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Disasters & staffing: what are your options?

April 02, 2017

By Ben Desir and Troy Wild, NRA Legal

Our Queensland and New South Wales members are taking stock after being lashed by Cyclone Debbie last week, with many still experiencing the aftermath with flooding and lack of power.

When a natural disaster strikes, safety is the ultimate priority and other factors take a backseat. For most businesses in the path of Cyclone Debbie this meant shutting up shop for the day and sending staff home out of harm’s way.

But an important question raised by the current situation is ‘how should your employees be paid when a store is closed because of a natural disaster?’

When store is closed due to a natural disaster and employees are sent or stay home as result, it may be a ‘stand down’ situation. Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) an employer may stand down an employee without pay when there is no useful work for them to do due to a work stoppage that is out of the employer’s control, such as a natural disaster. Be aware though that this provision is subject to any stand down terms in any award or enterprise agreement.

As an alternative to unpaid stand down, employers may want to consider inviting employees to take accrued paid leave (annual leave) or, if appropriate, offering flexible arrangements, such as working from home or at another work site. Employees may also be entitled to access personal/carer’s leave or community service leave, depending on an employee’s individual circumstances.

If you decide to stand down your employees due to a natural disaster or emergency, it is good business practice to notify your employees in writing (where possible) of:

  • when the stand down is to commence,
  • whether employees will or will not be paid, and
  • the effect on any other employment entitlements.

Employees who have been stood down without pay, may wish to contact Centrelink to discuss options available to them based on their individual circumstances including income support payment options and other assistance.

NRA Members can download a fact sheet on stand-down options and handling staffing in disasters and emergencies here.

If you have had to close your store due to Cyclone Debbie or need advice about the clean-up and how to get back on your feet, our team is here to help you get back on track. Call today on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245) to explore the full range of options for your business.

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