Know where you stand during COVID-19
There’s a huge saturation of information flooding us from every direction and it can be a lot to take in and filter. We’ve wanted to help demystify as much as we can so that we can figure out the best possible way forward so we’ve contact Daniel McKinnon from Complete Legal & Conveyancing in Penrith to help figure this all out! Him and his team have kindly and swiftly provided us with some of the latest legal advice surrounding all the information that’s coming from the top.
“In the wake of the Coronavirus epidemic, we think it is more important than ever for local people and local businesses in Western Sydney to be backing each other
We are like a big country town out here and we need to help each other to make sure businesses and livelihoods survive.
We run a law firm and conveyancing practice in Penrith, assisting all different types of clients with all sorts of legal and property matters.
We do everything from conveyancing for first home buyers and drafting Wills to multi-million dollar property acquisitions, family law and litigation. We also have lots of business and commercial clients who we assist with all sorts of matters including buying and selling businesses, leases and business disputes.
This means that we get to speak with lots of local people from all different walks of life every day.
The message we have been getting consistently in recent times is that people have been a little bit confused about the ever changing legal landscape in the wake of COVID-19.
To assist, we have been posting videos on Facebook to update locals about legal developments they come to hand. We have also been partnering with other local businesses to provide as much information to the public as possible.
Here is a bit of a recap of some of the important legal matters that have developed in recent times:
- Restrictions on providing goods and services:
We are lucky because professional services offices are currently still able to operate, provided they comply with social distancing rules. Restaurants, pubs and clubs are, however, closed and cafes and restaurants are only able to offer their goods on an “take‑away” basis. We have adapted our business to offer no contact consultations by teleconference, video call utilising platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and email. We recommend all businesses start brainstorming about how they can change their service offering to suit a limited contact or no contact world. For example, we are now providing a range of legal documents that we use to print and execute in our office to our clients by email for them to print and execute at home, such as Wills and Contracts for Sale.
- Employment law
This is a hot topic currently. We have compiled a selection of titbits for you to think about.
- Stand downs without pay – these are permitted under the Fair Work Act where a business experiences a stoppage in work and its employees cannot usefully be employed in another part of the business where the stoppage or interruption is beyond the employer’s control. Economic downturn alone does not usually justify stand downs without pay.
- Redundancies – this occurs when an employer determines that an employee’s role is no longer required in the business. The employer should take steps to identify any potential alternative positions within the business before proceeding to redundancy. Compulsory notice periods are set out in the Fair Work Act and redundancy pay may be payable to employees who are not casual employees and have been working for the employer for over one year. Redundancy pay is not generally payable in a business with less than 15 employees.
- Obligation to consult – the Fair Work Commission always looks kindly on consultative approaches to managing things like stand downs and redundancies. Most modern Awards require an employer to consult with its employees before making decisions of this type. If you are an employer, you should also always consult with your staff and obtain their input and feedback before you make a decision about their position in the business.
- Record changes to employment conditions – if possible, rather than standing down staff without pay or making staff redundant, employers should consider temporary changes to employee conditions (for example, reducing hours and pay) by agreement with a view to returning the employee to full time employment, if possible, in the future. All parties should make notes of any conversations of this type and the specific parameters of any change to employment conditions should be recorded in writing with as much certainty as possible.
- Leases and tenancies
Some weeks ago the Prime Minister announced that the National Cabinet had agreed on a six month moratorium on evictions in relation to commercial and residential tenancies as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In other words, the message was a commercial or residential tenant cannot be evicted during this period for non-payment of rent. Commercial and residential tenancies, however, are dictated by State-based legislation. This means that each individual State must introduce legislation or regulations to enact such a moratorium. As at the date of this blog, New South Wales has not taken those steps, however reports suggest that drafting is well under way. The New South Wales Parliament has passed legislation enabling the Housing Minister to introduce regulations in relation to things like the prohibition of evictions and rent freezes without having to go to Parliament. The Minister has not done so at this stage.
One of the difficulties in relation to residential and commercial tenancies, is the fact that there are two parties to the transaction whose interests need to be protected – both the tenant and the landlord. A tenant who cannot pay rent is no better or worse than a landlord who cannot pay their mortgage.
It is expected that any rent freeze initiative will come in the form of the landlord’s bank agreeing to defer principal and interest payments on the condition that the landlord provides its tenant with the corresponding rent free period.
We will do our best to keep people updated via the Complete Legal & Conveyancing Facebook page as more details come to light.
- Public gatherings
Public gatherings are currently limited to no more than two people. The only exemption is people who are congregating in a permitted workplace or people who live in the same household travelling together.
These measures are enforceable by Police and significant fines of many thousands of dollars and even jail time can be imposed in relation to breaches.
- Essential gatherings
New South Wales Parliament has enacted legislation to define social gatherings including but not limited to professional services offices (such as law firms, accountant firms, mortgage broking firms, financial planning practices, real estate agent offices etc.), hospitals, transport hubs and shopping centres including retail shops that are not supermarkets.
- Supermarkets and petrol stations
An exhaustive list can be found by accessing the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 under the Public Health Act 2010 enacted on 30 March 2020.
We have seen lots of local businesses responding brilliantly to having their businesses shut down or business as they know it completely upended in the wake of the Coronavirus restrictions.
Pinot & Picasso have come up with a unique way of providing art boxes to customers by post and running online video art classes.
Local cafes, like Percy Plunkett and Nutrition Station, have teamed up to provide fresh, homestyle meals delivered to your door and professional services businesses like ours are conducting video conferences and providing necessary documents by email to ensure that we can continue to serve our clients and customers throughout this epidemic.
We are extremely positive about the outlook for businesses in Western Sydney if we all continue to back each other, shop local and work as a team.
We are incredibly proud to be part of the Penrith business community and continue to be amazed at the resilience of our great city.”
– [Locals Advice] Daniel McKinnon
If you’re in need of any specific advice, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with Complete Legal & Conveyancing.