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When can I stand down my employees

Under the Fair Work Act, employers can stand down an employee with out pay in a number of circumstances which are outside the control of the employer, including industrial action, breakdown of machinery or equipment or stoppages of work.

What is a Stand Down? 

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, an employer can stand down an employee without pay in a number of circumstances which are outside the control of the employer, including industrial action, breakdown of machinery or equipment or stoppages of work.  

A stand down can only occur if: 

  • the employer cannot be reasonably held responsible for the stoppage; and  
  • the employee cannot be usefully employed in their usual or an alternative role. This means that employees should be given the opportunity to undertake work which would ordinarily fall outside their normal duties.  

You cannot stand down an employee due to your business being quiet or there not being enough work.  

When can I stand down based on a stoppage of work? 

A stoppage of work may occur due to severe weather (rain, hail, high winds, bush fire or extreme temperatures) which would make it unsafe or unreasonable to require an employee to continue to work.  

An enforceable government direction preventing work on construction sites continuing is also considered a stoppage of work. 

Stand Down due to COVID-19  

As COVID-19 continues to impact business and their employees, it is likely that some employers may need to stand down employees due to circumstances created by the pandemic.  This may include: 

  • The business being forced to close as a result of an enforceable government direction; or
  • A stoppage of all work due to lack of supplies which is out of the control of the employer.

Consider all options before standing down an employee

Before taking steps to stand down an employee, employers should consider if any of the following options are available.  

Alternative Working Arrangements

Is there any alternative working arrangements which would allow the employee to continue to work? This may include working from home.  

Alternative Work

Is there any alternative work which the employee would not usually do, but could do instead of their usual role rather than being stood down? This can include changes to their duties, hours of work or rosters.

Accessing leave entitlements

Can the employee access their paid leave entitlements (annual leave, long service leave or other leave available under their Award)?

Employees can agree to receive paid leave during a stand down period, rather than going without pay.  This includes annual leave, long service leave and any other paid leave under their award or employment contract.  

However, sick leave, carer’s leave or compassionate leave is not available to be used during the stand down period unless the employee can make a legitimate claim for this leave i.e. because they are sick.  

Annual Leave

An employee can use their paid annual leave entitlements during a stand down period.

Until 31 December 2021, employees may elect to receive those paid entitlements at half pay which allows an employee to double their time off work.

To access annual leave and half pay entitlements, employees should submit a written request and employers should confirm this in writing.

Employers may also direct employees to take excessive accrued annual leave during a stand down period.

Unpaid pandemic leave under a Modern Award

Until 30 June 2022, all Modern Awards provide employees with 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave which can be used if:

  • The employee is required to self-isolate (as required by the government, a medical practitioner or other medical authorities); or
  • The government has taken measures such as an enforceable government direction which restricts nonessential businesses.

The leave must start before 30 June 2022 but can finish after this date.

The unpaid pandemic leave: 

  • Is available immediately (not required to be accrued);  
  • Can be used before any paid leave entitlements;  
  • Is available to all employees (full time, part time or casual);  
  • Does not affect other entitlements and counts towards service for other entitlements such as the accrual of annual leave.

To access this leave, employees must advise their employer of their intention to take this leave and the reason why. This should be done as soon as possible, however does not need to occur before the leave has started.

Process to stand an employee down

You should talk to your employees as soon as possible to advise them that they will be stood down.

You should notify an employee in writing of the stand down and advise: 

  • The date of the stand down;
  • Whether the employee is being paid during this period;
  • Whether the employee is using any leave entitlements during the stand down;
  • Any public holidays during the stand down which the employee will receive payment for;
  • How the employee will be notified of their return to work;
  • Why the employee is being stood down, i.e. a stoppage of work due to a Government mandated industry shutdown. 
For more information you can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman checklist

To find out more, contact HIA's Workplace Services team

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