In late March Caxton Legal Centre staff began to see a rising wave of demand for employment law advice from workers affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. As of June, that demand has not abated, and more distress is expected as the economic impact of the pandemic response continues to bite. Trends have included widespread dismissals, stand downs and JobKeeper problems along with an upswing in discrimination and improper treatment.
Large numbers of clients have reported that their employer has chosen to stand down or dismiss particular employees rather than others for unfair, and sometimes unlawful, reasons. These have included where people have previously raised complaints about their employment or taken a temporary absence from work, and for discriminatory reasons because, for example, the worker has family responsibilities, works part-time, or is the oldest or youngest worker in their workplace. We have seen cases in which workers were denied access to sick leave, pays were opportunistically cut and vulnerable workers were dismissed ahead of everyone else.
We are also seeing clients with JobKeeper disputes. Several of our clients said their employers asked them to work extra hours to ‘meet’ the $750 payment. Other clients were asked to take all annual leave first before they would apply for JobKeeper.
The most concerning trend identified by Caxton staff lawyers has been a general disregard for progressively won workplace rights with women, workers with disabilities, older workers, very low income and migrant workers, and those with flexible work arrangements the hardest hit. A human rights approach to the economic recovery would listen to these workers and prioritise their concerns and needs.
To assist us to meet the demand for employment law help, Caxton recently brought back a small group of pro bono employment lawyers through a new remote volunteering model. This boost to our capacity will be essential over the next few months with demand expected to spike again as workplaces come to terms with the future of their business after the shutdown, and as the JobKeeper cliff looms.
Employees who have experienced discrimination, unfair treatment or dismissal from work should get legal advice from a union or employment lawyer. It is important to get advice as quickly as possible, especially if you have been dismissed because short time limits may apply. For example, most proceedings relating to dismissal (including unfair dismissal actions) must be commenced within 21 days from the date of dismissal.
Caxton’s employment law service can help employees who earn less than $80,000 or, if dismissed, who were earning less than $80,000 prior to dismissal.
Bookings for legal advice about dismissal, discrimination, harassment or mistreatment at work can be made by contacting Caxton Legal Centre on (07) 3214 6333.