COVID-19 - How to protect your employees

Libby Pallot, Walter MacCallum, Anthony Massaro, Ben Tallboys, Abbey Burns, Caitlin Walsh, Caitlin Meers, Natasha Sim and Grazia Gruida

The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Employers are now facing hard choices as to how to protect their workforce, clients and business in this increasingly anxious climate.

Employers who fail to take adequate precautions may face legal and/or regulatory action, and risk long-term reputational damage.

Key questions for employers include: what do we do with our staff? What if they don’t want to come into work for fear of infection? Can rosters be changed to limit transmission of the virus? Should staff be sent home? If so, should they be paid?

Employers are required to ensure their workplace is safe so far as is reasonably practicable. But this must be done in consideration of their legal obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009, enterprise agreements or awards, employment contracts and relevant anti-discrimination laws. Any directions to employees should also be lawful and reasonable in the circumstances. If a safety measure is being contemplated which affects employees’ rights, employers need to consider the risk that the proposed measure addresses, and whether there are less problematic alternatives to achieve the same outcome.

In limited circumstances, employers may be able to rely on the stoppage of work provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 to send employees home. Employees who are not able to attend work may or may not be entitled to paid leave. Some may be able to work productively from home, depending on the role.

For employees at work, infection control policies should be introduced and/or reinforced and stringent protocols implemented. Personal protective equipment should be provided where appropriate.

For further advice on managing your legal obligations in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact the Russell Kennedy Workplace Relations, Employment and Safety team.

For information specific to aged care providers, please see our alert here

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