COVID-19 Guidance for Employers

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has had an overwhelming impact not only on Australian businesses but the community at large. In these uncertain times, it is paramount for employers to know their obligations and rights. It is essential that all employers and businesses comply with both national and state Public Health Orders in the conduct of their day-to-day operations. Additionally, employers have a legal obligation to manage the health and safety of not only their workers (employees, independent contractors or volunteers) but also third parties that are impacted by the actions or decisions of their business. In order to minimise health and safety risk, Safe Work Australia, an Australian Government agency, has recommended that employers do the following at their workplace:1 • Allow workers to work from home, where possible • Ensure physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 1.5 metres between people • Encourage all workers to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or by using an alcohol based hand sanitizer and to practice good hygiene • Be aware of how to spot COVID 19 symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath) and make sure workers do not come to work if they are unwell • Make sure your workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected • Have signs and posters around the workplace to remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. 1 Safe Work Australia, COVID-19 Information for Workplaces (9 April 2020) Safe Work Australia Rights of Employers to Provide Directions to Workers As an employer, it is important to note that you can provide direction to your workers in order to better manage health and safety risks in the workplace, given these directions are reasonable and lawful. This can include directing workers to stay home to manage risks of transmitting COVID-19, as well as other directions that require workers to adhere to Public Health Orders. As an employer, communication with employees is key to the effective management of workplace health and safety. Employers should identify workers at high risk of infection, and direct them to self-isolate in accordance with Public Health Orders. The Department of Health identifies individuals who are most at risk as: • Travellers who have recently been overseas • Those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 • People in correctional and detention facilities • People in group residential settings The government recommends an isolation period of 14 days. Worker Entitlements In the current COVID-19 environment, the minimum legal requirements for employee entitlements, as stipulated by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), are still in effect. Additionally, as an employer, you have to be mindful of terms in modern awards or enterprise agreements that could be applicable. It is of interest that some employers are offering voluntary generous arrangements to employees, above and beyond the minimum requirements in response to the pandemic. COVID-19 Testing Employers should direct all workers who are feeling unwell or exhibiting symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath and coughing to seek medical attention. As of the current situation, testing is not widely available and generally only available to individuals who meet one of the following criteria: • You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days • You have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days • You travelled on a cruise ship in the 14 days before developing symptoms • You are a health care, aged care or residential care worker • You have lived in an area where there is higher risk of community transmission, as defined by the local public health unit In some circumstances, employees are able to obtain a medical clearance from their health care professional certifying that they are able to return to work and do not pose a health and safety risk. Additional Resources 1. The Government has provided a Business Resource Kit in order to better equip businesses with the resources necessary to manage health and safety risk in the current environment: 2. The Department of Health has provided a COVID-19 Information Sheet for Employers: If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 02 9191 9293 or e-mail us at