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What help is currently available? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

There is plenty of good resources available online at the moment, including Commerce Ballarat's website and our own PPT website – ppt.com.au. We're also providing regular information to subscribers via our newsletter. The Federal Government also have a comprehensive summary of support available to small businesses on their website:

https://www.business.gov.au/risk-management/emergency-management/coronavirus-information-and-support-for-business

From a financial perspective, there are several support measures available. The most significant of these was announced this week, the JobKeeper payment. Which will help businesses who have experienced a decline of 30% or more in revenue, with wage payments to keep staff employed. Other significant measures include PAYG wages and withholding tax payments and an increase in the instant asset write-off threshold to $150,000.


How do I pay the rent during this crisis? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

If your business is not able to pay rent during the crisis, get on the front foot and talk to your landlord straight away. We have already heard positive stories from accommodating landlords.

The Federal Government announced changes so landlords cannot evict tenants based on payment defaults, but it's important to remember that we're all in this together and that your landlord will have bills too. So be upfront and come to a mutual agreement that benefits you both over the long term.


What do I tell my workers, and what options have I got to retain staff and make sure they're looked after? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

This is a very stressful period for employees and business owners. Owners are faced with a situation beyond their control and many staff face an uncertain future. That said, be upfront and open.

Firstly, and if you are still open, stress the importance of their health and wellbeing. Practice social distancing, maintain good personal hygiene and ensure they monitor their health.

We also encourage your business to get good quality HR advice before making a decision on staffing. Even though this is an unprecedented event, you need to do things lawfully.

Finally, you should register your business for the Federal Government's JobKeeper payment, which will provide up to $1500 a fortnight per employee. The payment must be passed onto the employee in full.


I run a chain store and the higher-ups have decided we have to close - what can I do here in Ballarat? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

This is a tricky question. It will come down to your agreement with the franchisor or head office. After clarifying the detail, we would encourage you to speak with your legal advisor about what you can and can't do. Regardless, act quickly and talk with your suppliers, landlord and bank about the likely impact it will have on your cashflow and payments. Also, speak with your accountant and work out what payments you are likely to receive from the Federal and State Governments.


How do I apply for help from the feds/state/City of Ballarat? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

For the most part, your accountant will be able to assist with payments from the Federal Government. However, you can apply to the State Government directly for some grants. At this stage, we're not aware of any grants or payments from the City of Ballarat


Should I prioritise phoning my real estate agent/landlord/accountant/lawyer/financial adviser? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

Speak with your accountant first so you can work out what payments you are likely to receive. Then after you have prepared a cash flow and budget speak with your other suppliers and creditors as needed.


Is there any other advice you would recommend? Answered by Thomas Elford, PPT (Monday 30 March 2020)

Seek help from your support network as much as you can. Your physical and mental health is critical during this period. The health crisis won't last forever, so try to stay positive.

If you have more time on your hands due to closure or reduced clientele, use it as an opportunity to work on your COVID-19 recovery plan. Remember, many of the world's biggest businesses were born during times of crisis!


Where can I get information on health and safety in the workplace?

The Fair Work Ombudsman can provide information about workplace entitlements such as taking sick and annual leave.


What happens if an employee or their family member is sick with coronavirus?

Full and part-time employees who can’t come to work because they are sick can take paid sick leave. If an employee needs to look after a family member or member of the employee’s household who is sick with coronavirus, or suffering an unexpected emergency, they are entitled to take paid carer’s leave.

Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Full and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left.

An employee must give their employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it.


What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?

If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace.

Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting coronavirus with their doctor, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate State or Territory workplace health and safety body.


What if an employer wants their staff to stay home?

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website external-icon.png .

Under work health and safety laws, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace (as far as is reasonably practical). Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.

If an employee is at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because the employee has recently travelled through mainland China, or has been in close contact with someone who has the virus), you should request the employee seek medical clearance from a doctor and to work from home (if possible), or not work during the risk period. Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction. You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ contracts of employment, and workplace policies.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they can’t do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters. Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.

Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination.

*This information is from the Fair Work Ombusman published 4 February 2020 | Updated 6 March 2020