In today’s uncertainty, there’s a workplace term that is becoming more common, and it can be confusing if it’s something you haven’t faced before. What does it actually mean to be “stood down” from your job?
Your employer may stand you down temporarily if they can’t continue to employ you because of reasons beyond their control – in this case, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, it means you stop working and you’re not paid, but you’re still employed by the business and have entitlements. Being stood down is different to being made redundant or being fired.
Here’s more about how a stand down works, and what your rights are if it happens to you.
Defining a “stand down”
Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can be stood down from their role if they can’t be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work that the employer can’t reasonably be held responsible for.
For example, severe weather or a natural disaster, such as the recent bushfires, may have caused a workplace to be shut down, and this could trigger the Act’s stand down clause. Industrial action that your employer hasn’t organised or engaged in may also trigger a stand down. A breakdown of machinery or equipment may also cause a lawful stand down, so long as your employer wasn’t responsible for the failure.
But since the Federal Government announced restrictions on business and social gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19, businesses affected by these restrictions can now lawfully stand down employees without pay under the Fair Work Act.
“Employers can’t stand down employees simply because of a deterioration of business conditions or because an employee has the coronavirus,” says Emily Jaksch, Founder and Director of HR Gurus. “But, in this case, if a business is not allowed to operate under government direction, it triggers the stand down clause.”
What does “usefully employed” mean?
If your employer gains some benefit or value from the work that you do, you are considered “usefully employed” and you cannot be lawfully stood down from your role.
Jaksch says that before you can be stood down, your employer must try to find useful work for you in the business that you could reasonably be expected to perform.
“The Fair Work Act says an employer must be able to show that there is a stoppage of work and that employees can be stood down if they can’t be usefully employed, which is not limited to the work they usually perform,” Jaksch says. “This means that if you can employ someone in a different area then you are obligated to do that.”
Leisa Messer, Managing Director of HR Business Direction, explains that there’s generally a consultation period where your employer may discuss your options.
“This consultation period is also an opportunity for employees to suggest things that they may be able to do for the business outside of their normal role, and many employees can think creatively,” she says.
“However, if a whole business is being shut down, it’s unlikely that this kind of flexibility will be possible.”
What are your rights?
Being stood down does not mean that your role is redundant. You’re still employed, but you will not be paid during the stand down period (unless your employer is receiving a subsidy to pay you).
“You don’t lose your other entitlements when you are stood down,” Jaksch says. “For example, you are still entitled to accrue annual leave.”
If the stand down happens while you’re on authorised annual leave, it will not come into effect until your annual leave finishes.
If you choose to resign during a stand down to take up another job or to access social security benefits, Jaksch says your employer must pay out the accumulated annual leave that you haven’t already taken, as well as your long service leave. “They are required to do this because your employment is ending,” she says.
“A stand down can be really unsettling, especially at a time like this when everything is changing so quickly,” Jaksch says. However, in most cases, a stand down is a temporary measure where you can expect to return to work.
The above information was last updated 23.04.20.
Information provided in this article is general only and it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.