With the rapid spread of Coronavirus and a potential pandemic on the horizon it is important that employers are aware of their obligations and start making preparations.
- Employers should inform themselves about their legal obligations regarding employee leave and pay entitlements
- Employers have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment and therefore should pay special attention to:
- encouraging good hygiene;
- remaining informed about developments of the virus;
- preventing discrimination within the workplace; and
- recommending that concerned employees speak to their GP and stay away from work if they are feeling unwell or have been exposed to COVID-19
- Employers should start preparing for a situation where all, or most, of their employees are required to isolate at home.
Leave and Pay Requirements
The Australian Government has put in place several travel limitations in response to outbreaks primarily in Mainland China, Northern Italy, Iran and The Republic of Korea.
If employers have pre-approved annual leave for employees to travel to these locations, then you have an obligation to honour it. You are entitled to discuss your concerns with the employee and the risks involved with them travelling amid the outbreak. However, any decision of the employee to delay their travel should be mutual.
If an employee has returned from one of these locations, you should remind them of the Government-recommended 14-day isolation period. Such circumstances – where any employee is not unwell but in isolation – are not specifically contemplated under the Fair Work Act. Employers should consider each situation on a case by case basis and seek advice if uncertain.
Employers may choose to implement a policy requiring employee isolation in these circumstances and should consider granting employees paid personal leave or allowing them to work from home during the isolation period.
Provision of a Safe and Healthy Work Environment
You should endeavour to keep your work premises as hygienic as possible. Make sure that hand soap and hand sanitizer are available, especially in areas where food is consumed such as the staff kitchen. Remind staff about how to minimise the risk of infection.
Employers may wish to provide employees with antibacterial wipes to wipe down their work stations, especially on your staff ‘hot-desk’.
As an employer, you have an obligation to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment, racism or discrimination in your workplace. Fear around Coronavirus should not result in ignorance, racism or discrimination amongst staff. It would be a good time to remind your staff of your EEO policies and respect in the workplace.
Be informed and understanding
It is important to be understanding if employees raise concerns about Coronavirus. The best way to alleviate some of their concerns is to remain informed about the Coronavirus and to give assurances that employee welfare is your primary concern.
Encourage Employees to Seek Medical Advice and stay home
You should recommend that any employees who are concerned speak to their GP or health practitioner for more specific advice. You can also direct them to useful government sites such as The Department of Health and Smart Traveller. Employees who are feeling unwell or who have potentially been exposed should not come to work until they have been cleared.
Be prepared… but not alarmed
Recent advice is that Coronavirus may become a pandemic. Employers should ensure they are prepared for a situation where all or many of their employees are required to self-isolate or care for family members who are required to isolate (such as children if schools/day-cares are closed). The best way to minimise business disruption is to ensure your employees have the equipment they need to work from home. Tests should be carried out to ensure your IT systems can cope with mass external connections.
If you would like to speak to someone regarding your obligations as an employer, please contact our employment law specialists on (08) 6188 3340.