Pay Cuts, Forced Leave, Reduced Hours & All The Other Sh*t Your Boss Can & Can't Make You Do Right Now

Your guide to knowing your rights at work.

COVID-19 restrictions have led to millions of Aussies working reduced hours, in roles with changed responsibilities or, worse, completely out of work. To put it simply, since restrictions were first put in place a few weeks ago causing thousands of businesses to be affected, it’s all been big stinkin' sh*t show.

And with applications for JobKeeper, a scheme that’ll see the govt paying businesses to keep their employees on their payroll, opening today, it’s all about to get even more complicated.

So, with that said, it’s important for you as a worker to know your rights; all the stuff your employer can and can’t ask of you right now. We’ve outlined all that below.

If my employer asks me to take a pay cut, do I have to say yes?

This has likely been the most common scenario. And the answer is a tricky one.

Normally, of course, an employer wouldn’t be allowed to change what’s in your contract, but, in this once-in-a-lifetime situation, your contract is up for debate. Bottom line, though, is that it's a conversation you and your employer will have to have together. 

“My concern is people may feel compelled to agree to reductions in salary that are permanent and extend beyond this crisis,” employment lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Patrick Turner told ABC.

“If you do not agree to that and your employer then terminates your employment, there may be a number of legal remedies available to you.”  

So, are the rules working differently under JobKeeper?

Quick recap on what exactly JobKeeper is: it’s a govt scheme to help employers keep employees on payroll while they're facing financial hardship. The govt will pay businesses $1500 fortnightly for them to pass on to each their qualifying employees.

So, if that’s what you and your employer are doing, things will work a little differently.

With the scheme, employers can change employees’ hours or duties, but they can’t change their hourly rate. So, basically, you can have your hours cut but you’ll still be getting paid the same per hour you do work.

In saying that, employers have to have a legit reason to reduce your hours. Only if there’s really no need for you to be working, can they cut them.

If I’m getting JobKeeper and I normally earn less than $1500, do I have to work more?

So, as you’re probably across if you’re about to get JobKeeper, if you’re earning less than $1500 per fortnight, you’re about to get a temporary pay rise.

But the question for many then is: can my boss ask me to do extra hours or shifts to compensate for that pay?

The answer is no. “That’s not how the supplement is designed to be used,” said Mr Turner.  Your employer also can’t ask for part of that $1500 to be handed back off the books.

If you wanna know more, head to our JobKeeper explainer here.

Can I be asked to take forced leave?

Under JobKeeper, if an employer asks you to take annual leave, you’ll have to agree as long as you can still keep a leave balance of at least two weeks.

So, if you have four weeks leave accrued, they could only ask you to take up to two weeks of it.

For everyone else, you can be asked but don’t necessarily have to say yes. Though, to make it easier to take it, on April 8, the Fair Work Commission changed the rules so that employees can take two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave, as well as twice as much annual leave at half pay, if their employer agrees.

If I can’t do what you normally do, can my employer ask me to pick up other tasks?

As mentioned earlier, under JobKeeper, your employer can in fact change your duties.

The duties, however, must be within your skill and competency and you must have the required licensed or qualification to undertake them. The duties must also be safe and within the scope of the employer’s business.

What should I do if I think my employer isn’t acting as they should?

If you don’t agree with what your employer is asking of you, or you’re simply curious about your rights, the Fair Work Ombudsman site has plenty of resources and advice to help you out.

If your head is a little scrambled, make sure you pop over to WHO.int to get all of your official COVID-19 updates.

This article was written by Sangeeta Kocharekar

Main Image Credit: The Office / NBC

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