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Hair stylists: your workplace rights during a natural disaster

March 1, 2022

With extreme flooding in QLD and Northern NSW, we thought it was time to remind you of your rights at work during a natural disaster. Here are the questions (an answers!) that come up most often.

My employer has asked me to come into work – is that right?

We’ve heard some extremely concerning stories of people being asked to work during, or directly after a natural disaster. This is a breach of your workplace health and safety rights.

Employees cannot be required to attend work where their safety is at risk, including where it is not safe to travel to work.

You must follow directions to attend work where they are lawful and reasonable. However, a direction is only lawful and reasonable where it is safe for you to follow.

A direction to attend work that requires an employee to travel through unsafe, flood affected areas would be unreasonable – so you have a right to refuse this unreasonable direction if you are asked to come into work.

If you feel you cannot get into work safely, contact your employer and explain that you’re unable to attend work. If your employer insists that you must come in anyway, please contact HSA straight away and we will do our best to help.

Please, also take a moment to tune into SES and other emergency services broadcasts, Bureau of Meteorology and your local ABC radio regarding weather, flood and evacuation updates.

What are my leave entitlements in the event of a natural disaster?

If your salon has to close, or you cannot safely attend work, then you can either:

1: Take annual leave (which would be paid at your ordinary hours).

2: Take sick/carer’s leave. You can take personal leave where you are ill, or injured due to the floods, or if you need to provide care or support to an immediate family or household members due to an illness, injury, or in the event of an unexpected emergency (such as where your child’s childcare is closed due to the flood).

3: Be stood down (which is unpaid, although your employer can choose to pay you). If you are being stood down, your employer must tell you in writing (SMS will do) the start date of the stand down, and whether or not you will be paid. You should also get an update when it is clear the stand down will end.

4: If you’re part of a recognised emergency body (like the SES, the RFS and RSPCA) and you want to volunteer for clean-up or rescue, then you are eligible to take unpaid community service leave. You’re also eligible to take this leave if your salon is open for business.

There is no limit to the community services leave you can take, but you will need to provide notice to your employer how long you expect to be absent from work. Your employer can ask for evidence of your involvement as a volunteer worker.

5: in the unfortunate event an immediate family or household member has experienced a life-threatening injury as a result of a natural disaster, you’re eligible to claim 2 days of compassionate leave. Permanent employees should be paid at ordinary hours you would have otherwise worked, while casuals receive unpaid leave.

The salon is a mess! Do I have to help clean it up?

Yes, your employer can request you assist with clean-up activities if it is lawful and reasonable. This means that you have to have to be suitably healthy, experienced, and physically able to do the job. Your employer cannot ask you to do any activities that don’t have the right safety equipment or procedures, or you don’t have the qualifications or skills to do.

If you’re asked to come in to clean up, then you must be paid as if you were working normal duties, with the appropriate breaks, penalty rates, overtime, etc.

If you’re experiencing a natural disaster, then your number-one priority is your health and safety. If you’re asked to do anything that feels unsafe, whether that’s coming into work, or cleaning up after a disaster, you absolutely have the right to say no!


If you need support at work, HSA is here for you! HSA members get access to our detailed library of your health and safety rights, pay, legal entitlements – and if there’s anything you need extra help on, our legal team is on-hand to provide advice. Sign up today and join our movement for safe, fair salons for all hair stylists!

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