Employee entitlements for natural disasters – floods, fires, cyclones

From floods on the Gold Coast, to fires in the Snowy region of NSW and Victoria, Australian employers really are challenged regularly by natural disasters. Here is a brief rundown of common situations concerning employee entitlements for natural disasters.

We have to close our site due to a natural disaster e.g. due to flood, fire etc.

There are provisions within the Fair Work Act 2009 which cover temporary shutdowns due to events such as natural disasters. Generally, this is where the employee cannot be usefully employed due to the need to close down a site. Such provisions allow an employer to stand down their workforce without pay. Although, in some circumstances, an employer may choose to continue to pay employees once stood down.

A natural disaster can be financially challenging for all parties. Before making the decision to stand down an employee without pay, employers may wish to consider other options such as offering employees to utilise any accrued annual leave entitlements, transferring employees to different sites, or work from home arrangements. Of course, the ability to provide alternative options such as these will always depend on the circumstances at hand.

Note, where there is an Enterprise Agreement or Employment Contract containing stand down provisions which cover the same circumstances, the Fair Work Act 2009 provisions will not apply.

My employee has asked to use personal/carer’s leave due to a natural disaster.

Under personal/carer’s leave provisions, where an employee (apart from a casual) is unfit for work due to an illness or injury or if they need to provide care or support to an immediate family or household member due to illness, injury or in the event if an unexpected emergency, they may be entitled to paid leave.

For example, if an employee becomes ill due to high levels of smoke from bushfires or is required to care for their child due to a school shut down as a result of a natural disaster, personal/carer’s provisions are likely to cover these situations.

Keep in mind that casuals and those who have used their accrued entitlements can take up to two days unpaid personal/carer’s leave per occasion to provide care or support to an immediate family or household member due to illness, injury or in the event if an unexpected emergency.

My employee’s family member has been injured, and they need time off work.

Compassionate leave may be applicable in this situation. All employees are entitled to compassionate leave to spend time with a member of their immediate family or household who has sustained a life-threatening illness or injury, or to take time off after a member of their immediate family or household has died. The entitlement is two days of paid leave per occasion for permanent staff or two unpaid days for casuals. However, employers may choose to provide above the minimum if they are able to.

Can I ask for evidence?

In all cases above, the employer needs to be notified of the leave and may require the employee to provide evidence (such as a medical certificate) to support the leave period.

Take note

The information above is general, and therefore Industryus HR recommends that employers seek advice from an employment relations expert about your specific situation prior to taking action on employee entitlements for natural disasters.

Industryus HR’s advice membership enables employers to contact an experienced HR consultant to discuss these kinds of matters, whenever they may crop up. Give our Gold Coast head office a call on 07 5655 4047 for more information on a tailored membership for your organisation.

Our Gold Coast HR Consultants service the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne and anywhere in between.

If you need assistance contact the SES in QLD or NSW.

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