Coronavirus – what employers need to know

As the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases rise internationally, the phones have been running hot here at HR On-Demand with employers concerned about their workforce and the potential impact in the coming months – and it’s easy to understand why. Information relating to employer obligations is scarce, but more importantly, employers are trying to understand what action they need to take and what steps they can take to future-proof their businesses.

So with that in mind, what do you need to know as an employer?

About COVID-19

The virus is spread when infected individuals exhale or cough, which results in small droplets of saliva either coming in to contact with another person, or falling on to surfaces (such as phones) which are subsequently touched by other people who then touch their faces/mouths/eyes and so forth.

How do I protect my workforce?

Reinforce to staff the need to practice good hygiene – and in particular, practice good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene. This includes:

  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • covering your cough/sneeze with your hand/a tissue and wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water afterwards (or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser).
  • avoiding touching your face as much as possible.
  • if unwell, or if they have been in direct contact with someone with the virus, employees should stay home.

What do I do if an employee advises that they have COVID-19?

If an employee is unwell and unable to attend work, they will be instructed by their medical professional on what the best steps to take are. From an employer’s perspective, you are able to request a medical certificate from the employee and for permanent employees, they will be deemed to be on Personal Leave for this period of time. If the employee has no paid Personal Leave (or is a casual employee), that employee can access unpaid Personal Leave for the duration of their illness.

What if my employee is worried about COVID-19 and doesn’t want to come in to work?

In this case the employee isn’t actually unwell, they’re just worried that they may become infected, so Personal Leave wouldn’t apply here. This would leave it up to a discussion between you and the employee about potential solutions such as:

  • Working from home (if possible)
  • The employee using his/her annual leave accrual (if feasible); or
  • The employee returning to work

My employee has been travelling internationally to affected areas, can I request a medical clearance certificate?

If you have a concern that your employee may be infected, you are able to request a medical certificate, however you would need to pay your employee for the period of time that you have directed them not to attend work.

My employee has been told to quarantine, what are my obligations?

Given that the Fair Work Act is vague on this particular situation, we recommend discussing potential solutions with your employee, such as:

  • Working from home (if feasible)
  • Using the employee’s Personal Leave entitlements if they are sick (if relevant)
  • Allowing the employee to use their Annual Leave accrual or Long Service Leave accrual (if relevant); or
  • Approving unpaid leave for the duration of the quarantine.

How do I plan now to avoid impacts to my business in the future? How could we effectively utilise work from home arrangements during this time? What do we do next?

For answers to these questions and more, HR On-Demand will be holding a public webinar on Tuesday 24th March 2020 at 12pm EST. This free webinar is open to everyone and will include a question and answer section, so don’t miss it!

To register for this free webinar, click HERE.