The Federal Government yesterday passed legislation to provide for its new $1,500 JobKeeper payment scheme.

The Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020, sets out the framework for the scheme, including requirements around record keeping by employers and liability for overpayments. The legislation imposes civil penalties of up to 600 penalty units ($126,000) for employers that breach JobKeeper requirements, e.g. failing to pass on the full $1500 payment.

Unhelpfully, the details of the scheme, including eligibility requirements and conditions, are yet to be decided upon and will form part of new 'Rules', which have not yet been published.

The Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020, which relevantly amends the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), prescribes a range of economic response measures that will apply until 28 September 2020.

Importantly, an employer qualifying for JobKeeper payments will be able to give directions to employees varying employees' terms of employment without agreement. The directions that may be given include changes to hours of work (including to stand down entirely), timing of work, location of work, the taking of annual leave, and the allocation of work tasks.

Specifically for stand down directions, an employee must not be able to be usefully employed for their normal hours or days, and the direction must be responsive to 'changes of business attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic or government initiatives to slow the transmission'. For all JobKeeper directions to be lawful:

  • they must be reasonable;
  • employers must consult with the affected employees (which may be by electronic communication); and
  • employers must give three days' notice before the direction takes effect unless a lesser period is agreed.

The new legislation leaves many questions unanswered, so we will keep you updated as soon as more details are available.

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