Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: JobKeeper Eligibility Changes

Published August 07, 2020 Views: 13

07/08/20

In today’s #FridaysWithEd livestream, our Managing Director Ed Mallett covered JobKeeper eligibility changes, managing your business in lockdown, and handling your HR obligations

Transcript

  • Managing Through COVID-19 Crisis: JobKeeper Eligibility Changes

    Ed: Hi, everyone. Ed here for our Friday session, Fridays with me. So, I woke up this morning thinking to myself, “What on earth am I gonna talk about? How am I gonna fill an hour?” And then true to form the government has sorted that out for me. Let me just check, we’re okay?

     

    Female: Yeah, we’re fine.

     

    Ed: The government has sorted that out for me. And there’s been an announcement this morning about JobKeeper, what was 2.0 I guess is now 2.5 or something like that. And we need to have a chat about that as we go through the session. But I should just flag beforehand. I know, are we on any competing press conferences today?

     

    Stuart: Not that I’m aware…

     

    Ed: No, classic. Josh Frydenberg totally whipped out a list. You’ll notice that this time last week he thought he could compete with the 12:00 p.m. live stream that he’s gone to a 15 or something now. So, thank you, Josh, for conceding that. But here we are going through all things related to workplace relations in the crisis.

     

    I’m also gonna do a bit of a sprinkling of management reminders which I’ll put under the banner of HR just so that I can sound somewhat credible. Because I’m not sure I entirely know the book on management, I’m just telling you a bit about what I’m doing. And that may or may not be used to these sorts of use. So, please, take it or leave it as you see it.

     

    And I wanna talk first of all about the concepts of managing through the crisis broadly. And some of this stuff, well, most of it isn’t new if you’ve listened to any of these live streams before, but it bears reminding both myself and you guys of it, just so we stick to it. Because I think that there are some really classic examples in our society and environment today here and overseas of people not sticking to tight management disciplines and consequently making failings in the crisis.

     

    You might remember that early on we talked about how it employs sure, I run a management structure here which says that for anything that we do, we always start with the question of why. So, for any project, for any company decision-making process, we always start the question of why. What’s the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve here?

     

    So we have, first of all, the why. And then second to that, we say, “Okay, if that’s the purpose, how are we gonna achieve it?” That how might sometimes be called a strategy in business terms. Strategy, to be honest, with my first few years in business was one of those words I was a bit scared of. I didn’t really know exactly what it meant. It felt like a bit of some corporate-speak that didn’t have some substance to it.

     

    I’ve created, some agree, my own substance in it. So, strategy is really bloody simple. All it means is how you are gonna achieve your purpose. And then the third stage is what are the plans that you’re gonna implement to put into place that strategy? And internally here we call them our “what items.”

     

    So we say, “Why are we doing this? How are we gonna do it? What are we gonna do to achieve it?” Now, you must always or what we say internally, we must always keep going back to that why. Because otherwise, with time, you incrementally move away from things. And you would both end up ultimately not achieving your purpose but also choosing the wrong strategy and choosing the wrong plan or “what items” and you end up failing as a consequence.

     

    Now, I’ll give you an example of what I mean. And in my criticism of what we’re seeing, I think at a governmental level, here and overseas. You will remember that just about every Western economy that has a decent or decent-ish healthcare system was basically at the start of the crisis said their purpose, their why, was to protect the health service from being overwhelmed in order that we could carry on our lives as normally as possible. But they needed to protect the health service so that we didn’t have that catastrophic situation. Just checking, the sound’s okay, is it?

     

    Female: Yeah, we’re just getting some comments.

     

    Ed: Okay. Keep shouting out this problem but we’ll turn it up if there’s any more issues. But yeah, so countries were basically saying, remember, Australia was very vivid in this. It said, “We’re all about not overwhelming the health service.” That’s our “why,” we’ve got to keep the country functioning without overwhelming the health service.

     

    And when we went into a form of lockdown that was to stem the tide, flatten the curve, you remember that term used around the world. At some stage and even New Zealand, funnily enough, was in a flatten the curve strategy. Sort of, why, and how at the start, but at some stage, we kind of pivoted here and I don’t think we meant to.

     

    And, New Zealand definitely pivoted, and even the UK and other countries have sort of mushed it together, and they’ve completely forgotten their “why.” And they’re now doing things that we’re seeing in Victoria where the economy is getting closed down without that “why” being achieved. There is no risk to the health system that I’m aware of from what I hear from medical professionals I speak to, there’s never been any testing of the medical systems capacity.

     

    We’ve also got this very isolated state-based crisis at the moment. We’ve obviously got national capacity here to support that state if we needed to from a medical perspective. So it just seems completely bizarre to me that in our case here in Australia that Victoria has gone down this pathway of choosing a strategy that doesn’t connect to its purpose. So the “how” that is being deployed in Victoria, very strict lockdown, doesn’t relate to the “why.”

     

    And you’ll have heard Daniel Andrews say a number of times, “I had no choice in…” I mean, no offense, Daniel Andrews, but it’s a totally wimpy form of leadership that to say, “I had no choices” as though you’re blaming rather than leading. But he did have a choice. He had a choice to take an approach, which was connected to his “why,” he didn’t. He’s taken a choice, which ultimately, negatively impacts a lot of business owners.

     

    And that’s not to ignore the plight of people that are sick and dying and so forth. But ultimately, he’s used a sledgehammer again, a bigger sledgehammer than last time to crack this particular nut. He isn’t connecting his why and how. And consequently, the “what items” are all over the place. And the “what items” are things like which industries are gonna be locked down? How do I deal with that contradiction? How do I deal with the fact that certain businesses are allowed to be opened? And what about their supplies and ancillary services?

     

    And I’ll talk about some of the mush of those “what items” in a moment. But drawing back to why I’m using that narrative and that story, it’s not to have a bitch and moan about Daniel Andrews, although I snuck that in for good measure. It is to remind us as managers of our business that we can’t do the same as that. We have to attach ourselves to our “why” and stay disciplined. And discipline is probably the key term for this session in executing to that “why” through the “how” that links to it and through what items that relate to that “how.”

     

    So just to give you a sense of what or a reminder even as to our “why, how, what” at Employsure through the crisis. So I repeat as much as I can to try and get it into the system, into our business, into the narrative our staff that our “why” during the crisis is to achieve business success throughout the crisis and beyond.

     

    Not sexy, an ad agency wouldn’t get paid to come up with that. It’s pretty basic but it does what it says on the team. We’re trying to achieve business success throughout the crisis and beyond. In that route, so every decision I consequently make, I say, “Does it actually go to that? Should I have this meeting? Does it help me with that? Should I instruct people to do this? Should I take this tactical decision?” I relate it all back to that and try to with discipline. We all slip but I try to draw myself back.

     

    The “how” is again, very simple, which is for us has always been prepare for the worst but plan for the best. And that means…and that’s a real discipline that fortunately standing is in pretty good stead even with the Victorian crisis at the moment because we didn’t get carried away in the period before that thinking it was all done and dusted.

     

    We kept preparing for the worst, kept preparing for the worst. So actually, our planning meetings, our planning cycle has been relatively easy in the sense that we’ve always thought we were gonna do worse and we have, and therefore we feel like we’re in a positive frame of mind and succeeding and so forth.

     

    So that’s our how. Our “what items” are back to the thing that I talked about last week, which is that planning sequence of making sure I’m not in stage zero, denial, dragging me, and fellow colleagues out of that situation. If I see people descending into it, stage one, [inaudible 00:09:12] every morning crisis meeting, working through particular plans, what we did to shut off Victorian office as we saw the crisis involve, looking at things like, do we have permitted workers in our business? And I’ll come back to that for Victoria in a second. What is a permitted worker? How do we go about applying for them if we do? That’s all going on in that crisis management.

     

    The planning is looking at the numbers coming through, see how we’re performing against our forecasting, and making more midterm decisions based on that. And then the final stage was this we said previously, is that we start looking for opportunities out of the crisis. What are we seeing that we could improve upon? So, I’ll give you a minor one of one of those.

     

    So I’ve got a number of really talented employees that are now stuck at home in Victoria. And I’m trying to work out an opportunity of how I can make sure they’re really busy and productive and we’re not losing their talent because of their inability to go out. I’m even considering things like flying them up to Sydney and allowing them to quarantine for 14 days if that’s permitted. I don’t know yet. I’ve got to have a look at it.

     

    I don’t know if they’d want to, those sorts of things that I’m considering as opportunities. So, one of the ways in which I use, and note, I read about it in a good book is how to make sure you stick to your “why, how, what” as a business, is to try and create or introduce mantras into the language that you use your business. Remembering that all leaders are storytellers in a business, and mantras really help you tell a story.

     

    So, one of the things…I’ve got a few mantras I use with the business. And a mantra is nothing fancy. It’s just a quirky name for a little catchphrase that really just reminds everyone of our “why, how, what” if you like. So, the one I’m using at the moment, which I don’t think is particularly original, but I’ve seen other people use it as we talk internally about this being our time to shine.

     

    We are uniquely placed in this crisis and that what we do is pretty central to the crisis. And that gives us an opportunity to help businesses, and that’s what we love doing. So, we talk about our time to shine. I sign off every email to the business as a whole with “time to shine.” I notice other people in the business start to use it in their messaging and so forth.

     

    And it becomes a really useful mantra and catch call, like a call-to-arms for the business. Other ones that we’ve had is that when we talk about how you’re not gonna be judged on how well you started this crisis but how will you finished it. And our duty is, therefore, to finish strong. So, “finish strong” has become another mantra that we use and talk about and we’re just repeating those mantras to make sure the messaging is getting deep into the muscle of your team. So they remember exactly what the “why, how, what” is.

     

    So, I feel a bit like I’m cramming my own version of some sort of corporate-speak in there, I’m probably confusing everyone. So, that may be useful. It’s certainly useful to me even if it’s not to you because it reminds me what I’ve got to do, and reminds me that whatever I do for the rest of the day, I stick to my “why.”

     

    So, stay disciplined, keep that. If you’re not disciplined, your business won’t be. If you have dropped your guard and your back in stage zero, denial, and you’re frustrated, and you’re blaming everyone except for yourself, your business will see that, your staff will see that, and it will impact your business.

     

    Now, try and think of it like this, and I say specifically to the Victorian business. For every moment of annoyance you had at the way in which this has been handled for you and the financial impact it’s having for you and so on, just pause and say to yourself, “Knowing everything I do now, is that a bigger or a smaller problem?” Is what you face today a bigger or a smaller problem than the one that you faced on the very first day you started the business.

     

    And to be honest, I’ll be amazed if any of you think that the problem today, bearing in mind you got out of the ground, you got your business up and running, you are running a business that has, hopefully, had levels of success at different times and is probably suffering at the moment. But is the level that you’re at now, the problems that you consequently face better or worse than the problems that you faced on that first day?

     

    And I’d be surprised if any of you thought today was worse than the first day. Or the doubt that you have today is worse than the first day. If you do, you probably should be in business anyway because it sounds to me a bit like you quit. And really what you should be doing is looking back and saying, “You know what? My world was riddled with risk at that stage, Daniel Andrews and whatever he might do to me was a minor consideration. I didn’t know if anyone’s gonna buy my product, turn up to my cafe, send their kids to my childcare center,” whatever it might be but I still did it and not know it, you didn’t know all of that and you still got on with it.

     

    So, now you know so much more than that and you’re in a much position, better position to sit behind the control panel and control your way through this. Own the crisis, don’t sit there and be frustrated by it. So, I’ve talked a bit about Victoria, and I think it’s relevant to talk more specifically about it for a couple of reasons.

     

    One, obviously, a number of you are watching, listening from Victoria, about 20% of our client base here at Employsure is from Victoria. And second to that, we may well be suffering what you guys are suffering in good time. And some of the remedies that you’re getting or support that you’re getting for that suffering, we may well start to see as well.

     

    For example, pandemic leave, and so forth. So I’m just gonna talk about a couple of things in Victoria. First of all, the permitted workers scheme, which is causing quite a lot of frustration and confusion in Victoria. I think while I’m reading the paper, by the way, there’s probably more frustration and confusion than the reality because we’ve been through all of this before in some manner or whatever.

     

    I know the Victorian locked down sterner and tougher than it was before. But when I pick up the paper, and it says businesses don’t know what’s going on, and this is a contradiction, and this doesn’t make any sense. And that doesn’t…you know, all of that is worrying, not thinking, it’s really a form of stage zero denial with business owners just criticizing policy.

     

    No one including Daniel Andrews claims that these policies are perfect. They’re made quickly. They’re made with an intent of doing something. And as I’ve already said, I have a view that there is a way in which it could have been done differently. But there are errors in it. And really if all you’re doing is picking holes in it, you’re worrying not thinking and you’re not on your business managing it through the crisis, which is your duty.

     

    So, get yourself out of the errors and start looking at the practical reality of this. And that is the object of what Daniel Andrews is doing, and is said he’s doing, is to try and minimize and reduce the crisis in Victoria. So, his “why” seems to be that. I think as I said, I think he’s lost sight of the health service why but he seems to be just trying to reduce it.

     

    And he, in doing so, I don’t think companies are gonna be prorated as much as they are waving around the banner of fines and risks and so on for trying to do the right thing. So one of the questions I’ve heard quite a lot is, construction companies saying, “Am I allowed to drive between work sites? If my work site is permitted to function, am I allowed to drive between them? I’ve got more than one worksite.”

     

    And my answer to that is there is the permitted workers’ scheme which you essentially self-certify and will then get fined if you’ve done it wrong. But if you’re trying to stay within the boundaries of the rules and your work sites are operating within those rules, then my view is generally that you’re not gonna get in trouble for that. That’s just you trying to do the right thing.

     

    No one’s trying to create circumstances where you’re prevented from trying to work within the rules. So just what does that mean for permitted workers? What is a permitted worker? The answer is that they are doing a permitted activity. They’re approved to do on-site work. And third of all, they cannot work from home. Now, the bit that’s really confusing is somewhere between one and two there.

     

    What is a permitted activity and what’s approved on-site work? And the reason it’s mainly confusing, it’s sort of simple enough for those that fall squarely within the context of the pretty lengthy rules about each different industry. But where it becomes particularly confusing is around the fact that so many businesses are interconnected in so many ways. And I’ll give you an example of Employsure.

     

    So, we, as part of what we do, is we do health and safety support to our clients. Now, they have expressly said in the rules around permitted workers that employer associations who in many respects are a sort of competitor of ours, it’s their expressly stated in the rules to be permitted to go out to give health and safety advice to businesses.

     

    And so, we’re looking at that, and saying, “Okay, well, it doesn’t say, employee associations plus Employsure,” surely, the intent of the rule is not to give someone that we compete with a competitive advantage over us because we’re a private organization. So, surely, we can therefore apply for that permission slip essentially as well.

     

    And that’s the approach we’ve taken, which I think is a pragmatic one. To say, we are able to apply for permitted workers. And I think I’ve got a decent leg to stand on, to say the rule expressively articulates that we can go out and help with the health and safety. Well, those specific groups can. They’re not doing it because they like those specific groups, per se. They’re doing it because there’s a need to help with health and safety. And that’s what we do.

     

    We don’t want people getting injured at work because they haven’t been able to get people like us on-site to come and manage the health and safety issues for them. So, try and look at it pragmatically like that. What I haven’t done is sat in a stroke behind my desk and said, “I can’t believe they name our competitors, but not us. It’s outrageous. What I’ll do is I’ll spend half of today writing a letter to a politician,” which will never get answered.

     

    And I said, “No, let’s just get on with it. Apply for those self-certify for those permitted workers and we’ll go from there.” The more important issue actually for me is not whether their workers are permitted but whether my team, my employees are persuaded to go and do that work. There are understandably people worried at the moment.

     

    And my position, therefore, is I’m actually operating at a level above the rules instead of scraping through on the rules. What I’m saying to staff is, “Do you want to do this? We will obviously take caution and care, social distancing, we will go…” And we also see that this is a responsibility of ours to show our clients what can be done, how they can operate within the boundaries of the rules.

     

    But not everyone wants to do it in our staff, and that’s fine by me. They’re not gonna be judged or criticized for that. But those that are happy to do it will go out and do it. Just pausing on that in terms of what we see our responsibility, and you might have equivalent ones in your businesses. We’re sort of…we’ve always seen ourselves as being both a sword and a shield to our clients.

     

    So, we’re a shield in that we protect them but we’re a sword in the sense that we need to be able to show our clients how they can operate at this time. And if we just give up operating and just say, “Okay, the rules are so bloody hard to understand. I won’t try and work them out. I’ll just shut up shop for a bit,” then we’re not doing our duty to our clients, which is to show them and help them through the crisis.

     

    So, I might get some questions about permitted workers. You’ll see in the fines that are being thrown around is that if you issue a permitted worker’s permit, that’s 100K fine for a business if they do it incorrectly. Again, think about whether you’re acting within the spirit of the rules, which are really quite hard to understand at points rather than being overly technical about them, would be my suggestion. And there’s 2K and 10K fines to people that are found to be out in breach of the rules as well.

     

    So, there are fines there. You’ll hear stories about them being issued as well. Even the police has a PR team who will be making sure those stories are in the media to make sure that we’re getting an appropriate messaging about that. It doesn’t mean that if you’re out trying to do the right thing that you’re gonna get in trouble all the time. That’s not the intent of the rules.

     

    What about paid pandemic leave? So, what we saw during the week was, first of all, Scott Morrison came out and said, “Okay, great to see that Vicotria are basically proposing a form of disaster payment to certain workers.” Actually, the federal government will pick up the bill for citizens and residents in Victoria, you’ll pick up the bill for visa all of those, and when they came out and confirm that on Wednesday.

     

    What is this disaster payment? It’s being labeled paid pandemic leave, it’s probably a bit generous for it. I’m quite wary of paid pandemic leave. I really don’t like the idea of this very loose connection between the crisis and people turning up to work. I think it’s a really dangerous connection to make. It doesn’t feel like a very scientific connection.

     

    There’s lots of talk about how the aged care clusters were caused by people turning up to work when they were sick. That might well be true but is that really a causal connection between that and them not having paid leave and so forth? There’s all sorts of reasons they could have turned up to work being a carrier and passed only on this, not least they may not known that they were a carrier.

     

    So, giving someone 14 days paid leave isn’t gonna solve that. And I’m really worried about this snowballing into a national system that actually the government’s not paying for, but we as business owners are. Because people other than casuals, but people already get a hefty amount of sick leave in Australia. A hefty amount of sick leave that employers are paying for.

     

    And I don’t want to see that. And, frankly, if they haven’t been pulling tons of sickies, they should have decent amounts of accruals that they can rely on if they really need it. But instead, what you’ve got the risk-off here is an extra form of sick leave that people can potentially use as an excuse not to return to work. That’s not true of the Victorian system so far because A, it’s the government paying not us. B, it’s not the rule about who gets the pay, it’s actually quite tight.

     

    So first of all, the Department of Health and Human Services has to mandate that you should be quarantined or self-isolating. So it’s not just a case of you bringing your boss and saying, “I feel a bit sick today. I probably shouldn’t come in. I’m therefore getting paid pandemic leave.” They won’t get it unless the Department of Health and Human Services has mandated they should self-isolate.

     

    They’ve also got to basically have no other sick leave available and no other income. So, if they’re on JobKeeper already, you’ll just carry on getting that from the government and passing it over. So, really, it does narrow down to mainly true casual workers. So, it’s quite a narrow band of people that will actually get it.

     

    And let’s hope that if it starts to be rolled out into other states, and it’s been said by the federal government then they might do that, that we keep the narrow-band on it and the employers don’t end up picking up the tab on it. I do think it’s a bit of a risk that it just becomes an extra cost on employers at this time. So, those are the rules around the disaster payment in Victoria.

     

    I just want to add on top of that, there’s a bit of confusion in the rules and it says you can’t access this disaster payment unless you’ve already exhausted your sick leave. Now, sick leave under the terms of the Fair Work Act is not payable to someone who is told by the government that they can’t turn up to work. That person isn’t sick. They don’t fit within the definition of the reason for personal leave in the Fair Work Act.

     

    So, you’re not obliged as an employer to pay someone who says, “Can’t come in today. I’m self-isolating,” even if it’s because the government tells them to. That was actually one of the reasons that paid pandemic leave first came into the narrative. People were worried that because a sick leave wasn’t broad enough to cover those employees, that they’d be all caught out. There seems to be in a bit of a bastardization that message at some stage.

     

    But you as an employer would not typically be responsible for paying someone sick leave if they were just required to self-isolate. That’s different, of course, to someone who turns up presenting symptoms and is sick in some format, which may well be COVID-19 but they haven’t been tested. They may well forward in the definition of not being fit for work and therefore getting sick leave.

     

    But that person versus the person that has to stay at home because their spouse or whoever else may have COVID is quite a different proposition. Or because, for example, as you had here in Sydney, you were in a particular restaurant on a certain night and you’re therefore required to self-isolate, that person’s not sick under the definition of the Fair Work Act.

     

    So there’s a bit on Victoria sick leave, pandemic leave. You guys might have some questions to that. A couple of things before we do turn to those questions. JobKeeper 2.5, as I’m calling it announced by the treasurer this morning. So, clearly what’s happened here is this, is that in-between the announcement about JobKeeper 2.0, which, by the way, is not law as yet. Has not been passed.

     

    Only marries up to what I said last week, which was don’t start behaving as though this is set in stone yet, it’s not. It hasn’t been legislated. Lo and behold a week later there’s quite a seismic change in it. In this case, the seismic changes in favor of the employers. It seems to be the case that people have made the point that there could be employers in Victoria who had quite a reasonable quarter to the end of July and then have suffered through it because of the lockdown crisis in Victoria.

     

    But because of the proposed requirement having two-quarters of assessment for JobKeeper 2.0, they wouldn’t receive it. So, all this seems to be doing is looking at the evolving crisis and trying to narrow that down so that really as it’s proposed at this stage, it’s not legislated. What they will do is assessed based on just the quarter to the end of September to see whether you had the downturn for the following to get JobKeeper for the following quarter.

     

    And then the quarter after that, they will check up until the end of the December quarter. So, it’s meant to expand it. I think the other probably more relevant thing in terms of Employment Relations advice, which is what I can give you guys is that the date upon which someone was employed, and therefore JobKeeper eligible, has moved from 1st March to the 1st July. So, people employed between that March and July window may well become JobKeeper eligible.

     

    So, what you’ll need to understand both from a permanent, full-time, part-time basis but also that the question, the ugly question of regular and systematic casuals will come up again, for anyone during that period to say, “Have they been a regular and systematic casual?”

     

    There’ll be a myriad of problems that come out of that because there was anything but regular and systematic behaviors in that period between March and July. So, you’re gonna be saying, “Am I looking at that period to those three months to understand whether that person was regular and systematic and therefore JobKeeper entitled? Do I cancel out that and look at the 12 months before the crisis started?”

     

    There will be a ton of questions. I can try and answer them today but you’re gonna hear me say a lot. This just hasn’t been legislated. They haven’t worked through these teething issues. And I will say though and just finishing on JobKeeper that whatever I’ve said just then about eligibility for employers is only me reporting what I read in the newspaper today.

     

    I’m not your accountant. If you need accounting advice, go and speak to your accountant. But if they’re any good, they’ll tell you what I’m telling you, which is there is no such thing as JobKeeper 2.0 yet. You’ve got to wait and see if it gets legislated. Son that’s JobKeeper. Pausing for breath before we go on to the questions.

     

    Remember this mantra as well guys. I’ve talked before about how to do communication to your staff. And I’ve talked about the three C’s in that communication which is being clear, consistent, and concise. And I think probably through JobKeeper 2.5 there’s a bit of an example of what happens when that goes wrong, and that the policy, because it…I don’t blame the government, they have to do this before they legislate it.

     

    They’re not clear about it. They say…they’ve said one thing, which was really quite hard to understand anyway. But they say as though it’s been done, it hasn’t. It’s got to be debated in Parliament. So there’s a lack of clarity about it. They’re not consistent, and that it’s just changed again this morning and it’s not concise. There’s gonna be a myriad of rules, and so on.

     

    And what you see through examples like that is confusion rather than confidence. So, it’s almost like if that’s an equation clear, plus consistent, plus concise, if you get it right, it equals confidence, if you get it wrong, it equals confusion. And if that’s the case, confusion in your staff is not a good thing. It creates doubt, it creates fear. And therefore people are not wanting to come back and work for you, all the other things I know people are straining with at the moment, you need to ask yourself, “Have I achieved those three C’s? Or is it my fault that they’re confused?”

     

    Because the opposite of confusion is that confidence which will come across in your staff, and it’ll also reflect in your business performance. If people are confident, they know what they’re doing, and they get on with it, and that will help your business ultimately. We all know how our businesses thrive, have confidence, both of our clients, but also of our staff. So, you wanna be really working hard to do clear, consistent, and concise advice communication. So, that’s it for me. Over to some questions from Stuart.

     

    Stuart: Thanks, Ed. And just about your opening statement about, are we competing with anyone as soon as you started speaking, so did Daniel Andrews.

     

    Ed: Did he? Oh, damn. Come on.

     

    Stuart: But also…

     

    Ed: He did, probably good news is he wouldn’t have heard me moaning about him.

     

    Stuart: There is an upside, right?

     

    Ed: Yeah, that exactly. So, good. I don’t need to apologize. He’ll never hear that.

     

    Stuart: Never.

     

    Ed: Yeah.

     

    Stuart: And also just have a [inaudible 00:33:07] on your comments about repetition of message. This from Pat, a client from Flexible Training Solutions. “I was regularly sending out an email to our team and dropped it. I started again yesterday and the response was great from the staff. I’m in Victoria and most staff are interstate. Encourage everyone to give people some good news from your business. There must be some.”

     

    Ed: Spot on. What’s the name? Say it again?

     

    Stuart: Pat.

     

    Ed: Pat, thanks for your business plan. And Pat, I think it’s spot on. The number of times that I am… So I had two really consistent communication tools in what I was doing. One of them was to you guys which I did every day and I was doing also every day a communication staff. And I’m being honest, I sort of said, “Look, I think I…we’re now moving into a new rhythm. I’m going to keep up the staff one but I dropped doing this every day.”

     

    But there had been…there were times after that, where I worry, I thought, “Oh, maybe I’m over-communicating with staff, I’ll probably tone it back. Maybe I’ll just do once a week.” We know, we’re right now. We were coming out of the crisis. And what I was confusing there is I was not staying true to either my “why” or my “how.” The how, remember, being prepared for the worst, but plan for the best.

     

    And all I was doing is thinking everything was gonna go well, I wasn’t preparing for the worst. Funnily enough, stuck keeping to that daily communication reminded me to make sure that I was both doing it myself but also communicating to my staff that we needed to stick to our “why” and our “how.” It really all is, is a discipline.

     

    And it’s very easy to step back from that discipline. But it’s quite hard just to stay true to it. And my recommendation to people with peace, “keep to your disciplines, not just through the crisis but generally.” I think, yeah, I’m really sounding like I’m jumping on the politician stage. I did. There was a noticeable shift from Scott Morrison where he sort of said, “Okay, I’ve kind of done the first bit guys over to the states.”

     

    And that I understand the tension between federal and state obligations. But it does feel a bit like we could do a really tight rudder through this because it feels a bit like we’re on starting standard arm’s length from Victoria, which is ultimately part of our country and what we should be supporting and working through this because we forget about the human side of that for a moment.

     

    There’s certainly a business side to it. And, you know, we’ve got, as I said, 20% of our business in Victoria. There’s lots of other businesses. Even if you don’t have clients, you might have supply chain there and all these inter-web problems that we’re starting to see in New South Wales and other states because of the Victorian lock-down.

     

    Stuart: This from Tony, a client. “Hi, Ed, great timing to bring these sessions back. We are a client from the Newcastle area and virus outbreaks are starting to occur. We have an employee who was advised that they’re at a venue where there has been a New South Wales health alert to get tested and self isolate for 14 days. They have not personally received a notification to advise they were at the venue and to get tested. They are going to apply for unpaid pandemic leave. We’re on JobKeeper, so they’ll receive that payment anyway. What evidence could they provide for the pandemic leave if they haven’t received an official notification?”

     

    Ed: Good question. My understanding is that there is an official notification, right? You literally get a text message saying you must do this. And then there’s obviously a monitoring and tracing system. My presumption there is there’s been some breakdown in that may be of the employee not providing notification that they were at the venue.

     

    Maybe unless there was a restaurant that the employee was there with someone else and didn’t also check-in at the restaurant. But I would…there’s not an employment obligation, but I would suggest to the employee that they should contact Health and Human Services and explain that they were there. And that they need some confirmation as to what their obligations are for their employer.

     

    Forget about the unpaid pandemic leave for a moment just to show you that they need to be away on leave at all. That’s good record keeping and the appropriate thing to do. So, I’d ask them to make contact. And if you feel like they haven’t done that, or there’s still a gap in it, then you can call Health and Human Services yourself and ask what to do. Well, speak to us as well as a client, we can talk you through that.

     

    Stuart: Indeed. Caroline has a conundrum, “A client of mine has a problem. What can they do within the New South Wales JobKeeper workplace rules with an employee who is on JobKeeper that injured themselves outside of work? We thought this particular employee had been going to the odd physio appointment. We have now been informed the employee is now in Queensland on holidays. We know they’re out and about all the time and playing sport but somehow can’t work. We’ve been paying JobKeeper as they have no more sick leave and we assume we have to until JobKeeper ends. What can they do within the rules because they have work but the doctors are saying they aren’t fit for work, but outside of work, they can run around a footy field and go on holidays?”

     

    Ed: The question’s JobKeeper-related and has the sort of context of crisis and so on but it’s a conundrum as old as time in terms of the employee-employer relationship, that it’s got someone that you think’s bludging. They are saying that they’ve got some form of illness, injury that kinda stopped them from working. Ultimately, the law says that if they’re certifying that then they’re entitled to do it. And it sounds like they’re probably milking the JobKeeper system as a result.

     

    But if they’ve got a doctor that’s standing up to a medical certificate that says that they’re not fit for work, unfortunately, it’s very, very difficult to second guess that. It’s a frustration of mine with medical professionals, unfortunately. The people are too willing to do that and not think about the consequences of what it does to employers. But I think you said that the employee’s not on workers comp because it was outside work.

     

    Stuart: Outside of work.

     

    Ed: Yeah. So, it’ll be slightly different if it was on workers comp because you may…your insurer may be inclined to investigate their behaviors outside. But in this case, unfortunately, you could politely try and challenge them. But if they’ve got a certificate, it’s a very thin ice to start testing that out and challenging the truth of that certificate.

     

    Stuart: Vicki says, “Hi, Ed. Great to see you back in a regular spot. Can you please clarify if under stage four restrictions in Melbourne we’re able to conduct face-to-face interviews with candidates for a national sales manager role? I suspect not, so I’m considering parking this as we really need to meet candidates of this caliber in person to make the right decision. The flipside is we can’t afford to delay the process. Wherever our team will not be happy to make offers after Zoom interviews only. The pressure is on to get this filled. Any thoughts?”

     

    Ed: Hi, Vicki. So, I got technical responses that I don’t believe you are permitted to do face-to-face in Victoria at the moment for that interview unless you are less the role of sales manager role. And what your company does falls within the permissions, so check that. There may be some way of arguing that, but I suspect not. Practically, I would say, I could be blunt here just I feel like I’m in a blunt mood for some reason, but tell your team to toughen up and get with the times and start hiring people via Zoom.

     

    I just personally hired a national sales manager in New Zealand. I’ve not met the bloke in person. I had a really good long Zoom with him. I’m probably not going to physically meet him for months, maybe a half a year or more. But I couldn’t afford to let that hold the business back. So, needs must…you have to if it’s truly a business imperative, then you have to compromise and do Zoom.

     

    Stuart: Sally says, “An employee who started employment in June, do we apply and pay them JobKeeper now, or do we have to wait until the end of September?”

     

    Ed: You have to wait. Not until the end of September, you have to wait until there’s any rules because there aren’t any at the moment. So at the moment, all we have is a press release from the treasurer saying the intention is that that employee might become eligible, but we don’t know that until it’s legislated.

     

    Stuart: And following on on a bit of a themed narrative here from Helen, “Can you give an update about JobKeeper 2.0 as it relates to new employees?”

     

    Ed: She’s probably read the same thing I have. I’ve seen the press conference with Josh Frydenberg today saying that people employed before the 1st of July may well become JobKeeper eligible. That’s me repeating the press really. As to whether that’s got to be legislated whether or how it will apply to casuals, whether there’s gonna be any real questioning of the casual issue.

     

    Remember before, 25% of people are getting more money than they used to under current JobKeeper arrangements. They’ve tried to address that, will they look at addressing it in some other way if they’re gonna shift the goalposts on when people are employed. It just…the press release this morning really just begs questions.

     

    It doesn’t provide answers. So, I’d say watch this space, take care of the moment. Nothing’s gonna happen until they get back to Parliament. Now, I think it’s on the 24th of August. So, in the few days following that, I think we’ll start to hear more.

     

    Stuart: And continuing on somewhat of a JobKeeper theme. Tamara asks, “If someone has been employed since December 2019 as casual, they were previously not eligible for JobKeeper, if they have recently moved from casual to part-time, does it look like they will be eligible now under the revised version of JobKeeper?”

     

    Ed: So, if they will move from casual to part-time, will they be eligible? Possibly. Again, we’ll have to see what the rules say. But if they were part-time before the 1st July, and that’s a true part-time contract, checking from a workplace relations perspective, then they may be.

     

    Stuart: Marie with a quaint, “It’s very hard and confusing when an employee goes for testing and stays home with no symptoms just for precautionary isolation but the clinic gives them a medical certificate stating that they are unfit for work. We have to then pay sick leave but they’re only on self-isolation.”

     

    Ed: In theory, although you could say…it’s gonna sound a bit like I’m contradicting the point about not, I suppose, cross-examining medicals certificates, but I think in that particular example you’d be able to say, “I’m sorry. Are you saying you’re not fit for work or are you saying that your doctor believes you should self-isolate because of government rules?”

     

    I don’t think there’d be anything wrong with that and challenging that because I worry that there’s…and it’s understandable to a degree but this label, “sick leave” being used as a backdoor to pay pandemic leave. We’ve got to be really careful with people. But I’ve got a friend, for example, that’s currently in 14 days self-isolation because he was at a restaurant in Sydney that, I may be stitching him up here.

     

    Maybe his employer’s giving him sick leave and I’m about to get that ripped away from him. But he shouldn’t be getting sickly, he’s not sick. The government has told him to stay at home. So, in principle, he shouldn’t. And maybe the employer’s generous and pays it to him anyway, but your time too tight here guys. You need to do what you need to do for your business.

     

    Stuart: From Leanne, she’s a client, “Hi, Ed. It’s so great to have you back online. We have one admin employee on reduced hours. I thought I read somewhere that we had to put them back on full time as she was full time prior to COVID in September, is this still the case or will the ability to keep her on reduced hours also extend beyond this time?”

     

    Ed: Hi, Leanne. A few questions on that. Sorry to not provide clear answers, but in theory, yes, as at the end of September, the ability to have reduced her hours, stood her down under JobKeeper goes. There’s some talk about extending that regardless of any JobKeeper 2.0 eligibility. And then extending, as to that point, it will depend a bit on whether you are JobKeeper 2.0 eligible because, but my suspicion is although this isn’t confirmed yet that if you are JobKeeper 2.0 eligible, you’ll also get the rights flowed from JobKeeper previously, which might include reducing the hours, keeping those hours reduced for that employee.

     

    Stuart: A couple of questions from Rosemary, “Is paid pandemic leave only for Victoria? If a staff member has been told to isolate for 14 days but does not have the sick leave to cover, do we use holiday leave? She has been tested and the letter from Logan Hospital says that even if their COVID test is negative to continue for full 14 days.”

     

    Ed: The letter from Logan Hospital says that, and this is so someone out in Queensland. Is that right?

     

    Stuart: I’m assuming, yeah. It doesn’t actually say.

     

    Ed: But it’s not Victoria. We know that. So yeah, there’s no…I believe there is a disaster relief. Let us check on this. I think there’s some form of disaster-relief in Queensland for certain circumstances, so I’m not sure on that but ignore that for a moment.

     

    This person is not sick, they’re not ill, there’s some…I’m not sure that Logan Hospital should be saying that about…that’s a Department of Health mandate as to where they…if they’re just repeating what the Department of Health requires in Queensland then that person’s just on leave even though they’re not sick. They don’t have COVID. There’s no requirement for that. So, you wouldn’t be required to pay them sick leave.

     

    Stuart: Okay. Jonathan says, “My business is required to close for six weeks. Do I still need to develop a COVID safety plan?”

     

    Ed: I forgot to ask this yesterday if you’re closed. If you’re not operating, then no, there’s no requirement to have a plan for the non-operational time. But you might as well get it ready for when you are starting to operate again hopefully after the six weeks.

     

    Stuart: And related from Jules, “Ed, in January, none of us had ever heard of COVID safety plan. But apparently, we all need one now. What are they exactly? Are these different from a standard WHS plan?”

     

    Ed: Really good question. So, COVID safety plans are things that you’ll typically find on your state government websites, in that there’s guidance on this, a pretty good guidance, I have to say. We help our clients with them. We work through what that means. Basically, it’s setting out a set of plans and protection measures that you’re gonna put in place to adhere to your health and safety obligations.

     

    So, the core, what did exist in January is the core requirement to keep your employees safe at work. And all the COVID safety plan is essentially a written explanation of how are you gonna do that in the context of COVID. So, for example, in a cafe or restaurant, it might include things like making sure you’re taking down the details of people that are dining in. They might include the way in which you are showing people how to social distance in your premises, how you’re distancing tables, all of those things.

     

    I’d say it’s not, just make sure this isn’t just a bit of red tape that you’re going to take the box off and get done. Just go what you can work through and create a plan that actually reflects how you’re gonna work. You’ll only cause yourself problems if you feel that you’re just box-ticking. And then your employees are saying, “Well, hang on a second. We’ve got all these rules and principles no one ever follows that.” So, you want to make sure it’s a practical thing that you are doing.

     

    Stuart: This is from Paul, “Hi, Ed. I’m pretty well aware of my obligations at this point. But what are my employees’ obligations when they come into the workplace, as in respect for their colleagues, their managers, etc.?”

     

    Ed: I’d say your obligations essentially gets transferred through the employees. So, if your employees not adhering to general safety principles or your COVID safety plan then you would need to address that with the employee probably in an informal start. If they were repeatedly doing, you might get stricter about it. I’ll give you a classic one here. We have a number of meeting rooms.

     

    Each of those meeting rooms has a label on at the moment outside saying how many people are allowed into the meeting room as part of our COVID safety plan. And we sort of creep in that where quite big rooms, say for example, that we can only have three people in there, we were starting to see four-person meetings occurring, people getting a bit loose with it, which is pretty human.

     

    I don’t think anyone’s doing it maliciously but we just…it was our obligation to go back and enforce that COVID safety plan. And that’s how we politely said to the employees that this isn’t window dressing. We’re actually following this.

     

    Stuart: From Gemma, “How long do you expect the permitted worker scheme to last?”

     

    Ed: My anticipation is that as long as you’re in stage four, so the six weeks at the moment, and if it was on any longer, but they’ll probably clarify with time. There’ll be some examples of what isn’t okay, and what is. So, yeah, watch this space.

     

    Stuart: Time for one more?

     

    Ed: Yeah, go for it.

     

    Stuart: From Louise. “Ed, I have a long-term casual who reckons I owe her annual leave. I didn’t think that decision had been finalized yet. Is that the case?”

     

    Ed: So, the decisions on appeal at the moment is just gonna…will take a long time to get that appealed. So a couple of things are being recommended in light of that. So, for bigger companies, what is being said to them is that they need to account for the potential liability for that leave and show that in their account. So, you might talk to your accountant about that.

     

    Do I need to recognize that I have this potential liability and need to put it through my books, essentially? But that doesn’t answer your question as to what to do with the employee. My position on that is that I would communicate with the employee verbally first and then in writing to say, “We understand that the result of decision has been appealed. And upon conclusion of that, we’ll all be in a clearer position to understand whether this is a true liability for the business.”

     

    In fairness to the employee, they could really bang the drum at this stage and say, “I don’t really care if it’s been appealed. You owe me money. And right now the law says this.” So, it’s gonna be a case of trying to communicate clear, concise, consistent with that employee to try and persuade them to just wait, hold fire. Let us work out what’s gonna happen with this decision and we’ll go from there.

     

    If you get that communication wrong you might find the problem escalating and them starting to go to Fair Work and saying, “I’m owed money.” I’ve not yet seen any cases as to what the Ombudsman is saying about that. Are they pursuing employers saying you’ve got to pay the money? Or are they batting off the employees saying that, “No, you’ve got to wait for the High Court decision.”

     

    So, if anyone’s had one of those situations from Fair Work, I’d love to hear about it. And I’ll check with our claims team to see if we’ve had any.

     

    Stuart: A nice comment to finish.

     

    Ed: Sure.

     

    Stuart: From Karen, “Thanks, Ed…”

     

    Ed: Of course, sure [inaudible 00:53:20] yes, please.

     

    Stuart: A nice comment to finish it from Karen. She says, “Thanks, Ed. Cassie, and the Employsure team. We signed up after your seminar in Tari this past week. Looking forward to less stress.”

     

    Ed: Great, very pleased to have you on board. Thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure getting out for those seminars again and going back to that sword and shield thing I think we will return to show businesses outside Victoria at the moment. We can hold events for you. You’re entitled to come subject to the right social distancing COVID plans. And if we can come out to Tari and do an event, then there are ways in which you can operate your business as well.

     

    Stuart: Well, good.

     

    Ed: All good. Excellent. Thank you, guys.

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