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    What if an employer has to temporarily close due to severe weather or a natural disaster?

    ShutdownFlooding across SE QLD and NE NSW has had a devastating impact on the community and will cause financial hardship for many individuals and businesses. Initially, as schools closed and roads became impassable, employers were faced with sending employees home.

    Many small business owners are now unsure about how this time off should be treated and whether they will have to pay their employees.

    Ordinarily, employees can't be stood down just because there is not enough work.

    An employer can send employees home if there is no useful work for them to do because of a natural disaster such as a flood. This is known as a ‘stand down’ and can only happen if the reason for the stand down was out of the employer's control.

    An employee is not paid during a stand down period. However, it is not mandatory for stand downs to be unpaid and an employer may choose to pay employees.

     The employer can consider letting employees:
    • take time off with pay;
    • take a period of paid leave, such as annual leave;
    • work at another location such as from home or another work site; or
    • in circumstances where the employee had to take leave from work to care for children sent home early from school, the employee could take this time off as carer’s leave. This leave would be taken from the employee’s leave entitlements, meaning the time off will be paid. However, if the employee has used all of their paid leave, this time off will be unpaid.

    Employers should check to see if the relevant award or contracts of employment contain any different stand down provisions. If they do, then the provisions of the Fair Work Act may not apply and you may still be required to pay your employees in accordance with the terms of those instruments or contracts.

    It is always good business practice to confirm in writing the date which the stand down commences and ends and whether the employees will or will not be paid and the effect on other employment entitlements.

    A reminder that occupational health and safety laws provide for a general duty of care toward employees that should be considered when employees or others are assisting with the flood clean-up.

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