COVID-19 and Your Lease

Further to our previous alerts, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 situation and whether there will be more restrictions introduced.
We know a number of our clients are concerned about their ongoing obligations and rights under their leases as well as workforce obligations during this uncertain time. To assist we have outlined below some recent developments and considerations in both property and employment law.
COVID-19 and Your Lease
For leases in particular, there are some other considerations that you need to be aware of if you are a landlord or a tenant (i.e. health and safety and emergency notification obligations). We understand that for a lot of you, your premises are crucial to the continued operation of your business, so any new restrictions imposed could have a significant impact on your business. We have put together an article which addresses some of the key obligations you should be aware of if you have a current lease, as well as what may happen to that lease depending on how the COVID-19 situation progresses.
The key takeaway message is that you should review your lease to ensure compliance with any obligations and start planning now for your next step if further restrictions are imposed. Please click here to find out more.
Last Friday afternoon our Prime Minister announced that the government is unveiling new policies to protect, for the “next six months at least”, residential tenants and businesses renting space in a Commercial office building. The new policies will be rolled out nationally once finalised. We await further clarification on the terms of these policies.
Workforce considerations

As COVID-19 continues to affect businesses, unfortunately downsizing and options available are a key consideration for many. This may include standing down employees, redundancies and/or reduced working days for example.
Fair Work has indicated that situations where employers can stand down their entire, or part of their workforce, include the following:

  1. if there was an enforceable government order or direction requiring the business to close (which means there is no work at all for the employees to do, even from another location).
  2. if a large proportion of the workforce was required to self-quarantine with the result that no useful work was able to be performed in the business by the remaining employees/workforce.
  3. if there was a stoppage of work due to lack of supply for which the employer could not be held responsible.

Employees accrue leave as normal while on stand down.
Employers are not required to pay their employees for the period of a stand down. In our experience, most of our clients are allowing employees to utilise their leave entitlements.   
What about employees without sufficient leave entitlements? Employers may allow those employees to go into negative annual leave.
Reductions in working hours and days across the board are also occurring. However, employers need their employee’s consent to reduce working hours, otherwise a redundancy may be triggered.
Businesses should also take advice from their accountants before taking any action on reducing employee numbers as there are incentives in place for businesses to retain employees.

Osborn Law trading activities

Like many other businesses, OL has now taken steps for all of our team (excluding our receptionist) to work from home and to continue to provide our usual benchmark support to our clients during this difficult time. Currently our receptionist is still attending our office on a day to day basis but if we are required to close our doors, then we will be able to have all services available from the respective homes of our team. OL team members have had the capability to work from home for some time and we can assure our clients that the quality and timeliness of our services will still continue during this challenging time. The team have included their direct mobile numbers on all email sign offs and are happy to take calls on their mobile during this time.
If you have any questions about your own matters or circumstances or would like any further information regarding the above, then please call or email us.
Thanks very much for your patience during this difficult time.