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What are your rights as a full-time employee during the coronavirus outbreak?

There may be lots of panic and confusion at this time when it comes to work. Maybe you feel that your employment is at risk, or perhaps you are worried about navigating working from home. 

Workplace entitlements and obligations across the globe are being affected by the pandemic. It’s important at this time to understand how you may be affected. 

Full-time workers are those who are described as a permanent employee or are on a fixed-term contract. A full-time employee generally works 38 hours or more per week. 

What are your rights as a full-time employee in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic?

  • Full-time employees cannot be discriminated against because they are ill, with coronavirus or otherwise. For example, employees cannot have their contracts terminated due to having to take time off work because they have contracted the virus
  • Full-time employees do not have the right to work from home. This is at the employer’s discretion, however, if an employer has unreasonably refused you right to work at home, it may be seen as a breach to implied trust and confidence
  • Full-time employees are entitled to required notice periods and remaining remuneration built up from holidays, should both employee and employer agree to transfer full-time employment to part-time or casual employment
  • Full-time employees are entitled to receive a notification of changes to their duties in writing three days prior to their duties changing unless they agree to a shorter notice period
  • Full-time employees are entitled to a safe working environment that prioritises their wellbeing.

Depending on your contract, employers may be able to change aspects of your role at their discretion, such as reducing your hours or enforcing annual leave. You should re-read your contract now to avoid confusion later. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman encourages employers and employees to work together to find the most equally beneficial and workable dynamic for their specific needs. 

On April 9, 2020, the Fair Work Act was amended to support the implementation of the federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. 

The purpose of the JobKeeper package is to support businesses that have been significantly affected by COVID-19 and to keep the public in employment. In order to receive the JobKeeper payment, both employer and employee must be eligible. 

If your employer successfully claims the JobKeeper payment on your behalf, you will receive $1,500 (before tax) each fortnight.

Full-time employees who have been employed for more than 12 months since before March 1, 2020, are eligible for JobKeeper payments. You can only be nominated for this payment by a permanent employer and if you are an Australian citizen or have a special category visa, such as the 444 visa held by many New Zealanders in Australia. 

Additional criteria to receive the JobKeeper payments include being over the age of 16, and if the individual has a partner, they must make less than $79,762 per year.

Under the JobKeeper scheme, employers are entitled to:

  • Temporarily reduce employees hours or days of work
  • Change an employees usual duties
  • Change an employee’s location of work
  • Ask employees to take annual leave in some instances 
  • Ask employees to change their days and time of duties.

According to the Fair Work Act, a qualifying employer can direct the eligible employee to perform any duties that are within their skill and competency so long as:

  • The duties are safe, including having regard to the nature and spread of coronavirus
  • The employee has any required licenses and/or qualifications to perform the duties
  • The duties are reasonably within the scope of the employer’s business operations.

Read: Number of COVID-19 cases | Australian state and area coronavirus update

Peter Fray

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