CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) - CAN EMPLOYERS INTRODUCE WORKPLACE TESTING AND OTHER MEASURES TO MANAGE THE
Businesses should certainly consider the reasonable steps they can take in an attempt to reduce the risk to employees and visitors at their workplaces and sites, including:
introduce a testing/vetting process prior to access to your workplace/site, to limit any employee or other visitor attending your workplace that has COVID-19 symptoms, has been diagnosed, or has been in close contact with a confirmed case. Remember, all measures you put in place must be compliant with work health and safety laws and be reasonable;
keep up to date with the self-isolation requirements from the Department of Health and ensure these are enforced. There will now be mandatory obligations for all persons returning to Australia to self-isolate for 14 days. Failure to comply will now be an offence. Further, if an employee comes into close contact with a diagnosed COIVD-19 case, they must also self-isolate in accordance with the current Government directives. Ensure your employees and visitors comply with these self-isolation requirements and do not attend your workplace;
issue Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposal face masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, closed/safe disposal bins for waste;
remind employees and visitors to engage in good hygiene protocols and social distancing practices where possible;
introduce telephone and video conferences where possible, to limit human interaction;
introduce telecommuting/working from home where operationally possible;
look at whether a variation to hours/days of work might assist and support employees, for example; to reduce peak hour travel times (remember you will need to comply with relevant industrial instruments (Modern Awards/Enterprise Agreements) and employment contracts if varying hours of work, and where you can do so, with employee agreement);
stagger or rotate start, break and finish times to try and reduce the number of employees that need to interact with each other or be in an area at any one time;
space out working stations to try and reduce the need for employees to interact or come into contact with each other;
reconsider/cancel the requirement for work-related travel and comply with the Government restrictions that are put in place in this regard.
Other measures to support impacted employees could include:
agreeing with employees to take accrued annual leave and/or long service leave entitlements, accrued RDOs, TOIL or even unpaid leave to reduce their need to attend the workplace, subject of course to your operational requirements being met;
advances on accrued annual leave, with a requirement to repay any excess entitlement on any termination, or special leave with pay in agreed circumstances;
other support, such as annual flu shots, incentives like gift cards for groceries (although be aware of any FBT implications);
remind employees about access to any to Employee Assistance Service your business offers (counselling).
See also our earlier Blog articles, including:
The best source of information is the Federal Department of Health website. Make sure your business has an employee or team nominated in keeping up to date with these developments.
Remind your employees that they must not to attend work if they suffer any of the symptoms and to contact you immediately to discuss appropriate leave/arrangements.
Remember that this crisis will subside, and so whilst you will need to react appropriately over the coming weeks and months to proactively manage your operations, cashflow and wellbeing and safety of your employees, at some point it will be critical for your continued future operations that you have retention of key employees, contractors and business associates and partners.
Available advice and assistance
Employers must ensure that before they act in response to COVID-19 in their workplace, that they check the relevant industrial instrument (Modern Award /Enterprise Agreement), employment contracts and policies that are in place to ensure compliance.
If you need urgent advice or assistance in managing the impact of COVID-19 in your workplace, please contact IR Legal Solutions to discuss.
These steps should not be a substitute for legal advice and are for information only. Employers should obtain advice that is specific to their circumstances and business operations, and not rely on this publication.