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Managing people

Find out key legal obligations to your employees, volunteers and members.

Content last updated 29/07/2022

Changing workers shifts during COVID-19

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If your organisation's income has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be looking at reducing hours of paid staff. Can you ask volunteers to perform the work of your paid staff instead?

Many organisations are facing a reduction or a potential reduction in income because of COVID-19. This is prompting organisations to consider whether they can maintain the current level of service delivery or the current level of employee hours. Some organisations are querying whether they are legally allowed to replace paid staff with volunteers in order to continue the current level of service delivery.

Whether your organisation can lawfully substitute volunteers for paid staff will depend on the reason why the paid employees' hours were reduced. This should be approached with caution - it's a complicated topic and we strongly recommend that your organisation seek legal advice. We also encourage organisations to treat volunteer positions with respect and in accordance with Volunteering Australia’s National Standards for Volunteer Involvement.

The demand on your services may have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Are you allowed to ask your paid staff to volunteer extra hours to meet service demand?

It’s possible, but not recommended to ask your employees to volunteer to work additional hours without pay. There is a risk that it may be difficult to distinguish between a person's paid work and unpaid voluntary work. This puts your organisation at risk of legal claims such as claims for underpayment of wages and other employee entitlements.

If your organisation decides to implement or allow this practice, your organisation would need to be confident it could reduce these risks to manageable levels. For example, as a bare minimum, you would likely need a separate written agreement with each individual employee dealing with the voluntary arrangement, specifying relevant matters such as what the voluntary work involves and when it is to be done.

You would also need a system in place such as a time or attendance recording system that allows your organisation to confirm when an employee is doing voluntary work and that it can be clearly distinguished from their paid work. We also strongly recommend that the work performed as an employee is kept completely separate, and looks completely different from the work performed as a volunteer.

Alternatively, or in addition, it’s still possible to recruit new volunteers in this climate. But you must ensure the recruitment process complies with applicable state and federal government directions and public health orders. Introducing new volunteers to your workforce may alleviate some of the challenges your organisation is currently facing.

Do you need to give your casual employees their shifts back?

Most likely no. In most cases, employers can cancel a casual employee’s shift, or even end their employment, for any reason with very little notice. This is because, unlike for permanent employees, employers are not under a legal obligation to make sure casual employees receive regular shifts.

The content on this webpage was last updated in March 2022 and is not legal advice. See full disclaimer and copyright notice.

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