COVID-19 raises significant challenges for most businesses in Australia. Companies around the globe face the task of operating their businesses – and protecting employees – amid the pandemic.
We have been fielding a steady stream of calls from all our Clients asking questions about the management and legal implications of the virus and how it is impacting their workplace.
We are not health specialists and obviously cannot provide medical information about COVID-19. That information is available from several credible sources:
MacPac HR can however provide information on the issues you are experiencing managing your business through COVID-19. Here are some general questions and answers for employers based on the questions we have been asked. We will review and update these FAQ’s regularly to include new information as it develops during this challenging time.
What do I do with Employee’s returning from overseas or interstate?
If you are returning from international travel on or after 12.00am 16 March 2020, you must self-isolate for 14 days after the date of return to Australia.
If you have been in close contact with a proven case of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case.
A number of Australian States have also imposed travel restrictions on people across state borders and you must self-isolate for 14 days if you are entering another state. Be aware of which states and what impact this may have on your business.
What if an employee is concerned about Covid-19 and doesn’t want to come to work?
Employees who are not affected by COVID-19 are required to attend work as normal. An employee who wishes to stay at home as a precaution (but who are not directed to) will need to come to an arrangement with their employer that best suits their workplace.
Should we postpone or cancel scheduled conferences or meetings?
While these decisions are generally made on a company-by-company basis, in practical terms it makes sense to not send employees to any public events. Any public gathering is likely to increase close interactions and other activities that may increase the risk of the disease being spread.
Many clients have also taken the decision to not continue holding one-on-one interactions / meetings and instead use available technology such as video conferencing to continue to conduct business.
My staff are feeling stressed and anxious – what do I do?
Hopefully you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place where they can reach out. Alternatively, provide a list of common numbers such as Headspace (for 12-25 year olds), that they can contact.
What do I do if an employee tests positive for Covid-19?
The office will need to be closed for a minimum of 14 days or as prescribed and you will need to notify every employee. You should undertake a comprehensive health-certified cleaning of the entire premises.
You should also create a list of anyone that has been in contact with the affected employee (clients, suppliers, etc) and notify them. Stay in contact with all employees and ensure they are monitoring themselves for any symptoms.
What do I need to do to for my employees to work remotely?
First, ensure that the individual has all the IT requirements which include effective internet connection, hardware and software required, space to set up an office-like environment and identify work processes that can be done from a remote location.
You should also identify a way to continue to effectively communicate with your teams, identify the outcomes you want to have during this time and agree what the structure will look like.
For tips on working productively from home click here.
What is an enforceable government direction?
This is where either the Federal or State/Territory Governments make a determination under law which either prevents an employee from attending their workplace or has the effect of temporarily closing down that workplace.
In this situation, an employer can direct the employee to not attend the workplace. and is not required to pay the employee. As enforceable government directions are issued, affected businesses are likely be able to stand down employees, where they cannot usefully be employed.
When can an employee stand staff down without pay?
Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they cannot be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible. A good example is an enforceable direction.
For more information on Employment Law see the link to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Assistance and Support
At MacPac HR, we are closely working with all our clients across a number of industries, and including those that are defined as essential services. If you need assistance, please call or email us.