Employment Law Update: Stage 4 Restrictions

With Stage 4 restrictions now in effect, businesses across a range of industries will be required to close or reduce operations throughout Metropolitan Melbourne for at least six weeks. These restrictions will no doubt have further significant impact on businesses and employees who are already facing severe financial hardship as a result of the current COVID climate. In this update, we provide a breakdown of the changes imposed by the Victorian Government and the obligations of employers and employees to ensure compliance. We also provide an overview of options available for businesses and individuals who are impacted by the recent restrictions.

Closed and Restricted Work Premises and Activities

On-site operations across a number of industries will be required to shut down, including contact-based retail trade, some manufacturing, administration services and some wholesale trade, unless otherwise permitted. Exceptions may include retail businesses that provide ‘click and collect’ or contactless services such as dry cleaning.

Some industries may be permitted to operate in a restricted capacity or under industry-specific obligations including meeting the ‘Universal’ or ‘enhanced High-Risk’ COVID Safe Plan obligations.

Businesses have until 11:59PM on 7 August 2020 to enact the required ‘COVIDSafe plan’.

Permitted Work Premises and Activities

Some businesses may still be permitted to operate on-site during Stage 4 restrictions, however in very limited and strict circumstances.

Apart from those involved in frontline response, this may include ancillary and support businesses required on-site to ensure closed or restricted businesses can continue operating, services connected to animal welfare and essential services such as supermarkets.

The complete overview of the effected industries can be accessed here.

Permitted Worker Permit

Businesses permitted to operate on-site are responsible for providing each individual employee, contractor and/or sub-contractor (including sole traders) an individual Permitted Worker Permit (‘PWP’) if workplace attendance is absolutely necessary and the employee cannot work from home. A PWP is required even in circumstances where work is irregular (such as for some casual employees) or if a shift is unexpectedly picked up last minute.

Eligibility for worker permit

Employers can issue a worker permit to their employee if:

  • the organisation is on the list of permitted activities;
  • the employee is working in an approved category for on-site work; and
  • the employee cannot work from home.

An employee must not use a worker permit, even if they have been issued one, if:

  • they test positive to coronavirus (COVID-19) and are required to self-isolate; and
  • they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive.

The official PWP form can be accessed here.

It is worth noting that a PWP is not required in very limited circumstances including if an employee holds official employer-issued photo identification (usually held only by law enforcement, emergency services workers or health workers).

Penalties for non-compliance

Penalties of up to $19,826 (for individuals) and $99,132 (for businesses) may apply if an employer operates despite not being a Permitted Work Premises.

In addition, there will be on-the-spot fines of up to $1,652 (for individuals) and $9,913 (for businesses) for anyone who breaches the Permitted Worker scheme requirements, including employers and employee who do not carry their worker permit when travelling to and from work.

Business Support Fund – Expansion Grants

In an effort to support effected businesses, the Victoria Government is offering a one-off $10,000 grant to effected ‘employing businesses’ in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire and $5,000 to effected ‘employing businesses’ in regional Victoria.

Eligible businesses should apply for the grant by 14 September 2020, if they haven’t done so already.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Worker Support Payment

The Victorian Government is incentivising self-isolation and quarantining by offering a one-off $1,500 payment to eligible Victorian workers who are directed to stay home due to a positive COVID-19 test result or as a result of coming into close contact with someone with the virus.

Amongst other criteria, eligible workers (whether permanent, casual, part-time, fixed term or self-employed) must live in Victoria, have exhausted all leave entitlements from work and do not receive JobKeeper payments or other Australian Government income support.

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment

Alternatively (if the COVID-19 Worker Support Payment has not been claimed), eligible Victorians may now receive $1,500 from the Federal Government if they do not have any income (including sick leave entitlements) because they must quarantine at home or self-isolate.

This payment may be claimed each and every time the applicant meets all the required criteria rather than just once.

JobKeeper, Your Obligations, Rights & Entitlements

Now more than ever, an increased number of employers will inevitably have to explore every possible avenue to cope with the impact of Stage 4 restrictions. For the first time, this may include applying for JobKeeper, considering standing-down employees or in the worst-case scenario, making positions redundant.

Consequently, we implore both employers and employees to familiarise themselves with their respective legal obligations, rights and entitlements to avoid preventable legal action.

Please refer to our previous Employment Law update for more details.

If you are an employee or an employer that is affected in any way by the COVID-19 ramifications and would like to discuss your legal rights/obligations, please do not hesitate to contact our employment law team.