COVID-19: JobKeeper Changes and Staffing your Business

As businesses reopen but now face the possibility of second and further lockdowns, having an adaptable COVID-19 business plan, including your HR staffing needs, is critical.

In this article I will take you through some of the actions you need to take to address  staffing and HR challenges during this time and the months ahead as JobKeeper criteria changes.

When I speak to business owners about the roller-coaster of 2020, there are emotional scars from having to stand down and make staff members redundant. Hiring and investing in staff again can seem daunting.  There’s a reluctance to commit to the cost of employees and the fear of possibly having to deal with more redundancies in the future (a very uncertain future at that).

The JobKeeper scheme has helped many businesses and workers over the past few months. Budgetary concerns and the scheme’s tendency to create adverse incentives means the recent announcement of JobKeeper 2.0 is a scaled-down, two-tiered version of its predecessor.

The new JobKeeper payment will be reduced to $1,200 per fortnight from October 2020, while those working under 20 hours per week pre-COVID will receive $750 instead of the $1,500 flat rate. From the start of January 2021 until the end of March 2021, the payment will be lowered further to $1,000 and $650, respectively. 

These figures will now reflect hours worked prior to the pandemic, offering a lower subsidy rate to those that were earning less. 

This new 2 tiered system is designed to curb instances where part-time workers have been reluctant to do additional hours of work more commensurate with the JobKeeper payment, as well as instances where stood-down workers have been reluctant to take on any work hours as businesses began to reopen.

As part of your COVID-19 business planning, it is essential to review your HR and staffing levels in relation to your business forecasts. Before you can properly plan for HR, you need to know what you’re planning for. What will your business look like in the short-to-medium term and what human resources will you need to make it happen? 

As hard as that may be to predict right now, it is very important. You need to remain realistic. If your business has halved, you won’t be able to afford to run it the way you have in the past. If you’re one of the lucky ones who have a growing business right now, you also need to plan for that.

Although some will maintain that a crystal ball is the only way to determine this information, those businesses with a plan and the ability to foresee all possible scenarios within that plan, will be the most resilient.

If you are a business that will need to review or reduce staffing numbers, consider these options first.

    • Redeployment of staff within the business to other areas
    • Reduced working hours/days
    • Ask staff to take leave where possible
    • Continue staff working from home and the possibility of reduced office space needs
    • Redundancy (as a last option).

One positive from COVID-19 is the way it has changed the way people work, especially when it comes to working from home. For many businesses it was surprising how productive and engaged their teams were when they were not in the office — and many have vowed to allow greater flexibility as things get back to normal. This can have additional benefits in terms of reducing office costs as well as retaining and attracting staff.

Now is the time to work out what your workplace will look like over the coming financial year. If you decide to grant employees permission to work from home more frequently, make sure you have appropriate HR policies in place. If however, working from home is not an ongoing viable option for your business, that’s completely fine too – just factor it into your business plan.

If all options have been exhausted and you do have to make some employee’s roles redundant, it is important that you pay staff their correct entitlements, including any redundancy payment under their employment contract, award, enterprise agreement (or if they don’t have one, under the National Employment Standards). Getting this wrong can lead to expensive claims — something you really don’t need in your business.

Although the Fair Work Act has made some positive changes during COVID-19 to assist employers with staffing challenges and JobKeeper, the laws remain in place in relation to redundancy. Be mindful that many awards and agreements require a consultative approach to potential redundancies with those staff likely to be affected.

Although some employers see redundancy as an easier option to ease financial strain, the need to recruit new staff in the not-too-distant future becomes a much more expensive exercise.

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do when it comes to HR is to communicate with your staff and remain as transparent as possible. Your staff will be anxious as to job security and their future. Your ability to manage and lead this process will be paramount. The good news is that there is a wealth of resources and expert advice to assist you during these times.

At Core Business Consultants we provide specialist HR, operational and management strategy and implementation support to small and medium professional services firms in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and the Hunter Valley.