Work (Occupational) Health and Safety Workplace Relations Considerations


Friday 6 March, 2020
Issued by Wentworth Advantage, AVA's HR Advisory Service

In light of the decision by the World Health Organisation on the 30th of January 2020 to declare COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, this Stop Press has been developed to notify members of some important Work (Occupational), Health and Safety (WHS) and Workplace Relations considerations during this time.

If you have a staff member/s who has/have travelled to mainland China, Iran or South Korea in the past 2 weeks, it is likely that a Government official (e.g. biosecurity officer) will have informed them that they need to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they left the affected area/s.

However, as part of fulfilling your WHS requirements, it may be appropriate to contact a staff member/s prior to their expected return to work date and confirm that they are aware of their obligation to self-isolate if they have spent time in one or more of the nominated areas.

If an employee has spent time in mainland China, Iran or South Korea in the past 2 weeks and is experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose or shortness of breath OR if they came in close contact with anyone with those symptoms, it may be prudent to require them to obtain medical clearance from a doctor before returning to the workplace.

Similarly, if an employee who has not travelled begins to experience symptoms or comes into close contact with anyone with these symptoms, it may also be appropriate to require them to obtain medical clearance before returning to work.

If a staff member has travelled to Italy or to a country at risk of COVID-19 in the past 2 weeks, they should monitor their health closely for a period of 14 days.

Please note: If an employee has not travelled to mainland China, Iran or South Korea in the past 2 weeks and is not experiencing any symptoms, it will not be possible to request medical clearance prior to their return to work. As per the advice of NSW Health, there is no testing that can be done to predict whether or not an individual will become unwell and it is therefore not possible to issue a medical clearance certificate.

As per Work Health and Safety legislation in normal circumstances, there is an obligation for businesses to do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of anyone who enters the workplace (this includes workers, volunteers, customers etc.). This includes limiting the spread of illness (including COVID-19) wherever reasonably possible. Preventative measures to limit the spread of the virus include*:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water before and after eating as well as after attending the toilet;
  • Avoiding contact with others (including touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact); and;
  • Coughing or sneezing into your elbow

*Information provided by the Department of Health
You may also consider disinfecting items such as communal computers/phones, reception desks, waiting areas etc.

Workplace Relations.
If you direct an employee not to attend the workplace to fulfill your WHS requirements, they will be entitled to normal pay until they receive evidence from a medical practitioner that they are either fit for work (and therefore return to the workplace), or not fit for work (they then go on personal/carers leave).

If an employee cannot return from overseas or are required to be quarantined, they should contact their employer immediately. They may take annual leave or leave without pay during this period. If they are unwell or are caring for someone who is unwell during this period, they may take personal/carers leave.
If an employee wants to self-quarantine, they may request to work from home (if feasible), otherwise they will need to apply for annual leave or leave without pay. If the employee is unwell or is caring for someone who is unwell, they may take personal/carers leave.

In the event that your practice is forced to close, it is likely that the Stand Down provisions of the Fair Work Act will apply. This is where a business is forced to close for reasons outside the employer’s control. Keep in mind, these provisions were primarily designed with natural disasters/extreme weather in mind, but it is highly likely the same will apply if businesses are forced to close due to COVID-19.

As per the stand down provisions, you are not required to pay staff. They can still request to take annual leave or long service leave if applicable. Otherwise it is just leave without pay.

We must stress that you cannot act in a manner that is discriminatory and any action taken must be reasonable to fulfill your WHS obligations.
As in normal circumstances, if any of your employees are noticeably unwell (i.e. not fit for work) they should remain at home until they are fit to return to work (with medical clearance).

For more information on WHS and workplace relations considerations during this time, contact the AVA HR Advisory Service on 1300 788 977.
For more information on the coronavirus, call the Public Health Information Line on 1800 004 599.

The material contained in this publication is general comment and is not intended as advice on any particular matter. No reader should act or fail to act on the basis of any material contained herein. The material contained in this publication should not be relied on as a substitute for legal or professional advice on any particular matter. Wentworth Advantage Pty Ltd, expressly disclaim all and any liability to any persons whatsoever in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by any such person in reliance whether in whole or in part upon any of the contents of this publication. Without limiting the generality of this disclaimer, no author or editor shall have any responsibility for any other author or editor. For further information please contact Wentworth Advantage Pty Ltd.
©Wentworth Advantage Pty Ltd 2020

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