The social impact of corona virus has begun affecting Australian workplaces. Those most vulnerable in the workplace are those employed on a casual basis.
Unlike part time and full time employees, a casual worker does not have a right to sick leave or annual leave. If those casual workers are not able to work, or are not offered shifts because of an economic downturn, what can they do to supplement their income?
Employees who are sick with the coronavirus cannot attend the workplace for a period due to the workplace health and safety legal obligations. These obligations relate to both employers and employees.
Employers can direct employees who are sick with the coronavirus not to come to work and to get medical clearance from a doctor before returning. Employers can do this if they’re acting reasonably and based on factual information about health and safety risks, which includes relying on the Australian Government’s health and quarantine guidelines.
Under the Fair Work Act, casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. However, the employee must give their employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it. This will also apply to situations relating to coronavirus.
Some casuals may have access to long service leave and they should raise the possibility of accessing that leave with their employer. It is usually a requirement for that casual employee to have been working with the same employer for at least 10 years, or be an employee in an industry that utilises portable long service leave such as security, community services, building and construction, coal mining, and contract cleaning industries.
If shifts are not being offered because of unsubstantiated fear of coronavirus, this could be considered workplace discrimination. However, this is quite a complicated issue when the employer also has an obligation under the Work Health and Safety Act to provide a safe workplace for all employees. If you are concerned about such treatment, you should consider seeking legal advice as soon as possible.
If an employee contracts coronavirus in the course of the employment (such as a health worker), the employee may be able to make a workers’ compensation claim for weekly income benefits while they are unable to work, or in quarantine. Again, this is quite complicated considering the transmission of the virus through the community. If you have contracted the virus through employment, you should consider seeking legal advice as soon as possible.
If you have loans, credit cards or other payments to meet, consider contacting those providers to see if there is any financial assistance available.
Check with your superfund, or insurer, if you have any income protection insurance available. In most cases the waiting period for income protection is 30-90 days.
If you are unable to obtain any other financial assistance, you may be able to apply to withdraw some of your superannuation on compassionate grounds. You should contact your superfund, or the Australian Taxation Office .
If you are concerned about being quarantined due to coronavirus, consider preparing an Enduring Power of Attorney so that your appointed attorney can attend to your affairs while you are unable to do so.
If you are concerned about a vulnerable family member in the high risk category, consider ensuring they have a properly drafted Will in place before any quarantine issues could affect their ability to do so.