13 December 2021

Employers and staff face a raft of legal challenges in wake of COVID-19 lockdown

| Katrina Condie
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Alison Spivey from Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers

Employment lawyer Alison Spivey is settling into her desk after starting her new role with Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers during Canberra’s COVID-19 lockdown in 2021. Photo: Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a massive challenge for employers and employees as they’ve navigated snap lockdowns, working from home and then transitioning back to work, but employment lawyer Alison Spivey says there are likely further challenges to come.

The newest member of Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers’ Employment, Industrial Relations and Safety (EIRS) team in Canberra, Alison says workplaces will continue to change and adapt as we all learn to live with COVID-19.

“The past 12 to 18 months have brought to the fore some critical issues for employers and their staff about how they work and how they deal with and adapt to change,” she says.

“As they head back to the office, employers and staff are continuing to be presented with new issues as they seek to determine what their ‘COVID-19 normal’ working environment will look like.”

As the ACT opens up, some staff may seek more flexible hours or want to keep working from home, while others could find it hard to re-engage with their employment after not being able to work for some time.

“These issues will manifest themselves in many different ways in the next few months, and possibly years,” says Alison.

“For example, a lot of people may look at changing the way they work permanently or be potentially looking for a better work-life balance.”

On the other hand, employers may find themselves having to think outside the box to attract and retain staff in light of the new ways of working that emerged out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but may now be the preferred way of working for staff.

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Issues relating to COVID-19 will also continue to loom large for employers as they will be required to maintain measures that will reduce the risk of transmission for the foreseeable future.

Social distancing may require employers to rethink their physical workspaces, and vaccination will likely remain a hot topic despite the ACT’s high vaccination rates.

“There is likely going to be a transition period as employers and their staff try to figure out a solution that works best for everyone,” says Alison.

The EIRS team at Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers offers advice to employers and employees about their entitlements, contracts and agreements, as well as providing industrial relations advice and managing worker claims, including discrimination and work, health and safety.

They can also assist employers with legal obligations compliance, as well as their rights to demote, suspend or terminate a worker, or can provide advice on workplace investigations.

As businesses attempt to navigate their way back to some kind of normal, Alison expects to be handling a plethora of employment issues arising out of lockdown, including unfair dismissal and discrimination claims, and potential disputes about staff entitlements.

“It’s not going to be an easy time for employers or their staff, but one of my favourite parts of my job is helping people navigate the complexities of the system and finding solutions to what are sometimes very tricky problems,” she says.

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Despite the challenges faced by many businesses, Alison says there is anecdotal evidence to suggest employers and staff having had to face those challenges has resulted in more acceptance and empathy in the workplace.

“If that is the case, it is a silver lining of sorts from this pandemic,” she says.

Alison began her new position at Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers during COVID-19 lockdown, describing the experience as an eye-opener for someone who has been working in the field for more than 15 years.

“The experience of being onboarded remotely and not having the opportunity to meet my new colleagues in person until some weeks after I started in the role was not at all what I have been used to, and certainly felt a little strange,” she says.

“But as a team we have successfully worked around the challenges, and if nothing else, the experience has given me a unique insight into many employment-related issues that my clients are currently having to manage on a daily basis.”

Having started her career in Canberra before moving on to work in employment law teams in various international and national law firms interstate, the former president of the Australian Labour and Employment Relations Association ACT says she has dived straight into helping local employers and employees understand what their rights and obligations are since joining Mayer Vandenberg Lawyers.

While she can now finally settle into her own desk, Alison says she’s also looking forward to spending time with family and friends during the holidays, and is very keen to travel overseas after postponing a much-anticipated trip to Hawaii last year.
Meyer Vandenberg Lawyers provide employment advice to both commercial businesses and not-for-profit organisations.


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