Extreme hot weather – do we pay employees who can’t work?

We love our Aussie summers, but not all of us operate inside an air-conditioned office where the temperature is controlled. For outdoor workers, what happens if it gets too hot to work? In what conditions can we send staff home and if so, are they entitled to a full day’s pay? Also, is it considered a stand down without payment because the extreme weather condition is outside an employer’s control? 

In this blog, we answer this burning question and share what you need to know when the mercury is soaring. 

Check the modern award or enterprise agreement

Employees who work outside are more exposed to severe weather conditions. Whether an employee is entitled to payment of wages when they’re not able to be usefully employed is subject to the applicable modern award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment. 

An award may provide payment where the employee is unable to perform work due to severe weather (the inclement weather clause). You can check whether your award has this clause on the FairWork website here. 

For example, under the Electrical, Electronic and Communications Industry Award 2010 (clause 25), it states that: “An employee will be entitled to payment by the employer for ordinary time lost through inclement weather whilst such conditions prevail”.

The clause also allows an employer to transfer employees to another site/location that is not affected by the inclement weather. 

If an award or agreement doesn’t say anything about inclement weather, employers may be able to stand-down employees.

Standing down employees

The stand-down provisions of the Fair Work Act (s524), says an employer can stand down employees if they cannot be usefully employed because of a “stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible, including severe and inclement weather or natural disasters”.

Sending employees home because of extreme heat events would be excusable because such conditions would pose serious harm to the employees’ health and safety.

While the term ‘usefully employed’ is not clearly defined in the Fair Work Act, employers must show that they have taken all possible steps to find useful work. Employers should not send employees home just because it is ‘quiet’.

An employee who is stood down is not paid unless they choose to take paid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. A period of stand-down without pay still counts as service.

Do you have a hot weather policy? 

To keep your employees safe from extreme heat, it’s recommended to implement a hot weather policy. The policy should provide guidelines and proper precautions to help prevent heat-related illnesses, injuries, and death during hot weather.

If your business doesn’t have a hot weather policy, please get in touch with us for advice or to draft one for your business.

Further information

Every state and territory has a workplace health and safety authority that can give advice to workplaces experiencing severe and inclement weather. You can get further advice about preventing incidents and illnesses from your local workplace health and safety body.

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