doing everything they can for their employees. This from Raylene, we have work-sponsored employees who are not eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker. We have paid all the annual leave they have. We tried to find out what help is available and what we got from the ATO they are not interested in and they are not their mothers. From immigration, we got that they are not responsible for their financial affairs. From Fair Work, we got half leave and half pay. These young adults are now in the dark. There has to be some sort of options for them.

     

    Ed: Yeah, I do smile at that it’s sort of being someone that immigrated too from the UK to Australia, being an immigrant myself, but it is a real problem actually, that you’ve got, it’s not a problem having lots of English people here. I’m sure we’re told we’re very welcomed, but the problem is what’s happening to visa holders and they’re getting forgotten about a bit in the system. The best way to look at it as a business is to look at your costs as a pool to see how, rather than just saying this person gets JobKeeper, this person doesn’t, therefore they’re not getting hours, whatever it is. If you want to treat people fairly, not have the risk of getting discrimination claims, let alone being a good employer. You want to try and look at how much you’re getting from JobKeeper as a pool and weigh that against your cost to see whether you can more fairly distribute work between people.

     

    And second, there’s not much government support. There’s a bit obviously in terms of the pandemic leave disaster payments if you’ve got the right to work here, you can get those payments, but that’s a very narrow circumstance. So otherwise, there is a problem at the moment with visa holders and you’re seeing a lot of people have to leave the country. Particularly in terms of short term visa holders. And I think a lot of our client base can have a really interesting challenge in the regional businesses when it comes to staffing farms and fruit picking and things like that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, to be honest. It’s going to be really fascinating to see what happens now that we’ve had a short term visa holders dry up to a degree.

     

    Stewie: Let’s have one more.

     

    Ed: Sure. If anyone’s interested.

     

    Stewie: From John. Ed, we have an employee that has a persistent cough. It’s not COVID. We know it because he’s being tested and we have the medical clearance to prove it. However, other team members have raised concerns. Any advice on reassuring them while protecting his privacy?

     

    Ed: So, he might have a conversation with… Funnily enough, these things, we all worry about the trip wires involved in them, and quite rightly we should be worried about them. But normally, the first piece of any advice I’d give is that you need to have a human conversation with the employee and say, “Hey, you’ve got a cough, other employees are worried about this. I know you know that you haven’t got COVID. Are you happy for me to share that information with the other staff?” In things like health, privacy, it’s obviously a real issue, but it’s difficult to see circumstances in which the employee would have any great objection to that. So, as long as you approach the conversation in the right way, I think that would be a good thing to do.

     

    Stewie: Special request here to ask just one final one from Justin. If we have less than 15 employees and receiving JobKeeper, thinking of making a position redundant, do we have to pay them the full redundancy?

     

    Ed: Good question. It may well be that you don’t have to pay redundancy at all if you’re a small business. So, you need some specific advice depending on your industry and so forth.

     

    Stewie: Any couple of comments to finish up?

     

    Ed: Only nice ones. No trolls. I’m not built for that obviously, I’m new to this social media thing. I don’t need to do any of that.

     

    Stewie: This is from Sandra. She’s a client from Julong. Ed, can you please share your arm workout with the group? I’d like to pass it on to my husband.

     

    Ed: I know. I’m embarrassed, Sandra.

     

    Stewie: There you go, Sandra. But this is from Michelle. Hi, Ed. Thank you for giving up your time to connect with us all in this way. Your father certainly modeled and made the right impression on you regarding customer service. As a subscribing Employeesure client, your customer service feels truly authentic. And the service we received from every member of your team has been excellent.

     

    Ed: That’s lovely feedback. Genuinely that’s what makes me, gives me energy actually through the crisis and otherwise, just to hear that, so thank you very much. Excellent. Thank you, everyone. I hope that that was a useful session and we shall see you next Friday.

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