There is no common law right which Australian employers have to stand down an employee or employees without pay during a period in which they cannot be usefully employed. The statutory position in Australia however is otherwise.
Sec 542 of the Fair Work Act 2009 provides that an employer may enforce a stand down without pay where
(a) An employee cannot be usefully employed because of industrial action, breakdown of machinery or equipment, or a stoppage of work, and
(b) the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible for the stoppage.
Consequently, for a lawful stand down to be lawful it can only be for as long as the term that an employee cannot be usefully employed for one of the above reasons and, if challenged, an employer will have the onus of establishing the causal connection.
However the Act also provides that if there is a stand down provision in a contract of employment or enterprise agreement, then the employer’s rights are determined by that instrument and not the Act. Accordingly, most sophisticated employers include stand down provisions in their contracts or enterprise agreements to provide more flexibility about the circumstances in which they can lawfully stand down employees. In some industries this has had a significant effect on productivity and labour costs.