Coronavirus: What You Need to Know as an Employer

As we continue to be inundated with information regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19), we have put together a reference guide to assist you through this time of uncertainty.

Coronavirus reference guide

This guide includes some of the considerations and legal obligations for employers as well as recommended actions to ensure you are prepared for any virus-related disruptions which may affect your business.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

As a business owner or operator, you do have a legal obligation to your employees to provide a safe and healthy work environment. With this comes the responsibility of identifying and reducing (or eliminating where viable) risks and hazards.

Your legal obligation also extends to consulting and providing your employees with information on health and safety matters in the workplace.

With this in mind, it is recommended that you undertake pre-emptive measures now to best maintain a safe and healthy work environment for your employees. Pre-emptive measures should include:

  • Guidance regarding hygiene requirements e.g. ensure hand washing facilities are well equipped with soap and disposable hand towels, ensure employers are using proper hand-washing techniques and hand sanitisers are placed in high traffic areas.
  • Guidance regarding social/physical distancing measures in the workplace e.g. maintaining the required 1.5 metres distance away from others, no shaking hands, holding remote meetings, avoid eating or gathering in shared spaces such as the lunchroom etc.
  • Consider your ability to conduct business operations remotely. If you can maintain business continuity via a working from home model, start to put processes in place. Consider things like; What tools and equipment will my team need? What security software needs to be installed to ensure business, client and customer confidentiality is maintained? How will we continue to communicate with each other?
  • Create or update relevant health and safety policies and procedures.
  • Ensure your employees have access to an Employee Assistance Program. If they don’t have access, consider implementing one to assist those employees who may be experiencing extra feelings of distress and anxiety.
  • Ensure employees notify management immediately if they have travelled to an affected area since the beginning of 2020 or if they are suffering flu-like symptoms.

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Policies and procedures will assist your business in setting clear expectations, providing guidance and instruction and ensuring compliance with relevant legislation.

In addressing the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is recommended that you review your current suite of policies to ensure your employees are well equipped with information and have a clear understanding of your business expectations.

Some of the policies we recommend you review (and/or implement) include:

  • A specific Coronavirus (COVID-19) Policy
  • A Work Health & Safety Policy
  • A Working from Home Policy
  • A Working from Home WHS Checklist
  • A Leave Management Policy
  • A Company-wide Travel Policy

BUSINESS CONTINUITY OF SERVICE PLAN

Your Business Continuity of Service Plan should address how your business will continue to remain operational in times of large-scale interruption. If you already have a Business Continuity of Service Plan in place, it is recommended that you incorporate additional measures your business will take in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Some key considerations you should address in your plan include:

  • How will individual employees be able to continue working when they are required to self-isolate?
  • How will the business continue when there has been a directive to cease work from the government or if there is a local outbreak which requires your entire workforce to be isolated?
  • Your response plan if you become aware of an infection impacting your employees either;
    • during work hours or;
    • outside of work hours (i.e. overnight or on weekends)
  • How you will continue to operate for long term or large-scale disruption?
  • How you will maintain security of information if employees are working remotely?
  • How will your workflow be impacted over a 14-day recommended isolation period? If viable, can you change your workflow requirements to match the isolation period?

If you do not have a Business Continuity of Service Plan, we recommend you implement a plan effective immediately.

TREATMENT OF LEAVE/PAYMENT OF STAFF

The way in which your business will treat time spent away from work, that is either directly or indirectly a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), will depend on the specific circumstance of each case.

Consider your legal requirements and how you will respond if your employees are unable to attend work.

The payment of employees and treatment of leave is complex. While there are minimum standards, there are also discretionary payments which you may consider.

Click here to view six typical circumstances and whether or not employees would be eligible for payment or where payment might be considered reasonable.

UPDATE:  On Wednesday 8 April 2020 a $130 billion JobKeeper Payment Scheme was passed in Parliament. This scheme allows for qualifying employers to receive a wage subsidy payment of $1500 per fortnight (before tax) that must be on-paid to their eligible employees. It is aimed at helping employers retain staff during the downturn caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and support business recovery when conditions improve.

COMMUNICATION

You have an obligation to keep your employees well informed with any new information about the status of the virus and subsequent information about their health and safety in the workplace e.g. how to exercise good hygiene practices.

To ensure effective communication is achieved, it is recommended that you take the following measures:

  • Ensure newly introduced or newly amended policies and procedures have been communicated with your employees and that the information remains readily available.
  • Ensure employee contact details and emergency contact details are current and easily accessible to managers.
  • Ensure business and employee preferred communication channels are current and clear.
  • Share your business expectations with your employees and clearly communicate to your employees the measures you are taking in response to the pandemic.
  • Ensure communication is delivered in a consistent manner and in line with your policies. E.g. Adopt a consistent approach with responding to employee queries about whether they should come to work.

You also have an obligation to communicate with your clients and suppliers if your business is severely disrupted as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

TRAVEL

There are currently travel restrictions in place. To view the latest travel restrictions, please seek travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the Smartraveller website.

In observing these travel restrictions, it is recommended that you undertake the following within your business:

  • Provide guidance to employees on what the travel restrictions are;
  • Consider if international or interstate business travel needs to cease;
  • Collect personal travel information from your employees who have recently travelled or who plan to undertake personal travel including, where, the length of travel, and travel dates;
  • If your employee has made a personal decision to travel to a high risk area, consider whether you are willing to pay your employee for any time away from work due to self isolation. Make your expectations clear in a policy.
  • If there are concerns regarding recent travel of your clients, visitors and other stakeholders, consider communicating with them remotely e.g. via a virtual communication platform such as Skype.

NEED HELP?

If you need assistance with implementing any of the key actions mentioned above, including customised policies and procedures, contingency plans or any other service to better equip your business, please feel free to contact our team at Allan Hall Human Resources.

Similarly, if you need assistance with identifying what your specific obligations are for your business, such as your work health and safety, operational and payment obligations, please contact us.

The most important guidance we can provide to you is to remain vigilant, patient and calm during this time of uncertainty and seek the latest updates regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) using the links below.

RESOURCES

State Health Departments:

Commonwealth Department of Health

World Health Organisation

 NSW Health

 Safe Work Australia

 WorkSafe Victoria

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