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Clerks Award: COVID-19 changes you need to know

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The Fair Work Commission has made temporary changes to the Clerks-Private Sector Award to manage the impact of the pandemic for clerical and administrative workers, and to support the implementation of the JobKeeper Scheme. Amendments are effective from 28 March 2020 and will run through to 30 June 2020, though the Commission may decide to extend them.

Broadly, these Clerks Award changes are designed to boost operational flexibility and financial viability for businesses while making arrangements to work from home more practical for employees.

Below is a summary of the key changes you’ll need to be aware of and their payroll implications.

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Performing different duties

Under these temporary measures, employers can ask workers to carry out tasks outside of their classification level. But the task must be one that:

  • The employee has the skill and competency to do;
  • The employee is qualified or licensed to do; and
  • Is safe.

In terms of pay, employees will receive their normal rate even if they’re performing tasks below their usual classification. However, they’ll need to be paid at a higher rate when performing duties above their classification level for more than a day.

Working from home

To support arrangements to work from home during the pandemic, an employer can mutually agree with a day worker who is working from home to spread ordinary hours of work, to between 6am to 11pm from Mondays to Fridays, and from 7am to 12:30pm on Saturdays. However, the day worker won’t be considered a shift worker for entitlements under the Clerks Award during this temporary arrangement.

For part-time employees working from home as a result of COVID-19, they should be rostered for a minimum of two hours per shift instead of three hours.

Similarly, if casual workers have an agreement in place to work from home, then they must be paid for at least two hours of work per shift.

Reducing work hours

Employers can temporarily reduce permanent employees’ work hours by up to 25 percent of their normal or agreed hours. This may apply to a specific area or the whole business. However, there are special rules that employers must follow, and at least 75 percent of full-time and part-time employees in the affected business areas must vote in favour of the hours reduction. The Fair Work website lists out the appropriate steps required for the vote to be valid and the employer responsibilities while reduced work hours are in place. It also provides an example of how this might work in practice.

If the reduction in work hours is approved, affected employees will continue to accrue paid leave and termination entitlements based on their ordinary hours of work just before the reduced hours commenced.

Finally, an employer can agree with an individual employee in writing to reduce work hours.

Taking annual leave

To further promote flexibility, an employee can take twice the amount of annual leave at half pay, as long as their employer agrees.

Employers can also instruct workers to take annual leave, having considered their employees’ personal situation, by giving at least one week’s notice, or less if mutually agreed. But at the end of the period of leave they’ve been asked to take, employees should still have at least two weeks of annual leave remaining.

If a business has to close its operations temporarily as a result of COVID-19, and the employee doesn’t have enough leave to cover the period of closure, then the employer can ask their employee to take their annual leave, followed by unpaid leave, to cover the length of closure. The period of unpaid leave counts as service for entitlements under the Clerks Award and National Employment Standards.

Undoubtedly, workplace rules will continue to evolve as the pandemic progresses. Make sure you keep up-to-date with relevant changes so your business can operate within new guidelines and remain compliant with payroll obligations.

Watch our virtual event: ‘Leading through the COVID-19 crisis’

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You'll hear from:

  • Cindy Nicholson, CEO, Braintree
  • Mark Chapman, Tax Communications Director, H&R Block
  • Danielle Wood, Program Director, Grattan Institute
  • Kerry Agiasotis, MD & EVP APAC, Sage
  • Mark Jones, Chief Storyteller & CEO, Filtered Media (Host)
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