By Bethany Silverman
The introduction of the JobKeeper scheme in April of 2020 was a welcome relief to many businesses that were financially impacted by COVID-19. The wage subsidy scheme was originally meant to end on 28 September 2020, however the ongoing impact of the pandemic meant that the Federal Government extended it to 28 March 2021. Whilst the pandemic is ongoing, there have been no further extensions to the scheme, and it is due to cease in just a few weeks’ time. So, what do businesses need to do to prepare for the end of JobKeeper?
The Australian Taxation Office, is the body governing the payment and has confirmed that businesses do not need to do anything at the end of the scheme; it will simply cease. However, businesses will be required to submit their business monthly declarations for the March JobKeeper periods in April 2021.
Whilst there are no specific obligations an employer must satisfy as JobKeeper comes to an end, there are some things employers should be mindful of over the coming weeks.
Many businesses may still be heavily reliant on the wage subsidy and the JobKeeper flexibility provisions, which allowed them to make directions to stand employees down and change locations of work, among other things. These provisions will cease to apply from 29 March 2021, and as such, businesses may need to consider the following:
- Is a redundancy or restructure process required?
- Does the business need to consult with individual employees and seek agreement to vary their working conditions?
- Will businesses need to direct employees to return to the workplace (including how to manage employees who refuse to attend)?
If a business seeks to implement a restructure or redundancy process, it must ensure that the redundancy is genuine (that is, it no longer required the role to be performed by anyone), offer redeployment to the employee (if possible) and that it meets its consultation obligations under any appliable modern award or enterprise agreement. HR Assured has written a series of articles which outlines the redundancy process and can be read here.
2. Stand downs and JobKeeper directions
As the JobKeeper flexibilities under the FW Act will cease to apply from 29 March 2021, businesses must consider whether it is necessary to consult with employees to obtain mutual consent to vary their working conditions if the business cannot return them to their pre-stand down hours yet. Any agreement should be reflected in writing.
Many may also be wondering what happens if there is another lockdown? If this occurred, whether staff can be stood down under s 524 of the FW Act will largely be dependent on what the specific directions are. In some cases, the directions may permit a stand down under s 524, however in others, it may not meet the relevant threshold. Businesses should seek specific advice before implementing a s 524 stand down.
3. Returning to the workplace
As the JobKeeper flexibility provisions cease to apply from 29 March 2021, employees will need to return to their pre-stand down working conditions and will no longer receive the JobKeeper payment as a wage subsidy. For many, this will not change their working conditions, however, in some cases, employers may experience push back from employees who refuse to return to work.
Employers should make a lawful and reasonable direction to employees to return to work. If an employee refuses without reasonable explanation, employers may undertake a disciplinary process. Casual employees present a unique issue as they can accept or reject shifts as they please, however if an employer finds a casual employee refuses to work or provide their availability, there are some avenues which can be taken, however specific advice should be sought in these circumstances to mitigate risk.
4. Performance issues
Employers may also find that performance post-JobKeeper seems to decline. There may be a number of reasons for this, including burnout (it’s been a rough year for everyone!), lack of motivation or job satisfaction, or even because employees in some cases will now be earning less without JobKeeper.
Introducing incentives may help to improve performance and job satisfaction. This could include team activities like a lunch, dinner or game night, or even performance-based bonuses or prizes.
If performance continues to decline or does not improve, employers may commence a formal performance counselling process to address the concerns.
5. Complimentary tools to support your business
The team at HR Assured understand that times are tough for many businesses, so we’re offering free tools and information, including an end of JobKeeper checklist and an eBook to assist you.
In addition to these tools, if you’re not already an HR Assured client, we’d like to offer your business a no obligation, complimentary 30-minute consultation call. Employers can speak to our friendly workplace relations consultants and seek advice about a workplace issue. You can arrange your complimentary consultation here.
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