With severe flooding across Queensland and New South Wales occurring in March, employers and employees have been heavily affected with stand-downs, reduction of hours, and leave applications needing to be put in place to accommodate for the unfortunate natural disaster affecting Australia’s businesses and employees. 

As there has been a large influx of queries to the HR Connect Team regarding what leave entitlements are available to employees and stand-down processes, we decided to outline all you need to know below! 

In unanticipated circumstances like natural disasters, there are several workplace rights and obligations for both employers and employees affected.

 

Leave Entitlements

Annual leave 

Permanent full-time and part-time employees have access to utilise their accrued annual leave if they need time off due to flooding. Annual leave can be taken at any time by mutual agreement between employer and employee. Declining this type of leave must only be on reasonable grounds and should be outlined to the employee as to why this may have been rejected. 

Personal/carer’s leave 

Permanent full-time and part-time employees can use this type of leave if they sustain a personal illness or injury or if they need to care for a member of their immediate family or household due to an illness or injury affecting the family member, or because of an unexpected emergency affecting the family member. 

For example: Lisa, a mother and full-time employee, has injured her arm whilst helping her kids evacuate from their home in the floodwaters. She can take  personal/carer’s leave to cover this period off. Lisa can be required to provide her employer with the medical certificate confirming she is unfit for work. If she is required to care for her children because their school is closed due to flooding, she would also be able to access personal/carer’s leave to look after them.  

If an employee has been injured (mentally or physically) due to the floods, in the capacity of not being able to work for several days and wanting to use personal/carer’s leave, a medical clearance (preferably from GP, physiotherapist, or psychologist) can be required to be provided to the employer prior to returning. This is because the business may wish to assess if it is appropriate for the employee to return. They may also wish a doctor to comment on whether an employee’s duties need to be modified to accommodate their injury. 

Casual employees are entitled to 2 days unpaid carer’s leave per applicable occasion to provide care and support to a family or household member due to illness, injury, or an unexpected emergency. Permanent employees have access to this type of entitlement (2 days unpaid carer’s leave per occasion) if they have used all their paid personal/carer’s leave. 

Community Service leave 

All employees, including casuals are entitled to take community service leave for specific voluntary emergency management activities. 

A voluntary emergency management activity is if: 

  • the activity involves dealing with an emergency or natural disaster
  • the employee is engaged on a voluntary basis 
  • the employee was requested to be a part of the voluntary activity or if circumstances prevented the employee from being requested, it would be reasonable to assume that the employee is needed and would have been requested. 
  • The employee is a member of, or equivalent to a member-like association with a recognised emergency management association 

Community service leave is unpaid. 

Defence Reservists 

Defence Reservists may be called to assist in the case of an emergency natural disaster. In addition to the NES and any other entitlements under an award or agreement, under the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001, Defence Reservists have rights and protections when they are absent from work on defence service leave. This includes, the right and protection to be released from work whilst undertaking a defence service and to continue to be employed upon return. 

 

Standing down employees

The floods have impacted some businesses and have caused them to close down temporarily. 

If an organisation cannot open or needs to temporarily close due to flooding, employers may have the ability to stand down an employee in some circumstances. This includes when an employee can’t work at a functional capacity because of: 

  • equipment breakdown if the employer is not responsible for the damage 
  • stoppage of work which the employee cannot control or be held responsible for i.e., natural disasters such as floods. 

During a stand down: 

  • employees are generally not required to be paid 
  • accrual of leave continues despite stand down 

 

Please note, within some awards, agreements and employment contracts, there may be additional rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.

 

Flexible working arrangements

Businesses and their employee’s may wish to discuss ways to make their workplace more flexible to assist with the challenges surrounding a natural disaster. For example, employers and employees can discuss changing where they perform work temporarily due to unforeseen floods.

Employees may also need to work reduced hours. Generally, permanent employees can only reduce their hours by agreement with their employer (it cannot be forced upon them), but some modern awards provide for a degree of flexibility in this area.

 

Where to find more information

Visit Current ABC Emergency Coverage page for alerts and warnings summaries.

For information on current floods and warnings, please visit:

If you have been affected by the floods and need financial or welfare support or assistance, please visit:

A number of employers are also implementing Employee Assistance Programs to assist employees during these times, which a service we are able to assist with.

 

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Disclaimer

The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact HR Connect for advice.

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