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Coronavirus - What employers need to know

The outbreak of Coronavirus has been has now been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The World Health Organization has confirmed the virus is spreading from human to human when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to the spread of the traditional cold or flu.

As an employer, you have WHS obligations to ensure your workplace is safe and a duty of care to ensure risks are mitigated, with the health and safety of your employees paramount.

What do employers need to do?

Consider introducing positive steps in your workplace to help mitigate the threat of the virus spreading and impacting employees.

Consider providing adequate personal hygiene facilities and practices, such as designated hand washing stations, hand sanitisers, disposal face masks and antibacterial cleaning of your workplace.

You may have employees that must be quarantined. Currently:

  • anyone that has travelled to Hubei Province, China within the past 14 days, must isolate themselves in their home for 14 days after leaving Hubei Province;

  • anyone that thinks they may have been in close contact of a confirmed case of Coronavirus while they were in Hubei Province, must isolate themselves in their home for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.

Keep up to date by regularly checking the Federal Department of Health website.

State Government Health Departments are also providing updates on this regularly, so check the one relevant in your State.

If an employee is affected by Coronavirus, what leave entitlements apply?

If your business is impacted by employees that must be quarantined, or they cannot work as usual because of the Coronavirus, there are a number of ways this can be managed, including through the taking of personal/carer’s leave, annual leave, implementing flexible work arrangements, such as directing an employee to work from home, and compassionate leave if an employee has an immediate family member infected by the Coronavirus who is seriously ill.

Remember that there may be additional entitlements in a Modern Award or an Enterprise Agreement that cover your employees or terms in employment contracts you may need to factor in.

What if we need our employees to travel internationally?

If you require employees to undertake international travel for business you should remain vigilant.

Keep up to date with the latest advice from the Department of Foreigner Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Smart Traveller websites. As at 29 January 2020, DFAT raised the travel advice for China to ‘level 3 – reconsider your need to travel’.

It is important to remember your WHS obligations extend to any location your employee travels to for work, including outside of Australia, so you will need to take steps to ensure their safety whilst travelling. Consider what assistance you can make available to your employees travelling by way of up to date information and regular contact, medical assistance, arranging return travel back to Australia and other support that may be required on a case by case basis.

What if we have employees that have just returned from overseas?

Anyone who has recently visited Wuhan, or the Province of Hubei in China, or had contact with any affected areas in China should not attend work until they have received a clearance from a medical practitioner. They may need to be quarantined as outlined above.

It will be important to ensure that those employees do not return to work and unduly expose their co-workers and others if infected or recently exposed to the virus. You can direct an employee to obtain a medical clearance prior to returning to work, and you may consider meeting the cost of such an assessment as a measure to ensure that your workforce remains a safe place, free from risk of infection.

What if our business cannot operate as usual because of the Coronavirus?

If your business is impacted more significantly because of the Coronavirus and cannot operate as usual as a result, there may be scope to consider stand down arrangements, however there are strict rules and requirements for stand downs, so we recommend you obtain legal advice first before utilising such arrangements.

If you need urgent advice or assistance in managing the impact of Coronavirus in your workplace, please contact

IR Legal Solutions to discuss.