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Changes to employee reference dates for eligibility but not religious practitioners

As many are aware the Australian Government has announced cuts to payments under the JobKeeper Scheme but has extended their life spans. The tapering of the payments will occur in the December and March quarters, with the second phase of the JobKeeper Scheme to be rolled out in two tiers.

Amongst the various changes that have been announced to the JobKeeper Scheme, are those specifically adjusting the employee reference date for eligibility, thus making it easier for organisations to access JobKeeper payments in light of the further restrictions in Victoria. Specifically, from 3 August 2020, the relevant date for employment will move from 1 March to 1 July 2020.

However it is important to note that the adjustments to the employee reference date for eligibility does not yet extend to religious practitioners.  The Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Rules 2020 (“the Rules”) at clause 12BA sets out the eligibility requirements for religious practitioners, including the 1 March 2020 requirements. This is in contract to the eligibility requirements of an employee in clause 9 of the Rules which  has been amended to specify 1 July 2020 requirements.

In addition to the reference date for eligibility being amended, a new definition of the “reference period” has been included to reflect such fact. In respect to employees clause 4A of the Rules has been amended to include the 28 day period ending at the end of the most recent pay cycle for the employee for the entity that ended before 1 July 2020. This amendment has not been made with respect to eligible religious practitioners and as such the reference period for religious practitioners it is still the month of February 2020.

As such employees that worked 20 hours or more each week for a 28 day period before 1 July 2020 will be eligible for the higher tier, while those that worked less than this threshold are eligible for the lower tier of payments. The payments with respect to each tier are as follows:

  • $1,200 a fortnight until January 3, 2021 (reduced to $1,000 until the end of the program 28 March 2021);
  • $750 a fortnight until January 3, 2021 $650 (reduced to $650 until the end of the program 28 March 2021).

More information about this aspect of the JobKeeper Scheme can be found in our article on the matter: JobKeeper Extended.

Further if an individual is an employee and not a religious practitioner, this employee could still qualify for the higher JobKeeper payment, if they had increased their hours in the 28 days prior to 1 July 2020. If the person was a religious practitioner, they would not qualify for the higher JobKeeper payment. This individual would not qualify for the higher JobKeeper payment regardless of whether or not they were an employee or religious practitioner and must still meet the 1 March 2020 requirement.

Such difference between employees and religious practitioners appears to be intentional, in that the JobKeeper is designed to assist with the impact of COVID-19 and keep those who have lost their jobs, in their jobs (as at the time of the “first or second impact” of COVID-19).

It is important to note that the Commissioner has capacity to determine by a legislative instrument an alternative reference period. Specifically, the Explanatory Memorandum notes provide that the Commissioner “can also determine an alternative reference period for a religious practitioner or business participant if the standard reference period is not a suitable reference period.” As such  depending on the circumstance, those who might not meet this requirement may want to contact the Commissioner in respect to why the reference period couldn’t apply.  Should you wish to know more about how you can go about this or are unsure how these amendments affect your business or religious institution going forward, contact our Client Engagement Team for an appointment with our Employment Team who can help guide you through these times.

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