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It’s always reassuring when you have a job, knowing you have work to go to in exchange for pay that will be nicely deposited into your bank account at the expected time.
But work has looked a little different over the past couple of years, with restrictions forcing workplaces to get flexible with how they operate, where they operate, what it is that everyone does, or whether people even still have a job or not.
So, with so many changes and uncertainties, as an employee, where do you stand?
The most important place to start is to understand your employment and conditions.
“There are various instruments that will govern a person’s terms and conditions of employment, whether it be legislation, their employment contracts, an enterprise agreement, or a modern award,” says Alison Spivey, Special Counsel in the Employment, Industrial Relations and Safety team at MV Law.
Separately or together, these instruments outline how your employment relationship is to be regulated and what your rights and obligations are, so Alison says if you’re not already familiar with them, it’s time to get familiar with them.
To find the relevant instruments, you can ask your employer for your employment contract as well as any relevant enterprise agreements or modern awards. The latter are also published on the Fair Work Commission website.
If something has happened like a change to your role, conditions, or hours, or even being stood down, Alison says the next course of action is to ask your employer for the reasoning behind their decision.
“Given the current level of uncertainty, particularly with respect to how COVID has affected, and will continue to affect, their employment, I can understand employees being confused and concerned about their employment and what it might look like in the future. It is important that employees have an understanding of what their rights are. And the place to start is with their employer and asking questions,” she says.
Once you have the answer, and if you are not satisfied with it or have more questions, you can find out more about where you stand through a number of avenues. The Fair Work Ombudsman provides advice on employment entitlements, industrial instruments, and modern awards.
If you’re a member of a union, they should be able to provide advice as part of your membership. You can also speak to a lawyer, like Alison, with a specialty in employment law issues, or there are a number of organisations that provide free legal advice or assistance to certain eligible sectors of the community.
Alison says at the crux of it all, whether you’re an employer or an employee, there needs to be an element of flexibility and understanding as everyone navigates these uncertain times, amongst the backdrop of what is still an unknown timeline.
“The situation today may be so much different than the situation tomorrow, or the situation in a month’s time. Employers and employees will need to remain adaptable as circumstances continue to change. Resilience and empathy will also be key to employers and employees successfully navigating the next little while”.
“There’s likely to be an adjustment period for people coming back into the workforce or returning to the office, as restrictions ease. And there may be a lag in businesses settling into their “COVID normal” arrangements, as they seek to manage the risks of COVID still circulating in the community (for example, by encouraging employees to continue to work from home or adopting a staggered approach to employees returning to the office) and with the Christmas and January school holiday periods in the not too distant future”, says Alison.
“Given that circumstances are constantly evolving and have a tendency to change rapidly, there is also a risk that employers (and employees) might not get things right every time. Often it is assumed that if something has not been done correctly, it was deliberate. My experience is that this is rarely the case, and that it is more likely the result of a misunderstanding of the party’s obligations. If it appears that an employment issue may not have been handled correctly, then employers and employees are encouraged to work together to try and resolve the issue, or to seek further assistance if the issue cannot be resolved at the workplace level”.