CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) – 13 KEY STEPS EMPLOYERS SHOULD TAKE NOW
With Coronavirus (COVID-19) escalating worldwide, including in Australia, and it now rapidly impacting on travel, economies and livelihoods, Employers need to keep up to date with the latest information, understand your obligations as an Employer and PCBU, as well as the obligations of your employees, and take active steps now so your business can manage any impacts and flow on effects it will have on your employees, workplace, sites and operations.
To assist, we have set out some key information Employers should keep up to date on and the key steps Employers should be taking now in preparedness.
1. KEEP UP TO DATE
Be prepared, stay informed, and make sure you know at all times the employees and persons that must not attend work or be self-isolated, as well as the events that may impact your employees, their ability to work and your operations. Official advice from the Federal Department of Health is updated regularly and is currently changing on a daily basis - so it is critical that your business has a person or team dedicated to monitor the developments. We will be providing regular updates and tools on our Blog – The Workplace Collective, so please regularly check our website for those updates and tools.
Make sure you keep your employees and all visitors to your workplaces and sites aware of the latest information and requirements as well. Employers should consider setting up regular toolbox meetings, employee briefings, Intranet sites and notices to employees and visitors, so they can also stay up to date and can be assured by what your business is doing to manage and try to minimise the risks.
For the Latest Health Updates and Requirements:
State and Territory Health Departments – Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania
For the Latest Travel Information:
For the Latest Fair Work/Employment Law Information:
Employers should understand the paid and unpaid leave entitlements available in the various circumstances where an employee is directly or indirectly impacted by COVID-19, including the use of accrued paid and unpaid personal/carer’s leave and other forms of leave including annual leave, long service leave, special leave (if available) and leave without pay or other arrangements that may need to be made. Make sure you understand the terms of all relevant industrial instruments (Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements) or employment contracts that provide leave entitlements. Employers should manage the various situations they will be presented with in the coming weeks and months, subject to the specific circumstances of each absence by an employee, given the variable factors.
Employers should consider developing FAQs for common enquiries. IR Legal Solutions has a number of FAQs available on our website, as does the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Employers should also properly understand and take advice on the stand down (with leave and without leave) provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or any relevant industrial instrument or employment contract before enacting those provisions if required. If measures such as close downs, restructures or redundancies need to be considered, Employers should make sure they are aware of and comply with their legal obligations to implement such measures and obtain legal advice.
2. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHO SHOULD NOT BE ATTENDING YOUR WORKPLACES
It will be critical for Employers to keep up to date with the specific requirements that are in place. These requirements are expected to increase, but at this time there are specific requirements for people who:
have been diagnosed with COVID-19;
have returned from a country or region that is a high or moderate risk for COVID-19; and
have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
The current list of at-risk countries and isolation requirements can be accessed through the Department of Health website here.
3. IMPLEMENT AND PROMOTE KEY WORKPLACE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
Employers should be implementing policies and procedures for the management of infectious diseases / a pandemic plan, if they have not already. Identify responsible persons and a response team. Ensure key personnel and employees are adequately trained and informed of any new or varied policies and procedures.
Safe Work Australia, Comcare and most State and Territory Work Safe authorities have information to assist in the development of such policies and practices, including in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania.
Businesses may wish to implement corporate funded health initiatives, such as annual flu shots, given the impending flu season as well.
4. IMPLEMENT GOOD HYGIENE PRACTICES
Good hygiene practices should be a top priority for all employees and visitors.
Everyone should be reminded to:
regularly wash their hands with soap and water often and properly for 40-60 seconds (about the same time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice), and use hand sanitisers;
cover their mouths and nose whilst coughing or sneezing with a tissue or their arm and try and maintain distance from others when doing so;
avoid touching their face, eyes and mouths to reduce the risk of virus transmission;
practice safe and secure disposal of tissues, wipes etc into closed bins; and
provide access to soap and alcohol/antibacterial based hand sanitiser at key points, such as sign in entry areas, bathrooms, changerooms, wash areas etc.
Employers should consider distributing practical reminders and tips for employees and visitors in bathrooms, changerooms, lunchrooms, to assist in embedding these hygiene practices. The Department of Health have a number of posters businesses can display in their workplaces and sites.
Employers should have a sick room or isolation room prepared away from others in the event an employee becomes unwell at work, until they can be relocated off site.
Businesses may want to limit hot-desking and sharing keyboards and mouse equipment in the short to medium term where possible. If desks and computer equipment must be shared, ensure they are wiped down and disinfected after each user.
Keep your nominated First Aid and Health and Safety Representatives up to date, informed and well trained on good hygiene and infectious diseases policies and procedures you put in place.
5. REVIEW YOUR WORKPLACE CLEANING AND
RUBBISH REMOVAL REGIMES
Businesses should review their cleaning and rubbish removal regimes to regularly disinfect equipment, work stations and the workplace and sites generally, and upgrade these if determined necessary.
The Department of Health has practical information here for a range of industries that are at higher risk of being impacted by COVID-19.
6. UPDATE PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
(PPE), EQUIPMENT AND MATERIAL
Ensure your business has access to all required PPE, equipment and materials, including tissues, hand sanitiser, disinfectant, wipes, any PPE such as disposal face masks and gloves, to manage your workplaces and sites safely. Ensure First Aid kits are refreshed and fully stocked with all the necessities and clearly marked where stored.
7. ISSUE REGULAR COMMUNICATIONS YOUR EMPLOYEES
To minimise misinformation and hysteria, keep your employees and visitors well informed of the steps your business is taking, and provide them with clear information about what they can do to assist in playing their part to minimising the risks.
Implement regular toolbox meetings, set up an Intranet page they can access with information, including links support services they may need to access. Make sure you communicate changes to workplace policies and procedures, as well and conduct the necessary training and upskilling required.
Separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has distributed myth buster advice on COVID-19 which can be accessed here.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, Employers should call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for urgent advice and support. Communications should be provided to the remaining employees, but be mindful of privacy and confidentiality obligations. Employees may wish to, or may need to seek immediate medical advice/attention if they develop symptoms or are concerned about their health.
8. MAKE SURE EMPLOYEES KNOW WHAT TO DO IF
THEY ARE UNWELL OR ARE IN AN AT-RISK GROUP
Employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely impact the health and safety of others.
Employees should be regularly reminded if they start to feel unwell with the symptoms (fever, cough, cold, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, runny nose, muscle pain, diarrhoea and /or tiredness) they should consult their medical practitioner for urgent assessment, and notify their Supervisor/Manager, so their case can be managed safely and in accordance with the latest Government advice and guidance, and in accordance with the policies and procedures your business puts in place.
Employees should be reminded that if they are unwell they should stay at home, seek medical advice and follow your usual notification of absence and leave approval practices. The Coronavirus Hotline has been set up for advice and can be contacted on 1800 675 398. The Coronavirus Health Information Line has also been set up and can be contacted on 1800 020 080.
Employers should keep in mind their obligations with regards to unlawful discrimination and ensure employees feel well supported to come forward and report if they are feeling unwell or have developed symptoms of or have tested positive for COVID-19.
9. PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING
Simple practices, like avoiding handshaking and other human contact are simple practices to introduce to try and reduce the risk of transmission.
Minimising human to human contact where possible should be implemented in all work practices and during breaks. This won’t be completely avoidable, so implement guidance for greetings and face to face meetings, which will assist in reassuring employees and visitors that your business is taking steps to manage the risks.
10. INTRODUCE ROBUST INDUCTION AND SCREENING
If your workplace/sites are visited by external persons, make sure that your business implements adequate screening and induction practices prior to those people accessing to your workplaces and sites, to properly identify and manage the risks.
11. REVIEW AND REVISE OVERSEAS AND DOMESTIC TRAVEL FOR EMPLOYEES
Businesses requiring employees to travel overseas should consider the latest travel advice on Smartraveller and ensure employees currently overseas are adequately informed of the latest updates and have access to necessary information and support.
Businesses may want to rethink travel overseas and domestically and utilise virtual work practices, including teleconferencing and videoconferencing for meetings they would ordinarily travel to, as well as working from home and telecommuting arrangements.
Working from home approvals and assessments should still be undertaken in accordance with your relevant policies and procedures to understand the safety of the home work environment and manage any risks.
12. KNOW WHAT FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT
ASSISTANCE MAY BE AVAILABLE FOR YOUR BUSINESS AND EMPLOYEES
With the Federal Government releasing details of its support package on 12 March 2020, Employers should make sure they understand and access the support available to their business and employees, so check the Prime Minister of Australia’s website here for more details as these are released over the coming days.
Also remember to check your relevant State or Territory Government website for information on additional State and Territory Government support, including recovery packages and assistance such as financial and payroll tax support, which can be accessed here: Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania.
13. PREPARE FOR THE WORST CASE SCENARIOS -
CONTINGENCY / CRISIS MANAGEMENT PLAN
Plan ahead. Make sure you understand the contingency arrangements your business needs to have in place in the event your employees, workplace, sites, suppliers, contractors etc are impacted by COVID-19. How will you ensure business continuity and what steps will you need to take to protect your business as much as possible from unexpected exits, disruptions, delays, closures, reduced workforces etc. Will you need to reduce or close your operations.
If your business has business continuity insurance, check the terms of your policy and contact your insurer to understand the level of your insurance coverage.
Also check key commercial contracts, including for suppliers and contractors, to understand any steps you may need to take in managing the contractual obligations or requirements of your business.
If your business requires assistance or advice in manning the impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) please contact IR Legal Solutions