Coronavirus Key Employment Issues - Australia

  • Closely monitor the Australian Department of Health website for any updates to the fact sheets and guidelines for businesses and continue to follow the latest advice, including updates on visited countries requiring self-isolation, and quarantine requirements.
  • Australians travelling overseas are encouraged to regularly review the Smartraveller website and subscribe for updates.

Policies and Procedures

  • Provide regular updates to your employees about the status of COVID-19 (consistent with Department of Health and WHO), including how your business is responding, and updating any new travel cautions or quarantine periods.
  • Consider developing a Pandemic or Infectious Diseases policy/procedure, setting out how your business will respond safety and address operations in the event the virus is upgraded to a pandemic outbreak.
  • Remind your employees to access your Employee Assistance Program (if you have one).
  • Consider whether employees can work from home, and whether any working from home policies are appropriate to cover circumstances where employees are working from home subject to quarantine.
  • Consider whether any international business travel (scheduled or unscheduled) is necessary in the current environment and consider whether other methods of communication should be used during this period, for example whether videoconference would be more appropriate.

Occupational Health and Safety

  • Consider your duties under Occupational Health and Safety legislation to eliminate or reduce risks and hazards to health and safety at work:
  • Remind employees and others entering your workplaces of the importance of high personal hygiene standards which are vital to protect against the spread of infection (i.e., display posters in the building), and consider providing hand sanitizer (no lower than 65% alcohol).
  • Direct your employees to notify you immediately, if they:
    • have travelled to an affected area since the beginning of 2020; and/or
    • have plans to travel to an affected area in the foreseeable future; and/or
    • are suffering, or have suffered, flu-like symptoms since the virus was first detected; and/or
    • have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Leave and Entitlements

  • If an employee has returned from Mainland China, Iran or the Republic of South Korea (subject to change under the Australian Department of Health website), they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. We consider that this time would have to be taken as personal or annual leave, as it is a government requirement. You should request medical clearance prior to an employee returning to work in this circumstance after the self-isolation period. Alternatively, you could offer those employees the option to work from home if they have the resources and are well enough to do so, and if your systems allow them to access IT systems remotely.
  • You may require employees returning from Italy, Japan or Mongolia to stay at home, but we consider that you would be required to provide special paid leave to those staff, and not require them to take personal or annual leave. This is because isolating these employees would be at your own discretion, not on the advice of a governing health organisation. Alternatively, you could also offer those employees the option to work from home, as above.

Take Action

  • Be mindful that employees may react or retaliate against any person who may have visited an affected area, is native to an affected area or has relatives overseas. Remind employees of their obligations to behave appropriately towards others at work and encourage employees to speak with HR if they have concerns.
  • If you consider an employee who is attending work is unwell (i.e. because they are displaying symptoms of spluttering and coughing in the office), you may encourage the employee to go home and take personal leave because they may pose a health and safety risk to themselves or others. You should request medical clearance prior to an employee returning to work in this circumstance.
  • If an employee wants to stay home as a precaution, advise employees they will need to request to work from home or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave. These requests should be treated as you would ordinarily treat other applications for this type of leave.
  • If your business is severely impacted (for example, by supply chain issues as opposed to general downturn in business) you may need to consider the stand down provisions of the Fair Work Act. If staff are stood down in these circumstances they do not have to be paid unless an award (made by the Fair Work Commission that sets employment conditions) or a collective agreement states otherwise.

The employment policy and fact sheet provided above can be shared with your employees.