Coronavirus unemployment crisis: what you need to know if you've lost work

Press/Media: Expert Comment


The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the nation into uncertainty, not least when it comes to people's employment. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has framed the problem as one with two fronts: health, and the economy. Thousands of Australian workers have lost shifts, been stood down, or sacked, leading to large queues outside Centrelink offices and the MyGov website crashing as demand surges. Employees are grappling with where their employers' decisions to cut jobs leaves them. What is the difference between being stood down and being sacked? Where do employees stand? 
What does it mean to be stood down?
According to Fair Work Australia "an employer may stand down an employee during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed". Circumstances that can lead to employees being stood down include unauthorised industrial action, malfunction of machinery or situations where work stops, but employers can’t be held responsible. 
Standing down employees is a temporary measure. Companies stand down employees when they want employees to return to work when the situation improves.
What does it mean to be sacked? 
Sacking an employee is a permanent termination of their employment. Fair Work Australia explains that termination of employment can occur when workers are dismissed (fired) by their employer. Dismissal can occur if an employee breaches their contract, or if a company can no longer afford to employ them. When a permanent employee is dismissed, they are given notice of termination, and will receive severance pay.
What is redundancy?
Redundancy is a permanent termination of employment. Legal director of employment law and investigations at Bradley Allen Love Lawyers, John Wilson, explains that "redundancy occurs when the employer does not want the job that the employee has been doing done by anyone and there is no alternative role for the employee in the business."
Permanent staff who are made redundant are eligible for redundancy pay.
Are casual workers who've lost shifts unemployed?
No, they are still employed.  "The essence of casual employment is uncertainty," Mr Wilson said. "Even where the employee is used to having regular shifts, there is no firm commitment from the employer about how long they will be employed for or the hours that they will work," he said. Unlike permanent staff, casual employees do not get notice if they are sacked. Casuals do not receive redundancy pay.
Why is my employer suggesting I take paid leave? 
Many employers are asking employees to take leave during this crisis. Employees taking leave may decrease the need to stand down workers. Employees taking paid leave also may not need welfare payments. Under section 525 of the Fair Work Act, an employee cannot be stood down while on leave.

Professor Greg Bamber from Monash University's Department of Management said taking leave [maintains] relationships between employees and employers [compared with employees who have been retrenched or made redundant]. "The advantage from the employers' point of view in encouraging people to take leave is that they still have a connection with the employer," Professor Bamber said. "Typically, an employer has invested a lot of resources in employing a good worker. And so it's in the employer's interest to retain you on their books." 
What entitlements are there for workers who have lost work? 
If you have lost your job, been stood down, or if your shifts are significantly reduced, under temporary measures you are eligible for Centrelink's $550 per week coronavirus supplement. 
People taking leave from work to care for someone with COVID-19 are also eligible.
If you are already receiving welfare payments this supplement will come through automatically. If you do not already receive welfare you will need to register. 
What about sole traders and contractors? 
Sole traders, and contractors, such as those who work in the gig economy, are not employees. Legally they are business owners.
However, sole traders, self-employed and contract workers who have lost a significant amount of income are also eligible for Centrelink's coronavirus supplement. Professor Bamber said that this situation has illustrated the precarious nature of contract workers. "This crisis really highlights the unfairness and the problems for workers in the gig economy, they don't get stood down- they just don't get another gig."


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•For information on COVID-19, please go to the ACT Health website or federal Health Department's website.
•You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
•If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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Period28 Mar 2020

Media coverage


Media coverage


  • Coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • pandemic
  • leave
  • contract workers
  • gig economy
  • Centrelink