As we sit back, horrified at the alarming behaviour around the ‘great toilet paper crisis of 2020’ it is essential to take a calm and considered approach to the potential impact on your business and put in place appropriate, measured plans for your identified risks and to ensure you meet your obligations as an employer.
For example, do you know what to do if a staff member presents to work unwell?
What if a key employee needs to go into isolation for 14 days but is otherwise well; can they still work from home?
Do you have a culture of presenteeism in the workplace? What can you do to mitigate the risk this presents?
As an employer, these are just some of the questions you need to be asking yourself, and put in place a plan that you can implement on short notice.
Additionally, research also shows that staff will trust their employer or manager over any information they receive outside work, including from governments, so it’s even more critical for employers to be on the front foot.
- Don’t panic!
- The health and safety of your employees and those who come in contact with your business (clients, colleagues, suppliers, their families and the broader community) must be your first priority. Failing on this front not only puts your immediate community at risk but also the reputation of your business.
- Educate your staff on the need for, and the best way to practice, good hygiene in the workplace. Ensure your staff are encouraged to take leave from work and obtain medical advice if they feel they have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Assess your individual business risk and procedures. Can key staff work at home? What policies and procedures do you have in place to support this? Do you have the technical infrastructure and policies in place to support an employee to productively work from home?
From a HR perspective
What are the symptoms of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?
COVID-19 is a coronavirus that can cause respiratory illnesses. Symptoms of the virus can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Affected people may experience: fever; flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and headaches; and shortness of breath. Some people will recover easily, but others may get very sick very quickly.
What to do if you have an employee with symptoms of, or possible exposure to COVID-19
You have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for both your employees and your colleagues. The best advice currently available to us is to follow the advice of the Australian government, the latest updates are available here. .
If an employee presents to work unwell and may have symptoms of COVID-19, or may have been in contact with someone who has or may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, or have travelled to an area affected by the COVID-19 they should be directed to follow the Australian government advice and seek medical attention immediately.
Protective behaviours – minimising your health risks
One of the simplest things you can do as an employer is make sure that soap and water is available in your bathrooms and that you have printed guidelines on how to wash hands effectively.
Current advice on safe workplace practices to minimise viral transmission is:
- Wash your hands with soap – often
- Minimise touching your face and avoid shaking hands
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow / tissue and dispose of the tissue (and then wash your hands!)
- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
- Stay home if you are sick
And of course, these are generally good practices that will also assist in minimising the risk of catching flu, colds and other respiratory illnesses.
Payment and leave
Employees who may have contracted COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 may use the following accrued entitlements:
- Personal/carer’s (sick) leave: This leave is available for use where an employee is not fit for work. Employers can ask for a medical certificate certifying an employee’s absence from work due to illness or injury if required by the employer. Employees will be deemed unfit for work in circumstances where they isolated from others in accordance with the Australian government advice.
- Annual leave/long service leave: This can be used by employees who do not have enough personal/carer’s leave, where they have accrued the relevant entitlement. Employees requesting to take this form of leave should be permitted to do so, unless refusing to grant the leave is considered reasonable in the circumstances.
In some cases, employers could permit employees – who have been isolated, but are not diagnosed with Coronavirus – to work from home which will allow the employee to continue to be paid wages during the isolation period.
If working from home is not available, employers may wish to provide discretionary paid leave to employees.
It is worthwhile considering whether working at home or discretionary leave can be accommodated as these would benefit both the employment relationship and the national interest. Larger employers are acting on this front.
If you have a reasonable suspicion an employee may be exhibiting signs of COVID-19 then you may direct an employee to leave work or not attend the workplace and attend a medical professional for assessment.
However, in this event, the employer should pay for the employee to see the doctor as well as for their time away from the workplace if the employee does not agree to take paid leave. The employer will be responsible for paying the employee until such time as medical confirmation is obtained that the employee is unfit for work. Once an employee is certified as unfit, then the employee can be required to take a form of leave (whether paid or unpaid).
One in four Australian workers are on casual arrangements and casuals forced to isolate or to work less due to the virus outbreak do not have paid leave available to them. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is calling for all workers to have access to paid leave if told to isolate, concerned that if measures are not put in place, people will make the decision to continue working so they can survive.
Telstra under its new epidemic and pandemic policy does not discriminate between permanent, fixed-term and casual saff up to 14 days of paid leave if they have quarantined or self-isolate due to COVID-19. Woolworths who employs 55,000 casual employees has announced that casual employees who are required to self-isolate will be paid for the shifts they would have otherwise worked (based on their two-week roster) during the isolation period.
The Government has announced a $17.6 billion economic package with Prime Minister Scott Morrison advising that casual workers who contracted COVID-19, or had to isolate themselves, would be eligible for a Newstart welfare payment while out of work. The typical wait time to access the payment will be waived, but people will face assets test before receiving money.
Pinnacle People Solutions will be monitoring this situation closely.
Working at home
This is a timely opportunity to review and update, or develop, a sound Working from Home Policy with supporting procedures for your business, to provide direction for your employees and protect your business in the long term.
If you allow an employee to work from home, you have a duty of care to that employee. One aspect is the health and safety suitability of their homes and you should provide your employees with a simple checklist that addresses work health and safety issues such as potential trip hazards, appropriate lighting in their work area, an ergonomic chair and adequate sized work surface, safe floor coverings that are non-slip, first aid kit, a working smoke alarm, exits from the work area are clear and unobstructed, a fire extinguisher, and proper ventilation with adequate heating and cooling.
There are also potential workers compensation implications, and while actual entitlements may vary depending on your state or territory as well as the facts and circumstances of the particular case, personal injuries sustained while an employee is working from home are likely to be considered to have arisen out of or in the course of employment.
Returning to work
It is our strong recommendation that, before permitting an employee to return to work who has reported that they have or may have been exposed to COVID-19, you obtain a medical certificate from that employee certifying they do not have COVID-19 and that they are fit to return to work.
Not sure where to start?
Pinnacle People Solutions recommends that you develop a specific global epidemic and pandemic leave policy that addresses all staffing arrangements including those who don’t have enough sick or carer’s leave.
If you need advice on establishing policies and procedures around sick leave, working at home and other HR issues give us a call. Our team can quickly assess your risks and provide you with resources tailored to your individual business’s needs.
Pinnacle People Solutions