COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – Small Business

Tips & rescouces to help manage your small business

If you’re having concerns about cash flow, paying fixed costs such as rent, wages, utilities and loan repayments, the earlier you act the easier it can be to negotiate temporary payment terms with your lenders, creditors and suppliers.

Business loan repayments

Small businesses impacted by COVID-19 are now able to defer their business loan repayments for six months. Read more.

To find our more about deferring your loan repayments, contact your bank. Here are the dedicated business hardship contact lines for the key Australian banks:

The Australian Taxation Office can help you with your tax and super obligations if you’re experiencing difficulties. For tailored support, contact the ATO Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 or visit the website for more information.

As part of an economic stimulus package, the Commonwealth Government has introduced several financial support programs to assist small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19.

For more information on the support options available to your business, visit our detailed blog.

If your business is experiencing a downturn in trade, then cashflow and making your usual payments such as rent may be a problem too. If you’re falling behind in your rent, make sure you speak to your landlord about the situation before it gets out of control. In some cases, your landlord may be willing to negotiate a rental reduction.

If you decide to try to negotiate with your landlord, be prepared. Carefully develop your case and back it up with evidence, including financial data and examples of retail outlets similar to yours. The landlord will want to hear a compelling argument for rent reduction and the benefits for them.

Sometimes you may want a rent reduction because of something that’s beyond your control. For example, a general economic downtown may be impacting on many retail businesses.

In this situation, the landlord may be persuaded that it’s better to have less money coming in, rather than try to find a new tenant during tough economic times.

The geographical area in which the shop is located may be undergoing change, such as a new highway bypass reducing traffic flow. Again, the landlord may prefer to have the shop occupied and have some cash flow rather than see it empty.

The Government has now released the mandatory industry code for commercial and retail leases.

Now agreed upon, the Code will be legislated and managed by the States and Territories and will be subject to binding mediation. The two core principles underpinning the Code will be good faith and proportionality, with landlords and tenants urged to work together on how to best manage rent relief going forward.

Who does the mandatory code apply to?

  • The code will apply to tenants with a turnover of $50m or less.
  • Tenants that have experienced a 30% or greater loss in revenue.
  • Tenancies where the landlord or tenant are participating or will participate in the JobKeeper program.

What does rent relief look like?

  •  Landlords are expected to negotiate in good faith and ‘share the pain’.
  • The rent relief should be proportionate to the reduction in turnover and should comprise waivers and deferrals.
  • Waivers must account for at least 50% of the reduction.
  • Any recoupment of deferred rent will be over the duration of the lease period or a minimum of 24 months. This means if a tenant has six months left on their lease, they should be offered a 24 month period to pay any deferred rent.
  •  Landlords cannot terminate a lease on the basis of non-payment, nor dip into bonds to cover unpaid rent. Those who choose not to engage may forfeit themselves out of the lease.
  • Tenants are expected to honour their obligations under a lease (i.e. they can’t just walk away, which was one of the industry concerns when the initial guidelines were announced).

We anticipate there will be additional information to come from the States and Territories about how this will be applied in each jurisdiction, as well as announcements of additional relief on land tax and rates – on the proviso this is passed on to the tenants.

There are also questions around the role of the banks going forward, as well as the need for landlords and tenants that don’t fit within the mandatory Code to work together over the coming months.

As an example, if your tenant claims a 40% reduction in turnover, you will be required to offer a 40% reduction in rent of which at least 50% of the amount must be a waiver.

In this example, if the monthly rental was $4,000 – a reduction of $1,600 must be offered by way of at least $800 waived and $800 deferred over 24 months.

If you are having difficulties meeting your tax and super obligations because of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), we are here to help. You can phone our Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 for help tailored to your circumstances.

Question: Can I defer the due dates for tax payments that were due before 23 January 2020?

Answer: No, you cannot defer due dates for tax payments that were already due before 23 January 2020.

However you can request a:

  • remission of interest that has accrued on those debts from 23 January 2020
  • interest-free payment arrangement. Also see questions about Interest and penalties.

Payments due from 23 January 2020

Question: Can I defer the due dates for tax payments that were due after 23 January 2020?

Answer: Yes, you can request a deferral of due dates for tax payments that were due after 23 January 2020. Also see questions about Interest and penalties.

No – any chance to minimise face-to-face communication should be considered.

We can offer you the option for phone, video or email support. You can even sign documents electronically via our App “HelloSign” which makes authorising documents easy and secure, avoiding the need to visit the office.

As an employer, you do have certain obligations to look after your employees under work, health and safety legislation (WHS). You must identify hazards and risks in the workplace and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate and/or minimise them.

COVID-19 is considered a workplace risk and you must put in place minimisation strategies.

Your employees also have a duty of care. Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others. Workers should always practice hygiene and other measures to protect against infections.

Fair Work Ombudsman provides specific information about what to do if an employee is sick or needs to be excluded from work. It also provides guidance on whether employee leave should be considered as sick leave, carer’s leave or annual leave, as well as advising on the process for requesting employees to take leave.

Employee is sick

  • Personal leave (if available) or unpaid leave

Employee is not sick but must care for a member of their immediate family or household who is sick

  • Personal leave (if available) or unpaid leave

Employee is not sick but refuses to come to work because of risk of infection

  • If no real risk of infection at work, unauthorised absence with no pay
  • At your discretion, you may allow employee to take accrued leave (eg annual leave, long service leave)
  • If no leave agreed and employee remains absent, contact Fairwork

Employee is not sick but has self-isolated due to Government guidance

  • Explore option to work remotely (eg from home, if suitable)
  • Otherwise, allow use of accrued annual leave or long service leave, or unpaid leave

Employee is not sick, but employer requires employee to stay away as a precautionary measure

  • Explore option to work remotely (eg from home, if suitable)
  • Unless special circumstances existing, pay employee ordinary rate of pay for the shifts they would have done in that timeframe•
  • Contact Fairwork before proceeding

Employer temporarily closes workplace due to actual or suspected case of coronavirus

  • Explore option to work remotely (eg from home, if suitable)
  • If not an option, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to place employees on unpaid leave
  • Contact Fairwork before proceeding

Work Health and Safety laws require a person conducting a business to ensure (as far as reasonably practicable), the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace.

The best prevention is to encourage staff to practice good hygiene including:

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Practice cough etiquette; use a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as touching
  • Maintaining social distancing measures of 1.5 metres
  • Generally, avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose
  • Clean surfaces or objects (like doorknobs or tables) with a common household disinfectant and provide appropriate resources like hand wash, paper towels, sanitiser, desk wipes etc.
  • Avoiding or reducing non-essential travel

If you develop fever or respiratory symptoms, call your doctor right away.

A study of previous coronaviruses found human coronaviruses could theoretically last on surfaces at room temperature for up to nine days.

That length of time could depend on:

  • The type of surface, because viruses survive on shiny, hard surfaces longer than soft ones;
  • Whether it is exposed to sunlight, because UV radiation kills viruses; and
  • Temperature and humidity, because viruses last longer at lower temperatures and lower humidity.

The best way to avoid catching coronavirus from touching a contaminated surface is to wash your hands properly and avoid touching your face.

You should also wash your hands:

  • After you use the bathroom;
  • After you cough or sneeze;
  • After taking public transport;
  • Before eating and preparing food;
  • After touching animals;
  • When caring for someone who is sick

If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, you should take the below steps:

  • If the employee is still at work, you should immediately direct them to leave the workplace. Allowing the employee to remainat work presents an unacceptable health and safety risk to others.
  • Ask the employee to provide a medical certificate to allow the absence to be paid as personal leave, and direct them that they must obtain a medical clearance before returning to work.
  • Contact the Department of Health to ensure they are aware of the diagnosis, and seek their advice as to which employees are at risk of contracting coronavirus and whether the workplace needs to be shut down.

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