Resources for Australian Workers Stood Down Due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Learn more about support for stood down and redundant employees.

Resources COVID-19 Australian Workers

August 20th, 2020

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had far-reaching implications for Australian businesses. The Australian Qantas Group, for example, has stood down 15,000 of its 30,000 employees, and announced that they would be making 6,000 other individuals redundant. Similar patterns have been observed among smaller businesses, and many are in need of material support.

In this article, we detail the conditions under which Australian workers can be stood down or have their positions declared redundant, as well as key resources that are available to affected individuals.

Key Concepts:

Stand down: A period during which employees are temporarily released from work due to circumstances that are beyond their control. Stand downs are designed to "freeze" the employer-employee relationship as an alternative to termination.

Redundancy: When employees are permanently released from a job because their functions are no longer required due to changes in operations, or when a business becomes insolvent or bankrupt.

What To Do if You Have Been Stood Down or Declared Redundant Due to COVID-19:

1. Determine why your circumstances have changed.

The Fair Work Act 2009 dictates the conditions under which workers can be stood down or have their positions declared redundant. Before tapping into available resources, be sure to understand the reason(s) for your change in circumstances and that your employer's decisions are congruent with the applicable legislation.

When can employees be stood down without pay?

Employees who are ineligible for the JobKeeper Payment can be stood down without pay when they cannot be meaningfully employed due to a stoppage of work caused by any factor for which employers cannot be held responsible. Accordingly, employers must be able to illustrate that:

  • there is a cessation of work,
  • workers to be stood down are unable to be usefully employed (this is not restricted to employees' typical work), and
  • the factor(s) which precipitated the stoppage of work is one that the employer cannot be held liable for.

Generally, factors such as a decline in business conditions or an employee's COVID-19 status do not constitute legitimate grounds for instructing workers to stand down. Employees that are stood down unlawfully will usually be able to recover their unpaid wages.

When can employees' positions be declared redundant?

A redundancy is different from being stood down in that it is permanent. It must also come with some payment and requires notice. Typically, an employee can be declared redundant if the business goes under or if it genuinely has no need for the employee's work.

It is important to know where you stand with your employer because if you can still take long service leave or annual leave from your work, you will not be able to access government payments. If you are stood down or made redundant, you will be able to claim support from the federal government.

If you suspect that you have been unfairly stood down or had your position rendered redundant without just cause, be sure to contact the Fair Work Commission for support. When you're ready, you can lodge an application to have the company's decision reviewed.

Most of the benefits listed below can be accessed on the myGov and Centrelink websites. Users will need to create a myGov account and then link it to the Centrelink service.

2. Ascertain whether you are eligible for the JobKeeper Payment.

Those who have been stood down may be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment. The temporary scheme includes biweekly wage subsidies of:

  • A$1,500 (pre-tax) for the fortnights spanning March 30 until September 27, 2020. Note, however, that employees of childcare providers were only eligible until July 19, 2020.
  • Up to A$1,200 (pre-tax) for the fortnights spanning September 28, 2020, until January 3, 2021.
  • Up to A$1,000 (pre-tax) for the fortnights spanning January 4, 2021, until March 28, 2021.

Be sure to check the relevant eligibility criteria to determine whether you qualify for the JobKeeper Payment. Funds are being disbursed to eligible employers who, in turn, must pay their staff.

3. Claim the JobSeeker Payment and other benefits.

The Australian government introduced the JobSeeker Payment as the main source of wages for Australian-based workers without jobs who are currently looking for work. Those who are out of work because of being infected with COVID-19, needing to self-isolate, or needing to care for loved ones may be eligible for the JobSeeker Payment, the Youth Allowance, or the Parenting Payment.

On March 25, 2020, the government temporarily waived the Liquid Assets test Waiting Period, so those with savings can also apply.

Other salient forms of government income support include:

  • The Coronavirus Supplement — a biweekly, taxable payment designed to support individuals who receive at least one of the aforementioned payments, or any other eligible benefit. Candidates will receive A$550 per fortnight between April 27 and September 24, 2020, and A$250 every other week between September 25 and December 31, 2020.
  • The Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (COVID-19) — a measure designed to support designated individuals who are in quarantine or self-isolation, or caring for someone who is. Recipients must be eligible for at least one other form of income support and in severe financial hardship.
  • The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment — a lump sum that is intended to support Victorian workers who cannot earn an income while they are in quarantine or self-isolation, or caring for someone who is. Eligible individuals will receive A$1,500 per applicable fortnight.
  • The Family Tax Benefit — a two-part payment to help assist eligible caregivers with their childrearing expenses. Note that payment rates vary.
  • The Special Benefit, designed to support those who are experiencing severe financial hardship but unable to claim another form of income support. Payment rates vary depending on individual circumstances but are often comparable to those of the JobSeeker Payment of Youth Allowance.

4. Access your superannuation.

If you have been financially impacted by COVID-19, you can access up to A$20,000, tax-free, from your super. Up to A$10,000 could be claimed by June 30, 2020, and a further A$10,000 can be claimed between July 1 and December 31, 2020. You can apply via the myGov website.

To access this early release of funds, you must either:

  • be unemployed,
  • be eligible for the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit, or Farm Household Allowance,
  • have been made redundant or had your working hours reduced by 20% or more since January 1, 2020, or
  • be a sole trader whose business has been suspended or whose turnover has been reduced by 20% or more since January 1, 2020.

Note that you should carefully consider the pros and cons of withdrawing from your superannuation. The super industry body has warned that Australians will be out up to A$120,000 by the time they retire as they will have missed out on the earn back value in the years to come. As such, this should be your last resort after other government funding has been depleted.

5. Claim workers' compensation.

If you are infected with COVID-19 and can prove that your job played a significant role in you catching the virus, you may be able to claim workers' compensation. You will need to prove that there is a definite link between your work and contracting COVID-19.

6. Take advantage of insurance breaks.

Some insurers will suspend your premiums in times of financial hardship without enforcing a break in cover. You may also be able to claim if you have income protection and meet the policy requirements. If you think you may be stood down or declared redundant soon, contact your insurer and they can walk you through the process.

If you currently have a loan or mortgage, you should also contact your bank or lender to see if you can take a repayment holiday. You can also use "rent check" on Centrelink to see if you qualify for a Centrelink advance loan or rent assistance. Your utility provider should also be able to help you with smaller payment installments or emergency utility vouchers.

7. Consider a quick income method.

There are some job options that don't require qualifications and that people can do online from home for some extra cash. You can consider online jobs such as doing surveys for marketing companies, user-testing websites, and content writing.

Another option is farm work. The horticultural sector relies heavily on backpackers and foreign tourists for labor during harvest, but now that the borders are closed, many farmers are short on workers and encouraging locals to apply to work on farms.

If you have recently lost your job due to COVID-19, you should consider applying as a farmhand to help with the harvest. Vacancies are often advertised on jobsearch.gov.au/harvest.

8. Take care of your mental well-being.

Losing your job is not necessarily your fault. Unfortunate circumstances mean that the country's unemployment rate is set to skyrocket and it will be challenging to get benefit grants and find a new job. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 if you are struggling with emotional or mental distress. In an emergency, you can call 000.

Jobs to Apply for if You've Been Laid Off due to COVID-19:

Be sure to check the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment's (DESE) jobs hub to find vacancies in the public and private sectors. Platforms such as Seek, Indeed, and Jora are also useful.

FAQs:

What is the difference between being stood down and having your position declared redundant?

In Australia, "stand down" refers to a temporary period during which employees are relieved of their duties without pay due to business stoppages that are beyond the reasonable control of their employers. Redundancies, by contrast, occur when employees are permanently released from a job due to operational changes or financial predicaments.

Which jobs are in demand during the COVID-19 outbreak?

  • Healthcare (including nursing).
  • Fruit and vegetable picking and packing.
  • Sales.
  • Call center operations.
  • Supermarket work.
  • Cleaning.
  • Delivery driving.
  • IT systems admin and IT call center operations.
  • Online tutoring.
  • Volunteering at charities.