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Impact of Flooding on Employers – “Not Business as Usual”

By David Bates, Manager of Employment Relations, Better HR – Australia’s number one online employment relations service

After the devastating floods across Australia, many of you are unsure of your legal rights and responsibilities in relation to your employees’ working arrangements. So we’ve put together some useful information to keep you on the right track.

What to do if your employees can’t attend work due to flood conditions:

There may be instances where an employee cannot physically get to work due to the floods. In these cases you can:

  • Pay the employee anyway as a gesture of goodwill
  • Offer the employee access to available paid annual leave
  • Offer the employee additional paid leave
  • Offer the employee leave without pay; or
  • Offer the employee the option to work from home or remotely where possible.

If any of the affected employees are covered by a Modern Award, it is important you also check whether that Award contains any relevant terms or conditions. You can look up your Awards via the ‘Find my Modern Awards’ link on Better HR.

We understand many small and medium sized businesses may not be able to afford to pay employees when they are not working and we urge you to carefully consider your approach before entering into discussions with your staff. Remember, however, that during difficult times like these, your flexibility and goodwill will be very much appreciated.

There may also be instances where an employee cannot attend work because they or a member of their immediate family or household has been injured. In these cases, the employee should be given access to their personal/carer’s leave entitlement. If the employee or a member of their immediate family or household suffers a life-threatening injury, they should be given access to their compassionate leave entitlement. Please see the ‘National Employment Standards’ section of your Better HR service for more information about these forms of leave.

What to do if your business is unable to provide employees with work:

If your business is affected by electricity outages, flood water, damaged equipment and machinery or otherwise unable to operate due to circumstances beyond your control, follow these simple steps:

  • Check any applicable Modern Award for relevant terms and conditions. Ensure you follow these carefully if any apply
  • Consider asking employees to temporarily perform alternative duties, such as assisting the business with clean up; or
  • Direct employees to perform other duties that are reasonable in the current circumstances.

The Fair Work Act 2009 also allows you to stand down employees when there has been a breakdown of machinery or equipment or a stoppage of work due to circumstances reasonably beyond your control – severe floods would almost certainly fit into these broad categories. However, if your business is able offer alternative paid duties these should be considered first. Remember to give careful consideration to health and safety requirements and any applicable terms and conditions set out in any relevant Modern Awards. Your employees should be reminded that their flexibility and goodwill will also be very much appreciated!

What to do if an employee volunteers to help others?

Under the National Employment Standards, employees are entitled to take reasonable periods of unpaid leave to perform certain emergency management activities. Your employees should discuss their plans with you and keep you posted on their expected date of return.

The Better HR Team extends its deepest sympathies to those of you affected by the recent floods.


This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice may be necessary in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. Better HR Pty Ltd is not responsible for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information in this article, nor for any error or omission in this article.