COVID-19 – Employment Obligations

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As the current situation surrounding COVID-19 escalates, many employers have been left wondering about employment obligations. The following provides general guidance to employers in dealing with the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the workplace. The information contained below is subject to change as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Please note that this is a fluid situation and we will continue to update our clients as matters change.

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides that employers have a right to stand down employees in certain circumstances.

Modern awards, enterprise agreements or employment contracts may also contain stand down provisions and generally such periods are unpaid.

What if your employee can’t attend work because they have or are suspected of having Corona Virus or they are caring for someone in this situation?

In the first instance, employees should use their paid personal/carer’s leave entitlements. If these are exhausted, your employees might wish to consider other alternatives, such as taking annual leave or leave without pay. Happy HR recommends that employees receive a medical clearance prior to them returning to work.

What if your employee is unable to return from overseas or is quarantined?

Employers should choose if the employee can access their paid personal/carer’s leave entitlements or annual leave. Employers may decide that employees can take other paid leave (such as long service leave) or unpaid leave.

What if your employees want to stay at home as a precaution?

Employees will need to request to work from home or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave. Employers should treat these requests as you would treat other applications for this type of leave.

What if your operational needs change because of a downturn or supply-chain issues?

The Fair Work Act stand down provisions are likely to apply, subject to any provisions in your employment arrangements, meaning that some employees may not be paid.

It is vital to consider if you intend to pay or not pay your employees during any stand down. A plan to communicate this message to employees should be done before an event, not during or post.  Before you do this, you should obtain advice if uncertain of your obligations!

Working from home – what to check

A working from home policy may be already in place. You should check that it meets your needs of employees if they are subject to quarantine. Check your business continuity plans to ensure the business can continue to operate if your employees can work remotely.

What else should you do?

Remind employees on general hygiene precautions.

Employers should remind employees and others entering their workplaces of the importance of high personal hygiene standards which are vital to protect against the spread of infection.

What should be done:

Display signage reminding people to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly “Clean hands protect against infection”. A quick splash of water will not do the job.

You could consider installing hand sanitiser dispensers in bathrooms, meeting rooms and high pedestrian traffic areas such as reception areas.

Remind employees that they should not present at work if they are unwell, and they should sneeze or cough into their elbows and not their hands. Employees who share equipment such as phones or laptops should wipe down this equipment with a sanitising wipe after use. Remind them to clean their desk each and every day.

We recommend that employees receive a medical clearance prior to them returning to work.

More resources

https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/website-news/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws#casual-employees-contractors

This document contains general advice only and is prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial circumstances and needs. The information provided is not a substitute for legal, tax and financial product advice. Before making any decision based on this information, you should speak to a licensed financial advisor who should assess its relevance to your individual circumstances.  While The Field Group believes the information is accurate, no warranty is given as to its accuracy and persons who rely on this information do so at their own risk. The information provided in this bulletin is not considered financial product advice for the purposes of the corporations Act 2001.

About the author

The Field Group is composed of experts in the fields of Xero accounting, personal tax, self-managed superannuation, audit services, business services, bookkeeping, bench marking, business structuring and ATO Compliance. Based in Melbourne, The Field Group are also able to work with clients all over Australia and are the market leader for accounting services in the Ringwood, Croydon, Chirnside Park, Lilydale and general Melbourne eastern suburb region.

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