How should your businesses respond to coronavirus?

Thursday 5 March, 2020 | By: Faith Jarvis

 

Copy of How should your business respond to the coronavirus 2

The emergence and spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) over the past few days presents a potential risk to Queensland small businesses. If you’re an employer you need to know your obligations and plan how you might respond if coronavirus impacts your workplace more directly than just running out of toilet paper. 

 

How bad is it?

The current situation is ever-evolving the Department of Health website has the most comprehensive information on the coronavirus. 

 

Make or update a plan now

Currently, there is no requirement to undertake a separate risk assessment in the workplace for coronavirus and the control measures for prevention should be approached like every other viral disease in the workplace. 

If you haven’t already, every business should spend time now working up a plan for how they will deal with a pandemic if the outbreak worsens. If the risk doesn’t eventuate, you’ll at least have done all the groundwork for next flu season. This WHS risk management framework provides a good basis for this.

The Queensland Government’s Workplace Health & Safety office is the best place to get advice about managing coronavirus health risk.

 

Communicate with your team

You value your people so we don’t need to tell you that you should be open and up-front with them about how you’re dealing with the risks.

Consider how you will update your staff and explain your decisions. It’s important to provide a chance for your team to ask questions and state their concerns. Remember you have a legal duty to consult your staff on workplace health and safety matters. 

Inform your employees to advise you if they believe they are at risk of CoV infection or have symptoms, and refer to their GP, to determine actions and fitness for work based on accurate and up-to-date medical information. You can view the latest information on the status of CoV here. 

 

For staff travelling overseas, refer to Smart Traveller and carefully consider travel on a case-by-case basis.

 

Managing health and safety in the workplace

 We encourage employees and employers to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of individual workplaces and staff. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.

We can provide information to CCIQ members about workplace entitlements such as taking sick and annual leave. If you have any questions call our HR Helpline on 1300 731 988

For information about health and safety in the workplace, go to:

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.

You can find more information on the requirements of available leave on the links below. 

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, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate State or Territory workplace health and safety body.

 

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.

Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination.  

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website .

 

Keep it clean

Make sure you reinforce good hygiene practices at work and at home. That means washing hands regularly and thoroughly. You might want to consider putting hand sanitiser in bathrooms, meeting rooms and other commonly used areas, and ask staff to wipe down shared equipment like phones or laptops after every use. It’s not a bad idea to inform clients and visitors of your hygiene expectations at your front desk.

 

Standing staff down

You’re likely to be asked by employees whether they’ll be stood down with or without pay if a pandemic is declared.

It’s critical that you know your rights and obligations under Fair Work. CCIQ members can call our HR Helpline anytime on 1300 731 988 to double-check their plans and announcements are within the law.

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.

  

What if my business dries up because of coronavirus?

The Fair Work Act has stand down provisions which are likely to apply in this circumstance, meaning you may be able to require your staff to stand down on a paid or unpaid basis. If you’re a CCIQ member, we can help you with a plan to manage the stand-downs.

 

Am I covered under insurance?

Don’t forget to check your insurance policies. Business interruption insurance may cover lost income after a disaster. If you’re not covered for disease-related disruption you may be able to ask for it to be added by your insurer, but they are within their rights to refuse or to ask for a higher premium.

 

 Available assistance 

CCIQ's HR Hotline is available for members to call to discuss any concerns with managing staff 1300 731 988

There is help through the Queensland Government's Industry Recovery Package for further details information head to www.qld.gov.au/industryrecovery or contact 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

  

Not a member click here to find out how we can help 

 

 

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