Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: JobKeeper 2.0

Published July 24, 2020 Views: 28


Our Managing Director Ed Mallett is back in his new weekly Facebook livestream ‘Fridays With Ed’: In today’s stream, Ed covered how COVID has affected Employsure, JobKeeper 2.0, casual entitlements and more.


  • Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: JobKeeper 2.0

    Ed: We’re going on this.

    Female: Yes, please. You’re up.

    Ed: Hi, everyone. It’s Ed here, coming back to do live streams at lunchtime. It feels like an age ago, since we last did it. And I understand that it was the end of May. So, two months have gone by since then. During that time, as you can see, I’ve aged by about 10 years. I feel like, you know, when you see those pictures of prime ministers and presidents, when they start on day one, they sort of look really young and vibrant. And then after about two years, they look like they’re about to keel over. I feel a little bit like that but I am, contrary to appearances, still full of energy and hopefully, going to pass some of that on today to explain a little bit about what’s going on.

    First of all, I wanted to just to start as we try to at Employsure, we try, as those of you that have been avid watchers or listeners of this will know this, and probably in terms of avid listeners and watchers, that’s probably limited to my mum. So, hello, mum. But for anyone else that’s have maybe seen one or two of these, you might have remembered that.

    At Employsure, what we try to do when we’re working through business problems is use this mechanism as saying, what is the why of what we’re doing? What’s the purpose? What is the how of what we’re doing? And what’s the strategy? And finally, what items that we go through, the plan, the tactics, the execution items.

    So, I’m just going to start by explaining to you why I’m here again. And then I’ll go through some other items before we get to our usual, less usual these days, but our usual Q&A session and see what it is that is troubling you in respect to the workplace relations issues in your workplaces at the moment. I’ve got some inklings as to what they might be, but we’ll talk about that. Never fear, Stu is here.

    I know that’s why at least 300 out of you are very quickly have tuned in, hopefully, not including my mum. But there we go. So, we’ll go through those questions in a moment as well, but until then, a little bit about the why, how, what of this session. So, why have I decided after a two-month hiatus to come back and do this session? So, there are, I suppose, selfless and selfish reasons for that. They probably both come from the same place. So, in that, I was lucky enough to go on a week of leave last week during the school holidays. And I came back on the Monday. And I initially, on the drive into work, I was quite excited about coming in, having been away, good to get back into things, and so forth.

    And then I got into work and, of course, all of the news in Victoria and the growth in cases in New South Wales have been occurring during that time. So, it was a certain trepidation as to what’s going to be happening to us all over the coming weeks. But I got into work and into our office building and nothing really had changed, to be honest, it was still quiet outside our building, and other businesses that are in our building arrive at only back in a handful of cases or not back at all. And there are people, growing number of people, in our office, but we’re still far from full here because of social distancing requirements, and because some of our roles have remained at home. And I just immediately felt really flat, to be honest, it felt really flat and really what I was, I suppose, wishing was that the whole thing had ended.

    And then I realized I had this little break, which was inevitably going to lead me to pause, take stock, relax a little. And I came back and the engine wasn’t running in the same way. And consequently, I just felt really flat and gutted that it wasn’t finished. And what that was, if you think about it, back to, again, those avid watchers or listeners of this. You might remember that we talked about those stages of the COVID crisis. And stage zero, the very first stage, I think most of us have been through was the stage of denial.

    And I was back in a form of denial, really. I was saying, “Oh, please just go away, please,” rather than recognizing what my job as a managing director of business is, which is to manage the business through the risk that we’re all going through at the moment.” And I needed to get myself out of that headspace.

    So, a couple of things came to me in that stage of denial I went back into. One, if I was in that stage of denial, I probably wasn’t alone. And that there’s probably lots of people, particularly with the renewed lockdown in Victoria and the risks that we’re facing here, who were perhaps slipping back into denial as well. And certainly, you can see it again, when you’re out and about, that concepts of social distancing are slipping certainly here in New South Wales notwithstanding the increased risk over the last couple of weeks. So, there seems to be…people have seemed to be forging along, forging ahead without necessarily taking account of the risks that are re-emerging. And that seems to be a form of denial.

    And I’m sure that that’s happening at small business level as well for fellow owners and managing directors and managers who are perhaps just getting on with things and hoping that nothing’s going to happen, say, here in New South Wales. I know that I went to the gym that I attend the other day and I was chatting to them and I said, “Oh, are you worried about another lockdown here? How disruptive is that going to be for you?”
    “Never going to happen here. Gladys has told us that we’re a…it’s business first from here. We’re all forging on. Even if there’s a spike in cases, there won’t be a second lockdown.”

    And I thought to myself that sounds a lot like denial. Again, I’m no epidemiologist, I’m no expert in this, but there’s got to be at least a risk that New South Wales is going to go into a further lockdown. It would be a pretty bullish politician who said, “My mate down in Victoria has decided to take the conservative approach. And his numbers are going through the roof. And if my numbers do increase, I’m just going to say no business first. Let’s see what happens.” That doesn’t sound like a winning political strategy, to be honest.

    Consequently, I think that that business, and I said it, I’m friendly with the owner of that business, and I had just said, “I think you’re in denial. I think you need to plan as though there might be a second lockdown remembering that strategy of prepare for the worst, but plan for the best.” What he was doing was hoping for the best, and hope, as we’ve talked about on here, is not a plan.

    So, I thought that you guys like me might be in denial and that it could be useful to you perhaps but more selfishly useful to me to at least institute a weekly session where I get the benefits out of this session I did previously, which was a really good window into fellow business owners and managers as to what’s going on and the challenges that we’re all facing, sharing those problems, hopefully helping solve them amongst each other. And I thought it would be really good as a way of me crisis managing, getting out of that stage of zero, denial, moving into stage one crisis management through this next phase of the crisis.

    So, the crisis isn’t over. Now, I still maintain, I think we’re closer to the end than the beginning. I don’t want to be a doomsday about it, but the crisis is not over. And I wasn’t kidding myself when I stopped two months ago thinking that it was done and dusted. I knew that it wasn’t. I felt at that time I just needed to refocus on my job as an MD internally. But I’ve now realized that actually my job as an MD is enhanced, I think, by communicating with you guys through this medium.

    So, here we are, again, that’s the why. How are we going to do it? The strategy is that once a week on Friday at midday, we’re going to be here. So, it’s not the daily sessions that we have been doing before, but hopefully, Friday works. So, you do shout out if you, say, “No, Friday’s no good for me.” You know and generally businesses like to get off on the right foot on a Monday or whatever, let us know. We’ll try and adjust.

    Of course, we’re not doing it to individual requests, but we’ll do our best to be malleable to whatever the best time would be. But we figured a Friday was as good as any and we’ll be here going forward on Fridays at midday to talk about workplace relations issues. And for me to share some of the stuff that’s going on in my world is a manager of a business and hoping that the old mantra of the problem shared it becomes a problem solved. And we’ll see how we go with that.

    So, that’s the how. What are we going to do? The tactics, the plan for these sessions will evolve as we see what’s current in any given week. So, for example, if we do move to any further stage of lockdown in Victoria or New South Wales has anything, we’ll obviously end up focusing a lot on that. We’ll talk quite a bit today about JobKeeper 2.0 and what that means from a workplace relations standpoint, and what I think from a workplace relations standpoint you guys should be doing, and I can tell you a little bit about what we’re doing as well. So, on that note, telling you a little bit about what we’re doing.

    Sorry. Just one pause before that. I did note down to myself, but I sort of can’t quite believe I find myself having to say this, but this live stream session for reasons I won’t bore you with now needs various disclaimers that I’ll try to not make too turgid, but I just want to make absolutely clear what this session is not. Okay? This is not got anything to do with the government, the ATO, the fair work ombudsman or anything else. We’re a private organization at Employsure. I’m an owner of Employsure and I’m a business owner that is going through COVID-19 at the moment, trying to work out how to manage my business through that. I’m just trying to share some thoughts and points of view on that.

    In the context of that, I should say that my thoughts and point of view are not accounting or tax advice. I am not an accountant. I am not a tax specialist, notwithstanding the fact that I might look like one, sometimes my glasses, and so forth, but I am not…what I am is a workplace relations specialist. I’m not a bookkeeper.

    And what we’re definitely not doing here is providing you with any paid advice. There’s no requirement to pay for anything here. This is a free session. If you choose to give Employsure a call to see if we can help you at workplace relations advice at a later time, or you’re a client that happens to be tuned into this as well, great. It’s not part of the service we provide. It’s just a free session of me rambling, ranting talking for an hour, answering some questions on a Friday.

    I should add that I do recommend that if you’re going through challenging circumstances in your business, whatever they may be, and it’s hopefully fairly logical for any business owner, you should be getting professional support, whether they are accounting questions, tax questions, legal questions, workplace relations, do try and get professional support, look for free resources online. I know that times are tight. People don’t want to be paying for things if they can avoid it. But look for support online. But ultimately, we’re dealing with very serious circumstances here and you should get the right professional advice.

    So, that’s what this is not. What it is is this, I, like a lot of you, am the founder and owner of a business. Now, our business has been very fortunate in the sense that we started as a small business, as a micro-business, just me. And we’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve grown to be a business of now 900-plus people across a couple of countries. We have had a second dose of fortune in that. During the crisis, of all the different things that one could be doing in business, you could be in hospitality, retail, you could own an airline, frankly, all of those things are going to see new significantly sideswiped by what’s occurring during COVID-19 crisis.

    Now, for us, what it has meant is that we have been fortunate in a way in that what we do for a living in that we help with workplace relations issues has become very much part of the thing that people need help with at the moment in running their businesses. So, we’ve been able to step up and help. And in a weird and twisted way, the crisis has been quite defining for us in that it has helped us reassess our purpose. It’s helped us internally to really feel good about what we do and that is helping people out with their crisis and seeing what we can help them find a pathway through it.

    So, really it’s me, first and foremost, as a business owner telling you what I’m doing here, as a business owner, giving you insights into that, whether that be what we’re doing about JobKeeper and how we’re finding our information and making our decisions through to what we’re doing with our own staff, how we’re planning through the crisis and so forth. And then also when it comes to workplace relations, what I am is a workplace relations specialist, and I can give you some insights into the technical aspects of workplace relations. Now that’s what this is. Underlying that is absolutely for free, no obligation to join Employsure whatsoever. And I hope you find it of some use.

    On that note, I’m going to turn to talk to what we’ve been doing at Employsure for the last couple of months, just to give you an update on that. No marketing spiel, just what’s happened to me as a business owner during that. I’ve told you the good bit, which is we found ourselves very relevant during the crisis. The bad bit per employee or the challenging bit for us has been our client base is very, very predominantly small business. So, it is exactly the kind of guys like yourselves are we watching. The number of clients we’ll be watching now: cafes, childcare centers, gyms, all of these businesses that have been really hit hard during the crisis.

    Some of our clients have really thrived during the crisis, but it’s having to monitor the big business risks for us has been whether our clients could carry on paying our bills. I’m going to give you a bit of an insight into that. Because I think it actually tells us quite an interesting story about where small businesses in Australia are at the moment. I’ll give you a hint. I don’t think it’s maybe as a bad news is as we might read in the media.

    But what has happened for Employsure over the last couple of months is this, is we had this huge take-up of how many people needed advice in the early days of COVID coming through into JobKeeper, people trying to understand how to implement JobKeeper with their workforce. “How do I do Jobeeper enabled stand-downs?” for example. You might remember me talking about making sure that you weren’t burying your head in the JobKeeper sand.

    It’s a phrase you’ll hear me bang on about today. Because I still think people are doing it. And trying to help people get out of that stage zero, where they were buried or where they were in denial about the COVID-19 crisis, moving into stage one, which was crisis management. You’ll remember that here at Employsure, I implemented a thing where at half 8 every morning, I meet with my local board of directors and we have a very contained crisis management meeting. We talk about nothing but any immediate reactions that we need to make. So, for example, when we had to close our office again in Melbourne a week or so ago, we worked through those sorts of things in there.

    Over the last couple of months, there have been days where that meeting has taken no more than a minute. And there have been other days where it’s taken its full half an hour. But we have kept the discipline of doing absolutely every single day. We never got carried away thinking that there was a crisis that had ended and we could all just go back to whatever our day jobs were. We’ve absolutely kept that discipline. And so, crisis management remains part of our DNA here and we’re continuing at day to day.

    And in that vein, I continue here as well. Whilst I gave up on you guys at the end of May and stopped talking to you daily, I didn’t with our staff. I still send our staff a message every single day updating them on what’s happening, both to themselves directly, depending on where they’re located, but also so that people can understand what their colleagues are going through.

    So, we’ve got quite a diverse range of experiences at the moment in that our guys down in Victoria are obviously having a very different experience now of the crisis than our team over in New Zealand. Our team over in New Zealand, we’d hoped actually to keep everybody on treated the same. We were going to manage our offices and workplaces and so forth in the same way but we’ve had to diverge and say, “New Zealand, great, things are going really well for you. You’re back to public events and social distancing is now a thing of the past. You can actually come into the office.”

    Hope that it will stay that way. We’ll monitor it carefully. But compare that to Victoria and we’ve had to diverge our strategies. So, we’ve been dealing with those things day to day in that half-hour meeting in the morning, and then speaking to our staff once a day as well.

    The second phase of the COVID-19 crisis for us is planning. And we continue to have a meeting every second week with that local group directors. It’s purposely a different time of day, very separate from crisis management. And what we do in that meeting, you might remember, is that we’ve set out and prepare for the worst, but plan for the best business scenario. Two models, which basically say if things are going as bad as we can possibly imagine, that’s what our business looks like, and if things are going as well as we can possibly imagine, that’s what it looks like.

    And what we measure to understand, whether it’s where we are between those two lines, the good and the bad or the best and the worst, is what we call a paying client number. So, we have overall across Australia and New Zealand, we have about 27,000 small businesses that subscribe to our services. And what we’re monitoring carefully is how many of those people continue to pay bearing in mind that we have offered our clients that need financial support during the crisis but also need continued support on workplace relations issues. We’ve offered them a number of options, including things like payment holidays.

    So, we would say how many people are we hearing from a day that need a payment holiday? And of course, a number of those payments holiday started three months ago. We gave them a three-month holiday and they’ve been starting to come up or starting to pay again, essentially.

    So, we’d been carefully monitoring that to understand whether those businesses that were in real strife, A, did use our services during that time? Did we actually help them out? And B, can they now start to pay again? Do they need any more support? What do we do about that? So, we monitor that very carefully against things like how many new businesses sign up to our service each day in order to give us this paying client number.

    And we are between that best and worst-case scenario line where we’re probably about 10% of the best and pleasingly quite a distance off the worst. And I don’t say that as a matter of sort of, in any way, popping champagne corks here and giving you any glee where I’m sure a number of you are suffering far worse than a 10% decline. But the reason I’m telling you that is, this is two things. First, I think that it gives us a bit of hope in that we modeled for a certain volume of clients that, first of all, need financial support and second of all, never be able to start paying us again. And actually the number of people ever asked financial support was much, much lower than we modeled.

    So, and I think our modeling was pretty realistic. We thought that’s what was going happen, or at least we were preparing for that possibly happening. And it didn’t. We still daily get cases in, but we don’t have a huge volumes of them. Perhaps more encouragingly, of those that we gave support to and are now coming to the end of those payment holidays and things like that, about 70% are now paying again. So, these are not businesses we will worry that if you were in a position where you needed financial support you may never pay again. And that’s going to be the case. It looks like about 30% to 20% of the time. So, 7 out of 10 businesses that were 3 months ago in such dire straits, they needed our help in that regard, and now we’re able to pay again. And that seems like pretty positive news for me economically.

    The other bit of really positive news is that our sales have incrementally improved over the time of the crisis, such in June. Quite oddly, to be honest, I’m not quite sure the reasoning for this, we ended up having our best ever sales day at the end of June. Now, those things, again, give me the sense that there is more than hope in small business land. That in fact, there is some really good underlying currents and sentiments that tell me that sometimes what you read in the press can be much more negative than the reality. You must find this certainly, you know, when you read about what’s going on and then you speak to people with the experience people are having is quite different often there in what you read in the paper.

    So, our experience is that small business is doing okay. I’m not going to say doing brilliantly, there’s clearly some underlying challenges ahead, and my hope is that the extension of JobKeeper at least assists with those challenges. And what my hope isn’t is that this extension of JobKeeper creates false hope or leads to people doing the wrong thing and burying their head in the JobKeeper sand again.

    So, that’s the planning bit of Employsure, For the really keen viewers of this, you might remember, there was one further stage of managing through the crisis, and that was to look at opportunities. We’ve been living here under this mantra of we want to thrive, not survive. We’re really trying to finish the crisis as strongly as we can, bouncing out of it in a way that means we’re actually a better business than we were, even if our short-term results don’t show it, but when we become a better business than we were previously. And we have a monthly session where we go through those opportunities.

    We’re now quite far ahead in implementing the changes that we need to start making some of the benefits of that. So, you know, for example, we’ve changed the way we work in our offices already, we also changed the underlying approach to flexible work with our staff. We’ve announced that to our staff, it seems to have had a really good, positive reaction, trying to balance that carefully against people that have now been working at home for months and maybe quietly, really not liking that, but they haven’t told us yet about it. So, we’re taking better care of that.

    We have worked out ways to make quite significant cost savings for us in things like travel that we’re implementing. Some also are some quite exciting technology changes. So for example, we worked out how to better meet and engage with new clients using technology during the crisis. And we’ve rolled out a version of that, which should help us sign up new business more efficiently as well in the coming weeks and years.

    So, there’s been quite a bit going on at Employsure. Things that I might sort of health check on the business is that we’re doing well. We’re not doing brilliantly. I’m still very circumspect about the economy. I’m worried about what happens to small businesses going forward. But right now, the sentiment seems better than what I read in the newspapers. And I feel like I’ve got a better look at it because, like you guys, I’m fundamentally a business owner, but I also work with small businesses day to day. And this is what I’m seeing. So, little bit of good news in there but you haven’t come to me purely for economic forecasting.

    You want to talk about the kind of challenges that you’re facing. And we’ve mentioned the word JobKeeper, the made-up word, JobKeeper. And just can talk a little bit about JobKeeper 2.0, what that means from a workplace relations standpoint. The starting point for this is the same as it was for JobKeeper 1.0. This has not been passed into legislation yet. It really quite frustrates me when I read, as I have done, what’s otherwise quite a useful fact sheet on the treasury website.

    And I expect you to go and order, urge you to go and have a look at that. That’s where I’m getting my information from. I don’t have any better source of information than that. That’s the reality that we’re all moving quickly, again, trying to update on things. And I’m going through this and critically analyzing it and trying to work out for me, as a business owner, what does that mean? Where are the likely problems? What are the sorts of things that we might be asked about from a workplace relations perspective?

    And look, it’s good news. The subsidy looks like it’s going to be extended, but if you read this, the language is though it has been, and that’s all definitely going to happen, and it’s going to happen in exactly the way that it is set out here. Now, what we all know from JobKeeper 1.0 is that, ultimately, it went through and was legislated, but there were lots of little bits and questions that got asked all the way through about eligibility and problems with defining… And the legislation and the rules, which followed that legislation, even once they came out, they weren’t completely clear. But it was quite different from what was said by the prime minister and the treasurer in the early days when they announced it as though it was just in place straight away.

    And remember the world’s changed again. There was a press release from Josh Frydenberg yesterday talking about economic doomsday yesterday. And the reality is he might, therefore, find that there’s more friction when it comes to passing this through parliament as to whether this is money that the government should responsibly carry on paying out. Who knows? I don’t know. My hope is that it gets passed very quickly.

    But as a business owner, I’m not, neither thinking that I’m going to get JobKeeper 2.0 nor am I completely discounting it on the face of this. I can tell you as a business owner that, on the face of this, it tells me that I’m not going to get it. We won’t…when you look at the, what they say, the requirements will be in terms of the 30% downturn test. We won’t qualify for that. It’s no longer on a projection.

    Apparently, it’s going to be based upon actual performance in the June and September quarters, and then the December quarter as well. And we won’t, as a business, qualify for that. But I’m looking at it and I’m waiting to see, and all I’d say to you at very high level is going to have a read of the fact sheet, go and speak to your accountant, have a chat with them, but don’t make conclusive decisions and never look at JobKeeper 2.0 again, because it might change as it goes on.

    There’s also going to be a whole niche of questions that relate to workplace relations, like, okay, one of the new tests under here is this 20-hour- per-week test for certain workers, they get a lower JobKeeper amount. It looks like that test is going to be based upon how many hours they worked in February 2020.

    Now, there’ll be all sorts of questions that come from that. What if my person was on sick leave? What if they were away on annual leave of some sort. All sorts of different things I know are going to come out and they’ll probably start coming through the questions here. And some of those will be questions, you need to go and speak to your accountants about, they won’t know the answer either, by the way, because this isn’t a rule yet. It’s just a proposed policy. And some of them are going to be workplace relations questions. I’ll try and help you out with as well.

    So, that’s what I’m seeing in JobKeeper at the moment is don’t either get excited nor should you panic about it. I saw one question came through our social channels prior to this saying, why is it that childcare centers seem to be getting cut out of this all the time? What does it mean there? Because they’ve had…and it is mind bafflingly difficult what’s going on in childcare centers, I would say.

    There was childcare subsidy and it was the additional childcare subsidy. Then there was the transitional payment to the 27th of September, then JobKeeper was taken away in June. No one’s talked yet. To my knowledge, and I’ve looked around trying to find more information as to what the proposal is for childcare centers post 28th of September when JobKeeper and the transitional subsidy finish. It seems a bit like that whoever made the decision is trying to exclude or to exclude childcare centers, tied their shoelaces together and is now tripping all over it. Yeah. So, let’s hope there’s some sense that prevails in that.

    I know I’ve talked to my son’s childcare center. I’ve talked to the managers there, and it’s become a full-time job trying to understand subsidy and funding for them, which is a disappointment really. I think, like I say, they’ve tied their shoelaces together and I hope that through this there’s some sense seen, and the childcare centers are treated in a slightly a simple way in alignment with other businesses. Because one of the great things I think about JobKeeper 2.0 is that they haven’t tried to slice and dice it on the face of the policy that may change when it goes to legislation by industry. I was really worried for our clients in that what we were going to hear is that for example, hospitality and retail got extra help, but the wholesalers and suppliers to those industries didn’t.

    So it was just going to be next to impossible, I felt, to start dissecting the economy to say who was deserving of extra help and not. And let’s not forget, I think we’ve all been quite placid really in our response of saying that someone somewhere has fairly arbitrarily just decided that 30% is the cutoff point for businesses with turnover less than a billion. I mean, that’s actually pretty bloody arbitrary and unfair, frankly. What happens going forward, if you’re a business and maybe this is Employsure that has suffered a 25% downturn, but your competitor around the corner happens to suffered a 31% downturn. They suddenly get a big whack of support for their wages for another 6 months, but the 25% downturn person doesn’t. To me, it doesn’t make much sense. The only way I can comfort myself with it is to say that it’s just bloody hard to get this thing right.

    You know, and in fairness, the government’s trying and they’ve put in a relatively simple policy which hopefully will turn into some legislation, but there will always people and up on the wrong side of treatment, you know, they showed in their JobKeeper report, the 25% of JobKeeper recipients at the employee level received more money than they would have done had they just been doing their normal hours, 25%, there’s about a million people, 25% of people that are getting better pay.

    So, this is where my worry creeps back in about what lies ahead for us as small businesses and what we’re going to do economically here. We basically had an economy of people have been getting a bonus, a big lump of them, 25% of them, 1 in 4 people getting JobKeeper were getting more money than they used to.

    And no wonder there has been some perhaps spike or maybe false hope in things like retail and people going out and buying things. Chuck that on top of the fact that they were able to access their super early, and you’ve got people that were walking around with $20,000, they’ve never had $20,000 in their pocket and they’re getting 1500 bucks a fortnight. There was this artificiality about how well they were doing.

    So, there is a risk that there’s a bubble that’s going to get burst there. But clearly, in that circumstance, that seems to me that 25% of people probably unfairly benefited from JobKeeper. We saw some of the workplace relations, problems that flowed from that, people refusing to come in and do hours, but expecting to get JobKeeper. We’ve had calls going through the roof about those sorts of issues.

    What do I do with someone, they won’t come into work? They tell me it’s not safe for them to come into work. They still expect me to give them JobKeeper, do I discipline them? How do I manage the situation? Going back to some of these first principles that we’ve talked about here of making sure that you are controlling the narrative with your staff and how to speak to them.

    I’m just going to finish on that concept of controlling the narrative before we go into questions. The reason I talk about controlling the narrative is that so many employment relations problems, workplace relations problems, start with communication. And one of the things that you’ll be struggling with right now is trying to understand what on earth to communicate to your staff about JobKeeper. So, as I’ve said to you, to use Employsure as an example, I don’t think on the face of the policy that we will qualify for JobKeeper beyond the end of September. Tied to JobKeeper are a series of workplace relations rights and obligations that sit between employers and employees.

    One really crucial thing that we’ve talked about in here before is this concept of a JobKeeper-enabled stand down. And that gives me as an employer, a form of unilateral right to reduce the amount of employee hours that someone works. Now, if at the end of September, for Employsure, my rights in that regard stops. But I’m not entirely sure about that because this thing hasn’t been legislated yet, and maybe they decide that those rights do continue even if I can’t get paid JobKeeper and so forth. There’s a myriad of things going on.

    What do I do to communicate that to my staff now? How do I explain to them what we’re going to be doing going forward? And that’s really hard. There’s not an answer to it other than to transparently talk to your staff and say, “This is what I think is happening at the moment. We don’t know yet what the legislation says. If this happens, this is what I expect.”

    And all I can urge now is what I used to urge back in May, and I probably haven’t followed myself at all times, but it’s a clear, consistent, and concise communication to your staff. Clear is really bloody hard when all you’ve got is a fact sheet from the government that isn’t legislation. You don’t know if those rules are actually going to end up being correct.

    What happens when someone, let’s say, for example, I think this is going to be a classic workplace relations one, someone normally works more than 20 hours a week, over the course of February, they worked less than 20 hours a week for some reason. Right now, they’re working for you for 38 hours a week. But you, for some reason, only get the lower JobKeeper subsidy for them because of the February period. So, you’re out of pocket in a way that you wouldn’t be.

    And so, there’s going to be all sorts of unfairness again about JobKeeper, but I think probably we can all agree that to a large degree, JobKeeper has been a good, good thing for us all. I don’t know whether it’s been the lifeline that perhaps is portrayed as being, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s quite right from what I’m seeing with business that, but for JobKeeper, none of us would be in existence, but it’s certainly been a helpful effect.

    So, turns out I still like the sound of my own voice talking for significant periods of time, sort of missed that, got off my chest. Stewie, should we do…? I suspect there might, I don’t know if there’s been a lot of questions today or not. We’ll give them a go and see if they are. If not, let’s mix them up.

    Male: You look [inaudible 00:38:45]. That said, great to see you back here.

    Ed: I’m here. Like we used to.

    Male: Let’s start with the comment from Karen. You haven’t aged a day. Great news to see you back.

    Ed: Thank you. That’s the just-for-men hair dye. [Inaudible 00:38:56]

    Male: And Ed, this question from Charmaine, seems to sum up a bit of a narrative coming through today. “I had a business-critical member, a manager on JobKeeper, our only one, who resigned to take another job. I need to replace them to keep the business running during our second lockdown, but we still need the support of JobKeeper to pay for them. Are there any special provision provisions for this, that is JobKeeper, to be transferred to another staff member for the exact same role?”

    Ed: So do any sense, the staff member number one gets JobKeeper at the moment?

    Male: And resigned to take another job.

    Ed: And staff member number two is going to do their job.

    Male: They need to secure another job member to replace job number one, do they transfer JobKeeper to the second staff member?

    Ed: So, from a workplace relations standpoint, you can go out and recruit that person. But they’re not going to have continuity of service for purposes of JobKeeper, it would be my understanding, but probably get that checked with your accountant.

    Male: Yup. Kelly says, “Welcome back, Ed. Great to hear your voice again. Can you give us your take on the casuals entitled to annual leave and sick leave situation, please?”

    Ed: I can, not without getting annoyed, but I’ll try. So, I’ve sort of casually named dropped on here before that I’ve been lucky enough to meet the guys that set up WorkPac, which is the business that’s been subject to this litigation from one of its employees, casual employees who sued WorkPac for…basically saying, “Look, I know that you’ve given me casual loading as an employee, casual employee, but I’ve worked for you on the basis… On such a basis, I think I’ve worked regularly enough and with such consistency that you should have to pay me accrued annual leave.”

    And the answer to that question, not just in that case actually, but in a prior one as well has been, yes, that’s right. And notwithstanding casual loading, you’ve got to pay leave on top of it. The reason everyone’s up in arms about it, and it’s quite a scary proposition is this, is that just as a fundamental starting point, a lot of you that have watched and stayed will have casual staff somewhere in your business. We all know that if you find good staff members, you tend to try and give them some form of consistency in their work and keep them about. And there are different reasons for being casual. It might be that’s all the employer wants to engage on the basis of because their needs fluctuate and go up and down. It might be because it works particularly for you because your desire to work fluctuates up and down.

    Now, that’s important for reason I’ll come back to in a moment. But basically what the decision says is that notwithstanding that you might have enter it into a two-way adult relationship about casual status that that agreement, if you like, can be overrun and overridden by the idea that if you work consistently, you can end up with a leave entitlement on top of the extra pay you were getting through casual loading, which was meant to compensate you for the absence of that leave entitlement anyway.

    So, you’ll all have people in your workplace that might fit within the description of having the consistency of service, which would lead to them being entitled to this extra lump of money. And if they’ve been with you for years, that can really stack up, you know, you’re talking about 20 days annual leave a year, which can really stack up over time and give you this big fat liability.

    Now, the big, big problem about it, which I don’t think has been wrangled well enough over in the media or by legal experts on this, is that this all came about in the middle of JobKeeper. Now, one of the things that you did in JobKeeper was essentially sign a document admitting that you had regular and systematic casuals in your workplace.

    So, anyone that’s getting paid JobKeeper in your workplace that is a casual is almost by letter of admission now, at this point in time, able to turn around and say, “Hang on a second.” You did that. And then a few weeks later, this Rossato decision came out, which says that, “For all those years, I’ve been a regular and systematic casual. I should probably have been accruing leave as well. So, you owe me a big lump of leave.”

    Now, I should say that that decision is going to be appealed. The status quo of the law until that appeal occurs, and it may well or may well not be overturned, is that you do potentially have that liability and you, therefore, need to get into this position of working out what the hell to do with your current staff. Do you pay out those liabilities? That wouldn’t be my recommendation at this time.

    Do you bury your head in the sand and hope that no one ever reads the newspapers and comes to you and says, “Maybe you owe me some money?” Again, wouldn’t be my recommendation at this time.

    Do you…? And this is starting to approach the sort of things I would recommend. You could, for example, use JobKeeper to perform an act of getting the employee to go on leave and you could pay them out through JobKeeper, using the JobKeeper money, as some of their accrued leave. And if you write a letter, and we’ve done a few of these letters for our clients, that if you write a letter being careful about it saying, “I’m not admitting that you are entitled to leave, but if you are, then essentially what we’re doing is saying we’re paying out through JobKeeper.” Of course, that only works if you don’t need the person to come into work and so on.

    But if an employee comes to you and says, “You owe me some money,” I’d be having a clear, concise, and consistent conversation with them about the fact this has gone to appeal, you’ll register interest in it, and you’ll come back to them once there’s clearer idea as to whether the decisions can be upheld.

    Now, they might not take that lying down and they say, “No, you owe me some money.” And in which case, I’d suggest that you do get some good workplace relations advice, because that stuff can get messy pretty quickly. Okay.

    Male: Time for one more?

    Ed: Yeah. Go and ask, we are on a roll today. We’ll do a few more extra minutes. I’m excited.

    Male: Let’s go. From Vicky, “With face masks now mandated in the stage three lockdown still in place, can we as a potential employer ask candidates to come into our office for a face-to-face interview? We would supply the face mask, but my concern is that a job interview may not tick the box for one of the four reasons to leave your home. Common sense tells me though that no government would stand in the way of someone seeking employment. What are your thoughts?”

    Ed: I love common sense is my thought. So, one of the reasons is work. Daniel Andrews has been particularly unclear on this in Victoria. And we went through this ourselves with, you might remember that what we had interpreted that stage, that the nationwide position in Australia, and we thought all the states were aligned on this was that you should work from home if that was reasonable for you to continue to do so. And we interpreted reasonable in a way that meant not just because you could log into a computer, but because, for example, you were able to work from home. You weren’t having distractions of housemates or children. You weren’t suffering mental health issues. Your performance wasn’t suffering.

    So, we started saying to our staff, “Let us know if you think it’s not reasonable to work from home and you can come in,” and a number did. In Victoria, Daniel Andrews, sort of excluded the word reasonable when he, I don’t know if you remember a few weeks ago before the second wave even…he started seeing numbers of people going into Melbourne city swell and he sort of yanked it back and said you must work from home if you can.

    So, and it’s a long way of getting to the point about the interview, but that seems to be the existing policy in Victoria, which is you must, if you can. And the answer to that, therefore, becomes incumbent on the employer. Can I interview this person remotely? Now, interviews can be done remotely. But they’re right at the edge of that.

    Because you might say, “I’m about to employ this person. I’ve got to meet them and speak to them.” Of course, make sure you’re absolutely clear on your social distancing and how you’re going to manage that interview. But I do agree with common sense that it’s right on the edge of can and therefore right on the edge of must, you could probably bring someone in. Ultimately, we want people to have jobs, don’t we?

    Male: Ed, this one Antoinette seems to sum up a little bit of the confusion around JobKeeper per se. Antoinette says, “Can we now add new employees? We had to put on a new person on to reduce fatigue. Business is still slow, but we need to look after our existing staff. But if we could now add the new person, it would be so helpful?”

    Ed: For JobKeeper?

    Male: Yeah. I’m assuming.

    Ed: Yeah. I mean, you can certainly add them as employees. Yeah, but you’ll have to pay for them yourself, but we can have a read of this, have a check of your accountant. I don’t know what JobKeeper 2.0 will say about when someone was meant to be employed in order to get the benefit of JobKeeper, whether it’s still going to be that first March date. I don’t know. You know, the position I can tell you here is that, for any employees that we have taken on after the cutoff date, we don’t get any JobKeeper for them.

    I can see Aaron over in Perth, one of our team over there, has told me that the prime minister’s failure… He’s obviously heard we’re back. He started do live stream. So, it’s just unashamedly competitive when it comes to viewer figures. There we go. I could see that we’re keeping numbers up here though. So, he’s obviously not got much to say.

    Male: Fair comment. This one from Christine, again, somewhat related to the previous one, “Can an employee who previously didn’t want to go on JobKeeper to start on JobKeeper now? Their Centrelink circumstances have changed due to their youngest child turning eight. So, they are getting less parenting payments. They are working less than 10 hours a week.”

    Ed: Accounting question, unfortunately.

    Male: Yeah. Okay. From Hong, “I have a question on how to deal with employees trying to use an accident or ‘my family member is sick’ as excuse not to come back to work while under JobKeeper the payment. Can you comment?”

    Ed: So it’s workplace relations question. That one. I’m sorry if I’m sounding a bit technical on this, but I just don’t want to tread into other people’s professional spheres. So on that, someone’s saying that they’re sick, it’s really is a workplace relations management issue you’ve got to go through. You may have a policy about sickness and absence and having to report it. And you may not.

    If you don’t have a policy that explains what to do about someone being sick, then what I would do is this is, is that I would ask that employee probably after a couple of days for them to provide a medical certificate, just to challenge softly whether they are in fact sick. If they’re genuinely sick, then you can’t require them to come into work.

    Male: From Debbie, does an employee on JobKeeper need to let you know that they’re going on a holiday?

    Ed: Does an employee…? Well, it’s the same, to guess, workplace relations question. Yes. They’re still employed. Therefore, in that way should strictly be available for work. I’m assuming there’s been some JobKeeper-enabled stand down, in which case you should still be communicating with each other, But yes, there should be because in principle they should be accessing their annual leave for that as well.

    Male: From Billy, “We have an employee who has just finished paid parental leave and therefore was not enrolled in JobKeeper. After parental leave, the employee was expected to return to work. However, we cannot come to an agreement with hours, what would be the next step as we do not believe we will qualify for the next round of JobKeeper?”

    Ed: So, again, a workplace relations question there, which is, how do you agree whether this employee is going to come back to work and twining that with what your obligations are during parental leave that employee in terms of keeping their job open? And, also if you haven’t done that or there’s been any variation consulting with them and so forth. So, it sounds as though there’s quite a lot of factual questions around that that I’d need to know to give you proper advice on what you should be doing.

    It’s a really risky minefield, guys, know, I’d see this cropping up quite a bit at the moment that, where you’ve had people away on something like parental leave, typically parental leave, and they’re seeking to come back now. But actually, in that time, as we all know, has been a very strange thing over the last few months.

    But then coming back now to a job that may well have significantly changed and you may find yourself thinking, “Oh, I haven’t consulted them about the fact that maybe their job as it was doesn’t exist anymore. How do I do that?” There’s a lot of complexity and a lot of risk around that, where someone’s been away and when they seek to come back, their old jobs are not available anymore. What do you do?

    Male: From Susan. “We had accrued annual leave on our JobKeeper as per Fair Work. Being a restaurant in Melbourne, we are now back in shutdown. Can I use the JobKeeper to pay the employees, their accrued annual leave, knowing that I still have to continue accruing this annual leave at their full-time loading? It starting to build up on the balance sheet.”

    Ed: Yes, and a workplace relations question again. You can use the JobKeeper directions to put someone on annual leave subject to them needing to have two weeks of annual leave in reserve. So, you’d have to look at each case individually, but yes, in principle.

    Male: Almost coming up to an hour, one more?

    Ed: Yeah, if it’s a good one.

    Male: Sonya, it says, “I have…”

    Ed: I thought you’d steal out… The only reason I started to speak to you normally so that they try and butter me up with one thing, we’ve not got any of that today?

    Male: It’s coming.

    Ed: It’s coming? Good. Good. I thought maybe we lost. We lost any spark.

    Male: It’s fine. It’s fine.

    Ed: I can see Anne suffering from volume. I’m sorry about that, Anne. But I hope maybe on the recording, it’s better. I’m sometimes criticized for having my voice is too low and animals are very good at hearing what I have to say, not always human. So maybe, if they’ve got any pets nearby, they might be able to help.

    Male: From Sonia. “I have WorkCover concerns. This is an area that has a massive impact on small business. Yet small business has no control over it. I’m not referring to an actual workplace incident. No problem with that. Are there any improvements in the pipeline to the WorkCover no-fault system? In my opinion, the current system boils down to company-funded Medicare, the industry loading claims cost, plus the massive future loading is a massive burden to carry. Are you aware of reviews/future improvements in that area?”

    Ed: I can’t say that I am, but what I will do is this, I’ll speak to one of our work health and safety specialists here. And we’ll get them to reply to you, just to see where we can help with that. But I can’t say that I’m aware of it. I can say that I’m aware of plenty of employers feeling frustrated though in that regard.

    Male: And just to wrap up with and bring back the spark, Ed?

    Ed: Good, good and some bit of ego. Why, I assume, is it not?

    Male: From Robin, she says…I’m assuming she, I shouldn’t assume. Robin says, “Welcome back, Ed. This is a great free service and I really appreciate it any time of the day.” And from Bull Paddock, began, “I’m Bull and you are much more interesting than the PM.”

    Ed: I’m good. Thank you. Thank you. That’s very kind. I should say there’s a couple of big… I’ve kept in touch with a number of you actually over the last couple of months and do reach out and chat to me. Tell me how your business is going. I’d love to hear a bit more about that. I’ve heard some great stories. I’ve heard some not so great ones, unfortunately, as well as some really good businesses that we were speaking to through this channel have just had overwhelming challenges. But let’s share that information, guys. A problem shared is a problem solved.

    I had a free resource that I’ve meant to plug quickly, which was a document that you’ll find on our website, which is an Infection Control Policy. Go and have a look there. If that’s something that you might want to use in your workplace, you’ll continue to see free resources on there, guys, if you need them. So, please go on the website and have a look. You’ll see that there’s a fancy new website with some pictures actually from this live stream. I think it’s so good. Nice to see you all see. See you on Friday.

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