Dealing with external and internal COVID-19 challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present a raft of challenges for businesses and employees in the automotive industry, and as a business owner getting the balance right when dealing with the pressures brought to bear by both external circumstances and day-to-day workplace issues requires careful consideration.
Of course, as the economic landscape continues to evolve, it’s important to be aware of your rights when navigating issues such as tenancy laws, with the NSW Government having made amendments to and extended its recently introduced legislation designed to provide greater support for eligible tenants impacted by COVID-19.
Meanwhile, when it comes to managing potential issues within your own workplace, having the right structures in place to support your staff’s mental health, during a time in which employees may be particularly liable to stress and uncertainty, should be a strong focus.
We’ll look at some of the details business owners should keep in mind with regard to both of these issues below, with the Motor Traders’ Association of New South Wales (MTA NSW) able to provide members support and advice across a broad range of areas, including specific business issues.
RETAIL AND COMMERCIAL TENANCY SUPPORT
As advised above, the NSW Government has extended legislative measures providing rent relief for retail and commercial tenants – as outlined under the Retail and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation 2021, which was originally introduced in July this year – until January 13, 2022.
As laid out by the Government, amendments to the legislation require landlords to renegotiate rent with regard to National Cabinet’s Mandatory Code of Conduct, with landlords prohibited from evicting or locking out a tenant for certain breaches of a lease unless they have first renegotiated rent and attempted mediation.
It is worthwhile keeping the following in mind:
• Time frame – the measures were initially implemented on July 13 (with the new rules applying from August 13) and run through to January 13, to be subject to regular reviews
• Eligibility – encompasses commercial or retail tenants with an annual turnover of up to $50 million, who qualify for the 2021 COVID-19 Micro-business Grant, 2021 COVID-19 Business Grant or the 2021 JobSaver Payment
• Code of Conduct – requires landlords provide rent relief in proportion with a tenant’s decline in turnover
• Rent relief – at least 50 per cent of any relief provided must be in the form a waiver, with the balance a deferral.
With regard to mediation, the Government advises that property owners and tenants should work together to negotiate a rent relief agreement, and when unable to do so must attend mediation through the Small Business Commission.
Further information can be found at the NSW Small Business Commissioner website: www.smallbusiness.nsw.gov.au.
EMPLOYEE MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
Feelings of stress and anxiety brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may be exacerbated by work-related events – such as changes to a work environment, reduced job security, decreased income and isolation – and business owners should carefully consider how they can support employees.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act (NSW), employers must provide and maintain a working environment for all employees and independent contractors that is safe and free from health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Where a risk to health (including psychological health) is identified, employers must eliminate the risk, and where this is not possible, reduce the risk, so far as is reasonably practicable (including when an employee works from a location other than their usual workplace, such as at home).
Risks to employee mental health resulting from COVID-19 may include:
• Stress or anxiety – related to potential exposure to COVID-19, or if an outbreak occurs in the workplace
• Remote work – when undertaking isolated work employees may feel that they are getting a lower level of support and recognition, with lack of clarity about their role also potentially an issue
• Organisational changes – amid a restructure, if employees are not provided adequate training, information or support they may not be able to perform their role as required, and may also feel anxious about their job security if working reduced hours.
Among the steps employers can take to manage and support employee mental health are:
• Develop new systems – current systems may need to be replaced in seeking to support employee mental health (employers should consult employees and health and safety representatives)
• Control measures – addressing risks to psychological health may include consulting with employees and then considering how risks can be reasonably managed
• Organisational changes – seek and act on employee feedback in developing an understanding of and managing any concerns, while if roles have changed, or an employee is required to work remotely, clarify work expectations and ensure workloads are realistic
• Training – if role changes are more significant, training or a buddy system can help with the transition, while if demands and pressures have increased, consider measures such as increasing breaks times, rotating jobs and varying tasks
• Entitlements – make employees aware of their entitlements should they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities
• Channels of communication – provide appropriate and confidential channels to support workplace mental health and wellbeing, such as any Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or access to mental health services
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT RESOURCES FOR URGENT SUPPORT
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline (for under 25s): 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service: coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au, 1800 512 348
SafeWork NSW, COVID-19 and mental health at work: https://www.nsw.gov.au/mental-health-at-work/mental-health-at-work-resources/resource-kits/covid-19-mental-health-at-work-resource-kit
For further information, please contact the MTA NSW Employment Relations Team on phone – (02) 9016 9000; or email: [email protected] For membership enquiries, please contact MTA NSW on phone – (02) 9016 9000; or email: [email protected]