What responsibilities do employers have during COVID-19?


Thursday, 19 March, 2020



What responsibilities do employers have during COVID-19?

Employers are being urged to take medical advice from health professionals in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Master Electricians Australia said businesses need to ensure they follow the relevant government directives that apply to their workers.

The spread of COVID-19 will have a major impact for employers with employees returning from affected areas/countries.

Testing for the virus is available and, where an employer considers that there may be a reasonable risk of infection or exposure to the virus, employees can be directed to attend for these tests. Employers will need to bear the associated cost and payment for working time in most cases.

Potential scenarios that employers may encounter are as follows.

Worker is returning from an affected area but has not been quarantined

Where a medical practitioner has declared that the worker is unfit for work because they are either infected or a high risk of transmitting the virus, the worker can access relevant sick leave, annual leave or leave without pay until such time that they are cleared.

Worker is returning from an affected area and has been quarantined

If the worker is considered unfit for work because they are either infected or a high risk of transmitting the virus, the worker can access relevant sick leave, annual leave or leave without pay until such time that they are cleared.

Worker is returning from an affected area and has been given a ‘low’ level risk of transmission

If the company takes the view that this low risk is still unacceptable, and they direct the worker not to work, the employer will need to pay for this time. This payment does not come out of any leave balance. If the worker has a role that can be performed remotely, at least in part, this should be also be considered.

School is closed — parental responsibility

In the event that a school is closed, employees will be able to access the carer’s leave component of their personal leave to look after children. In the event this leave is fully utilised, then annual leave, RDOs and LWOP can be used for the balance of the 14 days. By default, this employee will self-isolate with children and as such there should be no further infection of the workplace. Working from home options may be explored where appropriate.

A whole worksite, town or area has been declared a ‘no-go zone’

While a seemingly extreme response, it is still possible and has already occurred in some places around the world. This would be a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible, and fits the criteria for workers to be stood down under section 524 of the Fair Work Act. Workers would not be required to be paid in this case but could access their annual leave or RDOs in this time.

For further questions, please contact the Workplace Relations Team on 1300 889 198.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Aaron Amat

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