Fair Work creates pilot program to support employers with workplace COVID-19 issues
The Fair Work Ombudsman has created a pilot program to give eligible employers access to free, confidential legal advice to support them to navigate complex workplace issues arising from COVID-19 related occurrences.
Advice and support is available through the Workplace Legal Advice Program on a range of issues arising from the coronavirus outbreak, including but not limited to:
- stand downs from work
- flexible work arrangements
- pay and entitlements
- JobKeeper changes to the Fair Work Act.
The advice is provided by law firms with specialist workplace experience, and is provided free of charge. Access to the program is through Fair Work, with eligible employers being referred to the program after contacting the Fair Work Coronavirus hotline or making an online enquiry.
To be eligible for the Workplace Legal Advice program, an employer must:
- not be represented by a lawyer or paid agent;
- not be a paid member of a professional employer body or industry association that provides member advice services as part of your membership;
- be covered by the Fair Work system; and,
- agree to the terms and conditions, available at Workplace Legal Advice Program.
In order to access the program, employers must meet the following criteria:
- the employer is an ‘eligible employer’;
- the employer’s enquiry relates to workplace impacts of COVID-19; and,
- the employer is willing to participate in the program.
Once referred to the program, an employer will be given a unique reference number, and the enquiry will be allocated to one of the program’s partner law firms, along with relevant contact details.
The law firm will contact the employer within two business days. To meet professional legal requirements, the law firm will provide a letter outlining how legal services work and information on how they can help.
Employers should then respond within three business days to agree to move ahead with the support. In the event that an employer does not respond, Fair Work said, appointments may be reallocated.
The law firm will then arrange a meeting by phone or video conferencing technology to discuss the enquiry.
Employers are able to access up to four hours of legal advice free of charge to support them in dealing with the immediate needs of their businesses. This time, Fair Work said, can be used in a flexible manner over a number of appointments.
However, the Workplace Legal Advice Program will only provide advice related to Commonwealth workplace laws, to address workplace issues arising from the coronavirus outbreak. Advice on other topics (like tax or insolvency) are not covered by the program.
Any legal advice issued as part of the program is protected by legal professional privilege, and Fair Work will not receive any information about the advice given. The only information which will be provided to Fair Work is as follows:
- Confirmation that services were provided for the purpose of payment
- Input from legal firms about how to improve the referral process and service offering
- Input from legal firms to identify common themes and frequently asked questions.
Employers can usually only access the Workplace Legal Advice Program once. In exceptional circumstances, it may be possible for an employer to access the Program a second time. This will be assessed by Fair Work on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as whether there is a new issue that the business was not known at the initial appointment.
For more information, please visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.