As part of Jobs Australia’s industrial relations service to Members, below is some information for employers regarding managing staff in the event of natural disasters.

Jobs Australia urges employers to support community efforts to stay safe by implementing strategies and policies that work for both organisations and employees during critical times.

Staff unable to attend work or if the employer shuts down due to floods:

Employees may be unable to attend the workplace due to their homes being flooded or cut off by flood. First, check the relevant award or enterprise agreement for any provisions. It is important to be flexible under these circumstances. If there are no provisions in the award the employer may provide suitable leave options such as annual leave/personal leave or unpaid leave if staff need to take time off. Other strategies such as staff being able to work remotely from another location or from home if that is viable may also be appropriate.

Staff may also be unable to attend work due to the closure of schools as a result of flooding. Employees are entitled to use carers leave provided under the National Employment Standards (NES). In addition, they may take up to 2 days of unpaid carers leave if the employee has exhausted their leave which is permissible in the event of unforeseen events such as natural disasters. Check the relevant award or agreement for carers leave provisions in the event that the above award provisions apply. Again, it is important to be flexible under these circumstances in applying discretion regarding providing additional unpaid leave.

If the employer has to close operations due to flooding, they may be able to use the stand-down provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009, outlined in s524(1) of the Act. This means that you may stand down employees without pay if the business is unable to operate due to reasons beyond the employers control such as natural disasters. However, note that this provision does not apply where there are stand-down provisions contained within the applicable enterprise agreement or contract of employment, so it is important to check the applicable award or agreement first.

Community Services Leave:

Employers may receive requests from employees for leave to attend to the flood emergency rescue operations and to provide State Emergency Services (SES) support during storms and floods.

Community service leave is included as a minimum condition of employment under the National Employment Standards (NES) contained in the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act). Under the NES, employees have a right to be absent from work to engage in prescribed community service activities, such as voluntarily providing SES support during floods. This type of leave while allowed is unpaid and there are certain notification requirements. The right for employees to take emergency services leave applies to all private-sector employees throughout Australia (including the Not for Profit community sector), with the exception of Western Australia which is maintaining its own industrial relations system.

Period of leave:

Under the NES the period of leave consists of one or more of the following:

  • The time the employee is engaged in the activity
  • Reasonable associated travelling time
  • Reasonable rest time immediately following the activity; and
  • The employees absence is reasonable
Type of eligible community service activity:
  • Voluntary emergency management activity specifically
  • Activity involves engaging with an emergency or natural disaster
  • Employee engages on a voluntary basis
  • Employee is a member of or has a member like association with a recognised emergency management body (such as the CFA)
Policy:

It is desirable for employers to develop a policy on emergency services leave and circulate it to all employees. Apart from the requirements noted above, in formulating a policy, it is advisable to consider the following issues:
  • Permanent employees who are members of an emergency service organisation should qualify for leave
  • An “emergency” is normally defined as a declared emergency. It should be one that has occurred locally. However, an employer may choose to grant leave for other types of “emergencies” as well
  • The employee should advise the employer of his/her membership of any emergency service organisations, preferably at the time of employment. The employee should wherever possible seek approval to take leave before commencing leave. If proof of attendance at an emergency can be obtained, the employee should provide it to the employer
  • The employee’s contract of service should continue uninterrupted during the leave period. Other employment by the employee during the leave period (other than work performed for the emergency service authority) would be a breach of the employment contract. An employer could only terminate the employment of an employee on emergency services leave if there was a sufficiently serious breach of the employment contract. Both parties would be subject to the usual notice provisions
  • The employer may temporarily replace the employee for the period of leave, but the employee is entitled to his/her job back upon return from leave
  • Interaction with other leave (eg annual leave) and with rostered days off
Where to find more information:

More information about Community Services Leave is available below:

For further advice and assistance regarding workplace issues surrounding the current emergency, please contact the Jobs Australia Workplace Relations Team on 1800 331 915 (option #1) or ja@ja.com.au.