Business Guide to Coronavirus

Coronavirus FAQs

We've compiled a list of the Frequently Asked Questions coming from our members to help your business navigate these uncertain times. We are updating this page daily so submit your question below. 


What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

From January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an outbreak of a new coronavirus disease in Hubei Province, China. The 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) has now spread to other countries around the world. The virus is already having significant business and operational impact on Australian companies. It is therefore critical that businesses have a clear plan and lines of communications with employees, as well as clients and third-party entities.

How does Coronavirus spread?

People can catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one metre of a person with COVID-19, they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by the infected person. In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to the flu.

Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more severe illness and may require hospital care. The risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes and heart and lung disease are also more susceptible to serious illness.

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have recently travelled overseas, or have been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of coronavirus

What government assistance is available?

You can keep up to date with the latest on government initiatives and relief packages for businesses in relation to Coronavirus.

What if I can’t pay my businesses energy bill due to Coronavirus and the associated economic downturn?

Most retailers will offer some form of Financial Hardship Support that can involve deferred billing and partial payment plans. We advise you contact your supplier to discuss alternative payment options. 

Some retailers (Red Energy and Lumo Energy) have committed to “not foreclose on anyone, particularly small business” concerned about their ability to pay energy bills. 

For more advice on your situation, please contact our Workplace Advice Line.

How can I reduce my energy costs?

Read our energy comparison service for assistance with reducing your energy costs.

Who can I contact if I'm in hardship?

Consider your bank, telco, insurer and other utilities and see what support they can offer you. We've compiled a list of phone numbers to help you get in touch. 

My business doesn't have any employees. Is there anything the government can assist me with?

Yes, you can find information for non-employing or sole trader businesses in our non-employing guide.

What should I spend my government assistance funds on?

Not sure where to spend the COVID-19 stimulus package? We've put together a guide on how you could allocate these funds.

What is the JobKeeper payment?

The Prime Minister announced an investment of $130 billion to help subsidise wages to keep employees in their jobs and businesses open. Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum period of 6 months. The payment will decrease to $1,200 per fortnight for full-time employees from the end of September 2020

Check out our on-demand JobKeeper live Q&A session with Joe Murphy and Iain Rennie from Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors, who provided answers around the package to understand what it means for businesses and employees.

When will JobKeeper payments be available?

The payments will be available from 4 May 2020, back-dated to start from 30 March 2020. 

What is the JobKeeper application process?

We've put together an easy step-by-step guide on how to apply for JobKeeper payments.

Who is eligible for the JobKeeper payment?  

For employees: Full time and part time employees, including stood down employees. Where a casual employee has been with their employer for at least the previous 12 months they will also be eligible for the Payment. Apprentices and trainees may also be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment. An employee will only be eligible to receive this payment from one employer. 

The subsidy will include not for profit employees and New Zealanders who work in Australia but are typically unable to access welfare support. Self-employed individuals are also eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment.

For employers: Businesses (including companies, partnerships, trusts, sole traders), not for profits and charities:

  • with a turnover of less than $1 billion whose turnover has fallen by more than 30% (of at least one month), or
  • with a turnover of $1 billion or more whose turnover has fallen by more than 50% (of at least one month).

Big banks subject to the Major Bank Levy are not eligible.

Find out how to establish a 30% (or 50%) fall in turnover.

What if my business has been trading for less than 12 months?

Where a business has not been in operation for a year and therefore will have an issue showing that turnover has fallen relative to a year earlier, the Tax Commissioner will have the discretion to consider additional information that the business can provide to establish that they have been significantly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.

How does the JobKeeper payment work?

Check out our on-demand JobKeeper live Q&A session with Joe Murphy and Iain Rennie from Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors, who provided answers around the package to understand what it means for businesses and employees.

What does the JobKeeper payment plan mean for my business?

Under the JobKeeper Payment, businesses impacted by the Coronavirus will be able to access a subsidy from the Government to continue paying their employees. Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020. The payment will decrease to $1,200 per fortnight for full-time employees from the end of September 2020

How long will a business receive JobKeeper support for wages?

Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020. For more details visit the Government website to read in full all the details of the JobKeeper payment plan.

Are casual employees entitled to the JobKeeper payment?

No. Only long-term casual employees are eligible.

This means you will have to have been employed on a casual basis for more than 12 months as of 1 March 2020.

What does this mean for employees earning less than $1,500 a fortnight before the Coronavirus outbreak? 

Eligible employees will get the $1,500 a fortnight regardless of how much or how little money they were making. It is not portioned based on salary.

The JobKeeper payment is a minimum, and some employers may pay on top of that.

If my employee is on unpaid parental leave, are they still entitled to the fortnightly payment and does annual leave accrue in this period?

Yes, an employee on unpaid parental leave is eligible for JobKeeper payments and will continue to accrue leave. Those who were on unpaid parental leave before the pandemic hit (e.g. from January 2020) are also entitled to JobKeeper payments if they meet the eligibility requirements.

I’m a self-employed tradie, am I eligible for the JobKeeper payment plan?

All employers – from self-employed individuals to charities to mega corporations – need to meet the criteria for the JobKeeper payment.

The criteria are simple: if you have a business with a turnover of less than $1 billion and your turnover has been reduced by more than 30 per cent as a result of COVID-19, you are eligible.

If you have a turnover of more than $1 billion then your turnover will have needed to be reduced by more than 50 per cent as a result of COVID-19.

If I am self-employed will the payment come automatically to me? 

No. If you are self-employed and run a business without any employees, you will need to register your interest for the payment via the Australian Tax Office website. You will need to provide an ABN, nominate an individual to receive a payment and have a tax file number ready.

Are non-citizens eligible for the JobKeeper payment?

You will need to check your visa. If you hold a permanent visa or a protected special category visa, then you will still be eligible for the payment. 

If you are a non-protected special category visa holder who has been living in Australia for 10 years or more, you will also be eligible.

Other employees who are eligible include those who hold a special category (Subclass 444) visa.

Find out the conditions of your visa here.

How will the JobKeeper payment plan be paid?

Eligible employers will be paid $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum of six months.

Eligible employees will receive from their employers a minimum of $1,500 per fortnight, before tax. Employers can top up that payment.

Employers will pay employees as usual and payments will be made to the employer monthly in arrears by the Australian Tax Office.

If an employee was stood down and then resigns, do they receive JobKeeper if their unused annual leave entitlements exceed the subsidy? 

The only time employees are entitled to receive a JobKeeper bonus is when their normal pay is less than the fortnightly minimum (currently $1,500). If the employee received at least $1,500 in their final fortnight in the form of annual leave payout, the employer is not required to top up as it doesn't matter what that $1,500 is paid for.

Do employers still need to pay superannuation?

Employers must continue to pay the superannuation guarantee on regular wages but it is up to the employer whether they pay superannuation on additional JobKeeper payments.

For example, a worker who ordinarily receives $1,000 a fortnight plus superannuation will receive the $1,500 JobKeeper payment, with superannuation paid on the first $1,000 and the employer able to decide whether to pay it on the last $500.

What is an essential business?

An essential business can be classified as any business in the health sector – including hospitals, doctor practices, pharmacies, chiropractors and physiotherapists. 

Essential businesses also currently include parts of the hospitality industry, including restaurants and cafes (however strict takeaway only rules apply), and shopping centres.

Skilled trade services for residential are still available, including electricians, plumbers and carpenters. Although many trades have had to close where their primary work was in pubs, clubs, restaurants or RSLs. 

Essentially, businesses can stay open where they are critical to health, school, trades and some retail where:

  • Social or physical distancing can occur
  • The total number of people within an indoor or outdoor space can be managed
  • Good hygiene practices and suitable rubbish bins, with frequent cleaning and waste disposal, occur.

It is important to note that the classification of either essential or non-essential will continually change as the situation develops. For the full current situation as at 25 March, 2020 visit here.

What is a non-essential business?

It is important to note that the classification of either essential or non-essential will continually change as the situation develops. For the full current situation, please visit our What are non-essential services? page.

What happens if my employee has COVID-19 symptoms?

All employers should be taking precautions to actively manage their business’ exposure to health and safety risks arising from coronavirus.

If an employee tells you that they:

  • Are feeling unwell and may be suffering flu-like symptoms
  • Have been in contact with someone who has or may have been in contact with someone who has Coronavirus, or
  • Have travelled to an area affected by the Coronavirus,
  • They should be directed to follow the above Australian Government advice and seek medical advice immediately by calling 1800 020 080.

The health and safety of staff and those they come into contact with must be an employer’s top priority. This should dictate the approach an employer takes to responding to employees that may have come into contact with Coronavirus.

It is also important to direct employees to declare any upcoming or recent travel (including areas through which the employees have transited) so that employers can assess the prospect of risks to health and safety arising from staff movements generally; and provide employees with simple information regarding how they can maintain good hygiene.

If you require more assistance contact our Workplace Advice Line for free.

How can I assess who is most at risk of contracting Coronavirus?

  • Employers should, in consultation with workers, their Health and Safety representatives and any other businesses that work in the same work space:
  • Identify workers and work activities at the greatest risk of spreading infectious diseases in the event of a pandemic. For example: 
    • employees in clinical roles or working in clinical settings
    • border control
    • face-to-face customer service
  • Assess the likelihood and consequence of infection to workers and others in the workplace.
  • Identify suitable control measures to eliminate or minimise risks (expert advice may be needed).
  • Encourage ill workers to remain away from work when unwell.
  • Develop an implementation plan.
  • Continue monitoring expert advice as the COVID-19 situation develops.
  • Reviewing the implementation of infection control policies, procedures and practices to ensure they are effective and are being followed.
  • Educating and keeping employees and other persons at the workplace up to date on new information.
  • Consulting with others with whom the business works, particularly contractors and labour hire providers to ensure they are also being active, to the extent necessary, in managing the risk.
  • Monitoring changes in the law and official recommendations. For example:
  • On 19 March 2020, the Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Bill (Q) 2020 was introduced giving the Queensland Chief Health Officer extensive powers in relation to COVID-19.

If you require more assistance contact our Workplace Advice Line for free.

What are my Workplace Health and Safety Obligations?

Work Health and Safety (WHS) Laws require employers to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) the health and safety of their workers and others in the workplace.

Under these laws, employers must have measures in place to eliminate and manage the risks associated with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Read how you should manage the current situation in your workplace.

Alternatively, contact our Workplace Advice Line to receive expert support in understanding your obligations. 

How can I support the safety of my employees?

  • Consider establishing a customary non-contact greeting (e.g. bowing) and display posters promoting the non-contact greeting so visitors feel at ease.

  • Consider installing high-efficiency air filters.

  • Consider increasing ventilation rates in the work environment, including negative pressure ventilation.

  • Consider installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards.

  • Promote frequent and thorough hand washing by employees, customers and other visitors,

  • Make alcohol-based (i.e. containing at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitising dispensers available in prominent places around the workplace and ensure they are regularly refilled.
    • Important: Hand sanitisers should not be provided as the only hand hygiene option as there are times when soap and water should be used instead (e.g. when hands are visibly dirty or after going to the toilet).
  • Make sure that employees, contractors and customers have access to facilities where they can wash their hands with soap and water.

  • Regularly change soap or use liquid pump soap.

  • Ensure an adequate supply of paper tissues is available throughout the workplace.

  • Provide closed bins for hygienic disposal of used tissues.

  • High touch surfaces (e.g. counters, desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) are wiped with disinfectant regularly.

  • Areas where there is public access (including door knobs and handles) will also require frequent additional cleaning and disinfection,
  • Ensure infection control procedures are reviewed in consultation with cleaning staff and they have access to suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). For example:
    • gloves
    • gowns
    • professionally fitted masks
    • eye protection
    • respirators.
  • Adequate supplies of cleaning equipment and necessary PPE are available. 
  • Actively promote good hand hygiene in bathroom and kitchen amenities, and good respiratory hygiene in prominent places where close customer or worker contact occurs.

  • Display a poster prompting employee and others to maintain good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene. 

  • Discourage employees from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.

  • Restricting the number of personnel entering isolation areas.

  • Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another while maintaining a full onsite work week.

  • Discontinuing nonessential travel on high density vehicles (e.g. planes). 

  • Discontinuing nonessential travel to locations with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • Depending on the nature of the work, training employees who need to use PPE how to put it on, use/wear it, and take it off correctly, including in the context of their current and potential duties. 

  • Establish whether the business will accept an early return to work if the symptoms do not show within a period of less than two weeks. 
  • Establish a discipline regime for non-compliant workers. For example:
    • clear verbal warnings
    • re-training
    • written warnings that further non-compliance is unacceptable and could result in disciplinary action
    • show cause proceedings 
    • dismissal

What can I do to help manage my employee's stress and anxieties?

Regardless of the industry, employee wellbeing is essential to creating a healthy workplace environment. For detailed information on mental health and well-being of your employees, read our guide on how to develop a workplace mental health strategy.

What government assistance is available?

We've summarised the government assistance available to businesses and will continue to update this information as new information is released. 

How can I reduce my energy costs?

Try our free Energy Comparison Service. We’ve helped over 2,700 businesses compare their energy costs and identify potential estimated annual savings in excess of $7.3 million – that’s an average of over $2,800 per business per annum.  If you decide to switch all the paperwork will be taken care of.

How can I help improve my cashflow?

Here are some helpful articles on managing your business cashflow:

Should I withdraw my Superannuation early?

Read our article for guidance on options for accessing cash to help your business continue, including considerations you should take before accessing your superannuation and help you understand if withdrawing from your superannuation early is the right decision.


Can a landlord restrict or close trade on the premises?  

Landlords may not have any explicit obligations under their lease(s) or at law to take appropriate measures to prevent or contain COVID-19 in their premises or to provide additional services, such as cleaning. They may, however (and probably do) owe a duty of care to notify tenants when they become aware of a confirmed case within their building and/or of any reported cases of confirmed infected persons who may have been in occupation of, or visiting, their building.

Many leases contain provisions which allow landlords (acting reasonably) to close their buildings, individual premises and/or common areas in the event of an emergency, either temporarily or for the duration of the emergency.  

A confirmed COVID-19 case would probably, in the current circumstances, constitute an emergency. It could then be considered reasonable for a landlord to close the building for so long as it takes to deep clean and thoroughly disinfect the premises. 

Read more on landlords of small to medium businesses

What can landlords do if a tenant elects or is directed to restrict trade? 

Given the unforeseen nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, leases do not generally contain provisions which deal with events of this type and lease obligations will apply regardless of any external circumstances.  

Pending any direction provided by Federal or State Governments on this matter, landlords and tenants will need to engage openly and honestly with one another to try to reach mutually agreeable (and hopefully temporary) outcomes.

Read more on landlords of small to medium businesses

I'm having trouble keeping up with rent payments. What can I do?

If you fall behind with the rent and cannot pay the overdue amount, speak to your landlord immediately.

Explain the situation to them and try to negotiate a repayment plan to pay the money you owe in instalments, over time.

You can write a letter to your landlord to broker alternative rental payment options. This may include a temporary rent reduction or payment plan. 

What if business conditions mean a tenant can no longer make full rental payments to their landlord? 

You can write a letter to your landlord to broker alternative rental payment options. This may include a temporary rent reduction or payment plan.

Can I claim a rent ‘holiday’ for the time that my business is affected by the pandemic, or stop the landlord from terminating the lease and locking me out of my premises?

Most leases will require the tenant to pay rent, outgoings and any other money due under the lease, regardless of any external conditions or situation (including a pandemic or similar event). 

In those circumstances, it is recommended you engage in direct and up-front communication with your landlord to try to negotiate a full or partial abatement (reduced amount) of all payment obligations for the period of the pandemic. 

With luck, your business has an understanding landlord with whom you have a good ongoing commercial relationship, and they will be open to such discussions and (hopefully) temporary alternative arrangements. 

It is important to remember, however, that small landlords will be facing similar difficulties (for example, they may rely on rental income to fulfil their own obligations under a mortgage of the relevant property) and any concessions to their tenants may rely upon them being the recipients of similar concessions from their mortgagee.

If you require more assistance on this matter contact our team at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

Do I wait to hear from the landlord, or do I start the process?

It is important that you are proactive and start the process. Your lease will almost certainly require you to pay rent, outgoings and any other money to the landlord regardless of any external conditions and will also provide that a failure to do so gives the landlord the right to terminate. 

You need to commence discussions with your landlord as soon as possible, and before any non-payment or other breach sours the relationship between you or, worse, leads to termination. 

Open, honest and bona fide discussions with the landlord are imperative so that each of you understands the challenges faced by the other, and you can together work out a mutually agreeable approach that takes the needs of both parties into consideration.

You can write a letter to your landlord to broker alternative rental payment options. This may include a temporary rent reduction or payment plan.  

My landlord is supportive of my approach but is not clearly committing to a variation of my lease terms or other concessions. What do I need to get from my landlord to protect myself?

You need your landlord’s commitment in writing to anything that has been agreed between you. 

This can be as simple as correspondence between you and the landlord confirming the new arrangement(s), or may be more formally attended to by a written variation of the lease, signed by both parties. 

If your lease is registered on the title to the property, a formal variation of the lease may be registered to officially record the variation.

Should I prepare any documents required and send them to the landlord

Generally, the landlord will prepare any lease documents, including variations and the like, however, there is nothing to prevent you from offering to do this during your initial discussions.

This is something which can be decided between you and the landlord prior to formal documentation of your new arrangement.

If you require more assistance on this matter contact our team at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

My business is unaffected so far, but I need to protect it. How do I pre-empt any difficulty my business may face with meeting its lease obligations in the future?

The uncertain nature of the pandemic means it is impossible for anyone to predict its duration. If you are not facing difficulties now, but think that you may in the future, you should closely monitor how your business is performing. 

As soon as you foresee the possibility of any upcoming difficulty with meeting any of your lease obligations, you should initiate an open discussion with your landlord per the above.

What do I do if my landlord is unreasonable?

Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors answers anticipate that your landlord is reasonable and supportive in getting your business through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There will be some landlords who do not take a reasonable approach or who have financial issues of their own arising out of the pandemic. 

Such landlords may insist that all lease obligations remain on-foot, and that you must continue to pay rent and other money in full and/or continue to operate, under threat of them stepping in and terminating your lease.  

In those circumstances, we suggest you promptly get legal advice as to any rights you may have.


Will there be any disruption to my energy supply? 

No, the big three energy suppliers (AGL, Energy Australia and Origin) are currently operating business as usual with fully-staffed call centres. There are no reports of disruption.

You can find contact details for your energy provider here.

Are telecommunications providers putting in any measures to help manage an increase in demand?

Telecommunications providers are looking at all measures available to improve access in a mass work from home/ self-isolation scenario. A number of providers have already granted their customers extra data for no cost. 

NBN Co has also announced they will limit non-essential maintenance to minimise scheduled, planned outages in the weeks ahead to maintain network availability as much as possible. 

More measures are likely to be announced in the coming days. We will continue to update this page as information becomes available. 

View list of telecommunications providers and their contact information.

Will my businesses water supply be affected?

Water supplies are unaffected by COVID-19. Although, keep in mind that water restrictions are still in force in many drought affected communities across the country. 

How do I start an online store?

It’s now simpler than ever to create a slick, professional-looking e-commerce website, at little cost and without having to learn any coding. Website builders like GoDaddyWordPressSquareSpace and Wix offer abundant user-friendly e-commerce features, allowing you to build a fully functional online shop in just a few hours. 

For help with migrating your business online check out some of our resources.

I want to shift my business online. Where to do I start?

We have created a simple guide on how to develop a website for your business.

Which type of social media is best to run for my business?

As more social media platforms pop up across the digital landscape, it becomes increasingly tricky to decide which one will work best for your business. We've created a guide that can help you understand each of the platforms.

How do I advertise my business online in my local area?

Targeted advertising is very effective when you're online. There are options to geo-target your advertising in Google, in your social media (like Facebook and Instagram) and you can also make use of neighbourhood community groups. 

If you need support, book a free 90-minute marketing consultation and our Marketing Team can help you find a cost effective solution to going online. ,

How can I generate leads during COVID-19?

Adapting your business to the current situation is an essential part of its survival. We've put together some critical information on how to generate leads online.


What sections of the Fair Work Act have changed?

The Federal Government has made changes to the Fair Work Act where employers and employees are on the JobKeeper wage subsidy. 

The new laws override any modern award, enterprise agreement or employment contract. 

What are the new laws?

Under the new laws an employer can:

  • Stand down an employee without pay (completely or partially) for any period that they cannot be usefully employed, this is called a 'JobKeeper enabling stand down direction'.
  • Change employment arrangements (such as what they do, where they work and when they work) for a specific employee. 

For more information read our full breakdown of the changes here.

What happens if there is a dispute about the changes?

The Fair Work Commission can deal with a dispute about any of these matters but must take into account fairness between the parties concerned.  

How long can a JobKeeper direction last?

A JobKeeper enabling stand down direction continues in effect until: 

  • it is withdrawn or revoked by the employer
  • it is replaced by a new JobKeeper enabling direction
  • an order by the Fair Work Commission requires it 
  • there is no further JobKeeper payment. 

Are the changes permanent? 

The amendments to the Fair Work Act are intended to be temporary and will be subject to a review process starting at the end of July 2020. 


When can you stand down an employee? 

If you are standing down an employee and accessing the JobKeeper payment, recent changes to the Fair Work Act state you can stand down the employee without pay (completely or partially) for any period that they cannot be usefully employed. This is called a 'JobKeeper enabling stand down direction'. 

In other cases, Joe Murphy, Managing Director – Workplace at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors says,

"There needs to be a cause for a stoppage of work that an employer cannot be held responsible for. Unless there is a stoppage and no useful work, you cannot stand someone down."

Read our Temporarily Shutting Down Part Or All Of Your Business page for more information and some scenario examples.

If you require more assistance on this matter, contact our team at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

What is the difference between being stood down and redundancy?

Read here to understand the difference between what these options mean for you and your business, shared by the Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

Can I ask an employee to reduce their hours of work? 

If paid or unpaid leave is not an option, then reduced work hours may be a viable option for some businesses but be cautious about trying to steamroll any changes through. 

Joe Murphy, Managing Director – Workplace at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors says, “Every employee has to individually agree to cut their hours. Even though it’s a time of crisis you need every single employee’s agreement before you vary any terms of employment or contracted hours for that individual. And you need to be very careful that you don’t say ‘if you don’t agree, I will have to consider redundancy’.”

If you require more assistance on this matter contact our team at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.

What type of leave do my employees take?

If an employee informs you that they have contracted the Coronavirus or need to care for a member of their immediate family or household who has contracted Coronavirus, then they will be entitled to take personal leave under the National Employment Standards (NES).

Personal/carers leave is not available where an employee has come into contact with a person who has Coronavirus or where an employee returns from travel to a high-risk area as outlined above, but is not yet sick themselves.

This is because, to qualify for personal leave, an employee must be “not fit for work” because of an illness or injury affecting them. It is unlikely that this pre-requisite will be met by persons who are not yet diagnosed as ill but merely require isolation.

As the coronavirus crisis escalates, many employees may need to take carer's leave if schools close or family members are sick. Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors, employment lawyer Joe Murphy answers three questions you're likely to encounter

To help assist you with addressing employees leave from the workplace, check out our employer toolkit.

Do I need to pay my employees who are isolated, but not diagnosed with Coronavirus?

Given the likely inability to provide personal leave in cases where employees require isolation but have not been positively diagnosed, in most cases, employers should look to utilise practical solutions to address the employee’s absence.

For example:

  • In some cases, employers could permit the employee to work from home. This ensures a level of productivity is retained and will allow the employee to continue to be paid wages during the isolation period.
  • When working from home is unavailable, employers may wish to provide discretionary paid leave to employees so that they do not suffer from a loss of pay during the isolation period.

As an employer, it is worthwhile considering whether discretionary options such as those above can be accommodated. Employers will need to balance the short-term cost associated with these measures against the longer-term benefits that arise both for the employment relationship and the national interest. 

What if I am unwilling or unable to make payments to an employee who needs to be isolated (but is not diagnosed with Coronavirus) during this period?

For some businesses, it might not be feasible to pay employees who are required to self-isolate.

If an employer is unwilling or unable to pay employees whilst in isolation and an employee maintains that they are able to work, then employers face a difficult scenario: the employee says they are fit to work, but the employer has concerns that the employee is not fit to work without posing unacceptable safety risks to the workforce. 

The best means of resolving this is to direct the relevant employee to undergo testing if testing is available.

What if testing is unavailable for employees in isolation?

The advice from Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors is:

  • It’s a requirement of any employment contract that employees are required to carry out their employment without endangering the safety of other persons.
  • In order to be paid for their service, employees need to be “ready, willing and able” to work.

These principles will govern an employer’s approach to employees who are told to isolate in circumstances where testing is unavailable (or refused by the employee).

Two scenarios are likely to arise:

Scenario one: In some cases, an employee may have had levels of contact with persons exposed to Coronavirus which means the risk to safety presented by the employee’s presence at work is materially greater than other employees. By way of example, if an employee has just returned from mainland China or has been living with a person who has contracted Coronavirus, the employee will likely present significantly greater risks to the workforce than most other workers. 

Scenario two: In other cases, an employee might have had a level of contact that causes an employer some anxiety but not a material concern – by way of example, the employee’s child might have attended a school where there was a Coronavirus diagnosis or the employee may have returned from travel to an area designated by the Australian Government’s health advice as ‘moderate risk’. Whilst there is some risk associated with contact with the relevant employee, the risk might not be materially greater than that posed by other workers who have been to supermarkets, gone to a football match, etc.

In the first scenario, a level of debate is likely to arise. However, provided the employer can demonstrate the relevant employee poses a sufficiently material risk to health and safety that cannot be mitigated, there is a reasonable basis for the employer to contend that the employee must stay away from work on unpaid leave (or annual leave if requested) until such time as the material risk decreases.

In the second scenario, it is unlikely that an employer will have a legitimate basis to direct an employee to stay away from work without pay. Rather, if the employer is directing the employee to remain away from work, the employer will need to pay the employee for the relevant period.

Employers should consider supporting the national objective of quarantining potentially infected citizens and suggest that employers explore all avenues to avoid loss of pay for those employees who do the right thing.

What about casual employees?

Casual employees are not entitled to sick leave. This means that a casual employee who is diagnosed with Coronavirus may be required to refrain from presenting to work without additional payments.

Furthermore, where shifts to casual employees are reduced either on account of business downturn or because the employee has been required to isolate (due to contact or recent travel), the employees will not be entitled to payment during this period. 

I have a new starter. What do I do?

In times like these, hiring new team members might be the furthest thing from your mind – and rightly so. However, if you have already committed to taking on a new starter before the outbreak, you should take a few things into consideration.

We’ve compiled some helpful resources to assist you along the way.

What do the changes in the NSW Long Service Leave Act mean for me?

The amendments to the Long Service Leave Act 1955 allows employees to take leave in shorter blocks, e.g. one day a week. It also removes the traditional one-month notice period, with agreement from the employer.

Read more about all the amendments to the Long Service Leave Act 1955 and how it can affect you and your business.

Who is hiring during Coronavirus?

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in unexpected unemployment for tens of thousands of Australians, but not all businesses are reducing their headcounts. Some are in hiring mode as the unprecedented global health emergency sees demand for their products and services surge.

Find more information on workplaces seeking staff.

How do I take advantage of the apprentice wage subsidy from the government?

What is it: An apprentice or trainee wage subsidy of 50% of their wage paid from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. Employers will be reimbursed up to a maximum of $21,000, per eligible apprentice or trainee ($7,000 per quarter).

Who is eligible: Small businesses employing fewer than 20 fulltime employees who retain an apprentice or trainee. 

Employers of any size and Group Training Organisations that reengage an eligible out of trade apprentice or trainee will be eligible for the subsidy. The apprentice or trainee must have been in training with a small business as at 1 March 2020.

When can I receive it: Employers can register for the subsidy from early April 2020. Final claims for payment must be lodged by 31 December 2020.

Employers will be able to access the subsidy after an eligibility assessment is undertaken by an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider. 

How can it help: This can provide cashflow support to businesses as well as the continuance of employment for apprentices and trainees.

Read more on wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees during COVID-19.

Getting started: Eligibility assessment criteria are still yet to be confirmed (as at 3:30pm 20 March) but for help and support you can call Apprenticeship Support Australia on 1300 363 831  Monday to Friday 8:30am – 5:00pm (AEST). Apprenticeship Support Australia is powered by My Business and is an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider.

What assistance is the Government offering for Apprentices and Trainees?

If you employ an apprentice or trainee you may be eligible for a wage subsidy of 50 per cent of their wage paid from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020.  

However, the government has announced a new JobKeeper Payment Plan. 

If you’re a small business (less than 20 employees as at 01 March 2020), you can switch at any time, from the apprentice/trainee wage subsidy of up to 50% (max. $7,000 per quarter) to the JobKeeper Payment.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

Can I claim both the apprentice wage subsidy AND the JobKeeper Payment plan?

Currently, the apprentice wage subsidy of up to 50% is only for businesses of less than 20 employees for up to about $21K per employer and this intersects with the JobKeeper program.

The Apprenticeships Incentives say that the employer can only claim one wage subsidy.  The Department responsible has confirmed that you will only be able to claim one. Either apprentice wage subsidy or the JobKeeper.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

Which government assistance plan should I apply for?

For employers of less than 20 employees who have dropped revenue by 15% as per the JobKeeper rules, you can apply for the JobKeeper support.  If you have less than 20 employees and have not dropped in revenue by 15% then you should apply for the 50% Apprentice wage subsidy.

Note that it is possible at the moment that the employer will be paid for more than the apprentice is usually paid and therefore the apprentice is likely to be paid more.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

Can apprentices and trainees apply for the JobKeeper Payment plan?

An apprentice and a trainee may be entitled to receive the $1,500 per fortnight, as they are full time or part-time employee of the business and registered under a National Training Contract.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

I’ve already applied on behalf of my business for the apprentice and trainee wage subsidy, can I switch to the JobKeeper Payment?

Yes, a small business (less than 20 employees as at 1 March 2020) can switch at any time, from the apprentice/trainee wage subsidy of up to 50% (max. $7,000 per quarter) to the JobKeeper Payment.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

Can eligible employers claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for any period before claiming the JobKeeper Payment?

Where an eligible employer claims the JobKeeper Payment, they will be eligible to claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for wages paid up to the date they are eligible for the JobKeeper Payment.


An Australian Apprentice commenced with a small business employer on 4 December 2019. The employer was assessed as eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for retaining the Australian Apprentice. The employer subsequently registered with the ATO and is assessed as eligible for the JobKeeper Payment from 18 May 2020.

The employer will be eligible to claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for wages paid from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020 and 1 April 2020 to 17 May 2020. Following this, the employer will no longer be eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees as they are in receipt of the JobKeeper Payment from 18 May 2020.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

As the JobKeeper Payment starts on 30 March 2020, can eligible employers claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for wages paid during the period 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020?

Where an eligible employer claims the JobKeeper Payment from 30 March 2020, they will be eligible to claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees Wage Subsidy for wages paid during the period 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020.

Example 1

An Australian Apprentice commenced with a small business employer on 2 February 2020. The employer was assessed as eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for retaining the Australian Apprentice. The employer then registers with the ATO and is assessed as eligible for the JobKeeper Payment from 30 March 2020.

The employer will be eligible to claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for wages paid from the date of commencement (2 February 2020) to the effective date (31 March 2020). After this claim, the employer will no longer be eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees as they are in receipt of the JobKeeper Payment.

Example 2

An Australian Apprentice commenced with a small business employer on 28 November 2019. The employer was assessed as eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for retaining the Australian Apprentice. The employer then registers with the ATO and is assessed as eligible for the JobKeeper Payment from 30 March 2020.

The employer will be eligible to claim Supporting Apprentices and Trainees for wages paid from 1 January 2020 to the effective date (31 March 2020). After this claim, the employer will no longer be eligible for Supporting Apprentices and Trainees as they are in receipt of the JobKeeper Payment.

For further information, JobKeeper Payment plan.

My employees are all using their home internet connections now while they work from home. How can I protect my business from any cyber-attacks?

The sudden rush to remote working can create additional cybersecurity threats to employees and their employer. This includes vulnerability to identity theft, phishing, malware and ransomware. Employers may be exposed to data breaches, privacy breaches, unauthorised access by hackers, as well as other types of threats.  We've curated some simple tips for employees and employers to protect themselves (with no IT degree or background required).

What can I claim come tax time?

Get an in-depth understanding of what your employees can claim when working from home.

How can I keep my team intact during COVID-19?

We spoke to Director and Co-Founder of Digital Crew, Ophenia Liang, about some of the ways businesses can adapt.

It is important to note this information does not represent legal advice and you should seek specific legal advice for your circumstances. We recommend Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors to help find solutions and minimise risk on your workplace.

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