Coronavirus Tips for Employers
Updated: Jan 4
Okay, I am now forced to accept that the Coronavirus is real and it is on our doorstep. It is now also a human resources management issue in terms of employer obligations to workers and balancing this with a need for business continuity.
I do not profess to know much about public health issues, however the focus of this article centres on managing employees through this issue; and the information contained is extracted from public sources, primarily the Queensland Department of Health website. See https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov
According to the Queensland Department of Health, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms reportedly range from a mild cough to pneumonia. Some people apparently recover easily while others may get very sick very quickly. Media reports that the serious cases which have resulted in deaths are generally linked to aged persons with existing health issues.
People with coronavirus may experience:
flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat; and
fatigue shortness of breath
There is evidence that the Virus spreads from person to person. Good hygiene can prevent infection. Employers can:
Ensure that they provide sufficient resources for washing and sanitising of hands;
Implement control measures aimed at eliminating or controlling risks posed by the spread of coronavirus. Safe Work Australia has published this fact sheet located at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-pcbus detailing a range of actions depending on the particular workplace;
Remind workers to practice good hygiene, including:
washing their hands often, with soap and water, or carrying hand sanitiser and using it as needed;
covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing, but not using their hands to do so (e.g. covering their mouth with their elbow);
seeing a health care professional if they start to feel unwell;
if unwell, avoiding physical contact with others (including shaking hands).
The Media is advising us that if we are showing flu like symptoms and intend visiting a doctor, that we should call ahead to the Practice to find out whether they have any protocols in place that must be adhered to prior to arrival at the practice, so as to avoid further contamination of others.
Any person who has travelled from mainland China, Iran, Republic of Korea or Italy, or been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, should be aware that special restrictions apply.
To help limit the spread of coronavirus, the individual must isolate themselves (mandatory isolation) in the following circumstances:
If a person has left, or transited through mainland China or Iran in the last 14 days, they must isolate themselves (mandatory isolation) for 14 days from the date of leaving mainland China/Iran.
If a person has left, or transited through the Republic of Korea on or after 5 March 2020 they must isolate (mandatory isolation) themselves for 14 days after the date of leaving the Republic of Korea.
If a person has been in close contact with a proven case of coronavirus, they must isolate themselves (mandatory isolation) for 14 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case.
Travellers from Italy must present for health screening upon arrival in Australia, as directed at the border.
Employees who are absent from work because they are unwell with Coronavirus can utilise any balance of paid personal leave which they have;
If an employee is required to care for a family/household member who is unwell with Coronavirus, they can utilise any balance of paid carer’s leave which they have;
If a worker exhausts accrued paid personal/carer’s leave, or does not have any available, they may seek unpaid personal/carer’s leave (or request another form of applicable paid leave, for example annual leave or long service leave);
If the Dept. of Health/Medical Practitioner directs a worker to isolate themselves (mandatory isolation) for a period of 14 days but they do not have the Coronavirus, it is arguable as to whether they are entitled to paid personal leave, as technically they are not suffering from an illness – therefore this brings into question how this should be managed – and this may be regulated by relevant Awards or EBAs;
A worker in mandatory isolation could arrange with their employer to work from home, if possible. Under these circumstances, the worker would be entitled to their ordinary pay;
Where employers direct an employee who has recently returned from overseas (but not from a country or region that does not require mandatory isolation), and especially if the employee is not ill, the employer should carefully consider whether paid personal leave or special paid leave should be made to the employee; and
Any action to invoke stand down provisions (as contained in the Fair Work Act) should be considered carefully and sensibly if there is no mandatory closure required for the workplace.
Tips for Employers
The health and safety of workers is an employer and employee responsibility. It is neither parties’ responsibility but a shared responsibility and therefore all actions should be balanced around this premise;
Employers should be sending regular communication to employees around this issue – providing sources for information and guidance around issues relating to their workplace;
Employers should ask their workers to notify them immediately if they are suffering flu-like symptoms and discuss potential solutions to avoid contamination to others (bearing in mind those who suffer ill health);
Under their duty of care in the workplace, employers could reasonably request employees who have been off sick due to a flu-like symptoms to present a medical clearance stating they are fit to work;
Employers may wish to encourage workers who have not travelled but are suffering flu-like symptoms to take any available personal leave or work from home (if possible) to ensure the health and safety of other workers;
Being compassionate and flexible around leave being taken or cancelled due to the impacts of this Virus;
Employers should regularly review factual information issued by the Department of Health in their relevant State, and take action accordingly; and
Employers might start to prepare a possible business response as part of their Emergency Control Organisation procedures and in accordance with advice provided by the QLD Dept. of Health.
Further Assistance and Advice
Employers are recommended to seek advice about their individual circumstances in situations where they are considering action with workers that could be considered to be harsh, unreasonable or over-reactive.
If you require assistance with an individual situation relating to this Virus that I might be able to assist you with, please feel free to contact me.
And BTW, I still don’t understand why the panic buying of toilet roll???
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is intended to provide helpful information on the subject discussed. The information shared is not meant to be used, nor should it be used without professional advice being given to individual situations. The author is not responsible or liable for damages or consequences for any treatment or action taken as a result of reading this blog. References are provided for information purposes only.