By Bethany Silverman

Employers often fail to consider emergencies in the workplace. For most, they are unprecedented and unimaginable events. However, it is important that employers have detailed management plans, in case the unimaginable does happen. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PBCUs) have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment, and this extends to being aware of, and managing risks within the workplace.

Here, I outline your employer obligations when an emergency situation occurs.

Pay during emergency events

A common question raised by employers when an emergency occurs is what to do with staff, and whether they need to pay them. Whether the emergency is a natural disaster, or a complete breakdown of machinery, it may give rise to the ability to stand your employees down without pay.

Under section 524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), an employer may stand down an employee during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed because of one of the following circumstances:

  • Industrial action (other than industrial action organised or engaged in by the employer);
  • A breakdown of machinery or equipment, if the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible for the breakdown; and
  • A stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.

Whilst an emergency situation can arise quickly, it is recommended that you advise employees in writing that they’re being stood down and the reason for it. You may, in the circumstances, advise the employees verbally that they’re being stood down and then follow up with an email or letter.

Employees may also be offered the ability to take a period of paid annual leave for the stand down period so that they’re not financially affected.

Work, Health & Safety

Employers must ensure they have detailed and appropriate plans to manage risk. On top of being required to be aware of and manage risks, PBCUs must have an emergency plan. This is a written plan that sets out requirements and instructions for workers and others in the case of emergency. The plan must include emergency procedures, testing of these procedures, and information, training and instructions for workers in relation to implementing emergency procedures.

In order to avoid liability in the event of a workplace accident or incident, you must be able to demonstrate that you had taken all reasonable steps to ensure a safe work environment. This includes undertaking a process of risk management whereby workplace hazards are identified, as well as complying with all applicable WHS legislation and any specific regulations regarding safe work practices in your industry.

HRA Cloud contains a number of tailored workflows that allow you to identify potential workplace hazards, record details of any incidents that do arise and manage an individual’s return to work following a workplace accident.

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Bethany Silverman is a qualified Senior Workplace Relations Consultant at FCB Group and HR Assured. She regularly provides advice to a wide range of businesses in respect of compliance with workplace laws and managing complex matters including disciplinary and performance management processes and terminations.