Businesses may be affected in a variety of ways as a result of the spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19. Initially, some businesses have been affected by employees travelling to and from countries affected, which has resulted in precautions such as self-isolation on return to Australia.
Soon we may find employees being exposed to the virus without having travelled overseas for example by coming into contact with someone else unknowingly carrying the virus in Australia.
The following are responses to a the most common questions we are being asked by clients.
What happens if an employee or their family member is sick with Coronavirus?
Full and part-time employees who can’t come to work because they are sick can take paid sick leave. If an employee needs to look after a family member or member of the employee’s household who is sick with coronavirus, or suffering an unexpected emergency, they are entitled to take paid carer’s leave.
Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Full and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left.
An employee must give their employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it.
What if an employee is stuck overseas or required to be quarantined?
Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are unable to attend work because they can’t return from overseas or are required to enter quarantine because of the Coronavirus.
You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website
The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations, so employees and employers need to come to their own arrangement. This may include:
- taking sick leave if the employee is sick
- taking annual leave
- taking any other leave available to them(such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment)
- arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and the employer.
What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?
If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace.
Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting Coronavirus with their doctor.
What if an employer wants their staff to stay home?
Under work health and safety laws, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace (as far as is reasonably practical). Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.
If an employee is at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because the employee has recently travelled through mainland China, or has been in close contact with someone who has the virus), you should request the employee seek medical clearance from a doctor and to work from home (if possible), or not work during the risk period. Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction. You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ contracts of employment, and workplace policies.
Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they can’t do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters. Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay. Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination.
If you have any further questions about this or any other issue simply contact us at any stage.