The ATO website describes the JobKeeper payment scheme as a ‘temporary subsidy for businesses significantly affected by coronavirus’. This means that employers, sole traders, and other entities who are eligible can apply to receive the $1,500 payment per eligible employee, per fortnight.
I stumbled across disturbing chatter amongst students, online, specifically about the actions of their employers. Of course, not everything is perfect, and we were bound to come across instances of miscommunication between some employers and employees. I hope to bring light to misinformation and encourage others to stand their ground if they’re being faced with the following issues.
First and foremost – your employer cannot pick and choose who gets JobKeeper. If you meet the eligibility guidelines, then your employer must sign you up. It does not matter if you are doing a five-hour work week or a twenty-hour work week, you will have to receive a minimum of $1,500 a fortnight. This is irrespective of when your actual pay cycle is and your usual earnings. We refer to this as the ‘one in all in’.
Whilst your employer can ask you to take on extra responsibilities or ask you to work extra hours, these requests should be reasonable and agreed upon by both of you. For example, if you’re a full-time student who usually works 20 hours a week and you’re now on JobKeeper, your employer cannot say to you that you have to work 38 hours a week ‘to make up for the JobKeeper money’. Sure, if you’re happy to work those hours then go ahead, but there is no ‘making up’ for the JobKeeper payment. If your hours have changed and you’ve agreed to these changes, remember to keep track of any overtime or penalty rates as your employer will still need to comply with your employment contract.
The Fair Work Act JobKeeper provisions lay out certain provisions for employers who have qualified for the JobKeeper scheme. Under these provisions, your employer may in certain circumstances, give you a direction to change your usual duties; give you a direction to change your location of work; and come to an agreement with you to change your days and times of work. The provisions have been laid out in the FairWork website here. There are some great real-life examples to work off there, too.
If you’ve been asked to change your usual duties, your employer needs to make sure these duties are safe; you have the required licenses or qualifications to perform the duties asked of you, and these duties are reasonably within the scope of your employer’s business operations. Please note that if these temporary new duties attract a higher base pay rate, you will need to be paid accordingly.
If you’ve been asked to change the location of your work – this includes being asked to work from home – the direction will need to be ‘reasonable’ under the FairWork Act JobKeeper provisions. This means that you shouldn’t be required to travel an unreasonable distance and that the new location must be safe for you to be in. Travelling three hours to work, when you used to drive 20 minutes to your original location, is not reasonable. Rather, your employer should make a reasonable attempt at alternative measures or perhaps remote options to provide flexible working arrangements.
The details of the scheme can be a lot to take, but here’s a summary of what we know so far:
- ‘One in all in’ for eligible employees – no picking and choosing!
- You keep the $1,500 before tax. No administration fee to your employer, no cashing out for your employer.
- Change in duties is OK – as long as these duties are safe, and you’re qualified to undertake them.
- Change in location is OK – as long as the new location is reasonable and safe.
- Change in the number of your work hours needs to be discussed and agreed upon. You do not need to ‘make up for the JobKeeper payment’. Your hours of work must be reasonable.
Whilst there are a lot of articles being published regarding the scheme, including my own, I would suggest visiting the ATO website directly to keep up with the updates.