To say the pandemic has been a stressful time for businesses and workers would be an understatement.
However, the prevailing vibe of complete chaos does not mean employers get a free pass to throw your rights as an employee out the window.
Back in March, (yep, it’s been that long), some of us commenced working from home. Even though it’s been a mind-boggling 7 months now, it still seems like there’s an overwhelming feeling that we don’t really know how to deal with the situation completely.
This could be even more salient in the instance where you feel like your employer could be violating your rights.
Whether you’re currently working a job, looking for a job or in-between jobs, it’s so important to understand your health, safety and wellbeing entitlements – so here are 5 circumstances that you may have found yourself in recently that might actually be illegal.
You Had Your Hours Or Pay Reduced Without Agreement
In July, it was reported that over a million Australians were facing unemployment – a sobering and scary statistic.
As a result of the coronavirus’ huge impacts on the economy, some workers may feel compelled to take a forced pay cut in order to acquire a sense of job security. However, this could absolutely breach your rights.
In order to take a pay cut, a variation must be made to your contract, as well as agreed upon by employer and employee, before the reduction can be actioned. According to Fair Work Australia, in no instance can pay be reduced below the ‘relevant industrial award’, ‘enterprise agreement’ or, of course, the national minimum wage.
If refusing to take a reduction in pay leads to a threatened dismissal or begins to impact your work, it is highly recommended you seek immediate legal advice too.
However, because the Fair Work Act was altered in April to comply with the implementation of JobKeeper, rules and regulations around pay and hour reduction have become more difficult to comprehend.
In advice published by SEEK, if your employer is eligible for JobKeeper, they may be allowed to reduce your hours of work, which will result in a pay cut. They can only do this if you “cannot be usefully employed for your normal days or hours during the period because of changes to the business”.
So, if you’re able to complete your job to its complete capacity while working from home, and your employer has suggested a pay cut or reduction in hours, it’s best to investigate what the appropriate steps to settle the dispute are by contacting Fair Work Australia, a union or lawyer.
Your Lunch Breaks Have Become Non-Existent
It’s normal to have completely hectic days every so often that maybe don’t allow for a lunch break. However, if it’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, or your boss has begun to enforce this idea, your rights may have been violated.
It’s as simple as this – according to Fair Work Ombudsman, “Employers must ensure that employees have access their workplace entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and any agreed-to flexible work arrangements.” Basically, if you were entitled to a regular hour-long lunch break whilst working from an office or job site, you’re still completely entitled to it while at home.
Working from home can become a huge mental struggle and work without a break (especially during these ~times~) can increase employees’ susceptibility to mental health challenges.
Everything stated in the 2011 Work Health and Safety Act applies to work from home, including the recommendation that leadership staff continually encourage clear start and finish times including breaks and time for physical activity.
You’re Finding It Difficult To Take Sick Days
Even though we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, the idea of taking a sick day may strike complete fear into some employees currently working from home.
According to the Fair Work Act (2009), if you’ve provided your employer with sufficient proof of illness and inform them as soon as possible, you cannot be forced to work from home while on sick leave. It’s as simple as that.
There’s never been a more important time to make your physical health a priority, so if your workplace doesn’t comply with this standard, it could be time to take action.
You’re Being Contacted Outside Hours Constantly
Since March, so many of us have had the lines between home-life and work-life completely blurred. Just because work is technically accessible online 24/7, it does not mean it should be attended to 24/7 – even if your boss has started to contact you to complete tasks outside of agreed hours.
Reasonable working hours are referred to as ‘spread hours’, spanning from 7 am to 7 pm or, in the instance of a casual employee or contractor, the agreed working hours.
In some instances, it may be fair that your boss asks you to work overtime, or outside these hours – if there are a few things in place first, including adequate remuneration or whether it has been assessed that the overtime work won’t impact the health or safety of an employee.
Employees may also be paid at a higher rate with the understanding they’d work some overtime – you can suss out what other factors may influence this here.
According to FairWork Australia, it’s absolutely vital that employers are recording hours worked by casual or contract employees during this time to ensure the hourly requirements are met – it’s important to remember you are well within your rights to refuse working overtime if it breaches these rules.
You’re Being Forced To Go Into The Office
According to the NSW Government, there are a few key things employers need to do before they get employees back into the office – this may change from state to state depending on restrictions, but it’s good general info to be armed with.
Before directing employees to return, employers need to undertake a proper risk assessment and consult with employees as to whether they’re comfortable with the proposed arrangement.
Employers will also need to provide information on how they considered the government’s advice on physical distancing and whether the workplace can actually support employees returning at the same time while meeting those requirements.
If your workplace hasn’t undertaken these guidelines and you’re being forced to head back in, it’s important to have a think about what steps you might take in disputing this with your employer.
In the instance your workplace has devised a COVID-safe plan, and you’re still not comfortable with returning back to the office (which is totally fair), you’re well within your rights to request a ‘flexible work plan’, if you’ve worked with your employer for 12 months on a casual, part-time or full-time basis.
FairWork Ombudsman states that workers must produce their request in writing, explaining why they require flexible work arrangements, in which the employer will review and assess.
Unfortunately, times of uncertainty can trigger strange behaviour in people – especially in the workplace and when there’s money on the line. Even though it is difficult, it’s important to remember you are not alone and there is plenty of information available to help you in your working life.