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Employer guide to the Coronavirus

If the coronavirus hit your business, would you know what to do?

This must read guide covers:

  • What happens if a staff member catches coronavirus?

  • What happens if a staff member is quarantined?

  • Can a staff member stay at home to look after others?

  • Can employees be directed not to come to work?

  • Terminating staff because of a slow down

  • Anti discrimination legislation

This article guides employers through your rights and obligations under the Fair Work Act and health & safety legislation.

What happens if a staff member catches the coronavirus?

Leave: Under the Fair Work Act, full time and part time employees are entitled to sick leave and annual leave. The employee will need to provide the usual evidence of being unwell such as a medical certificate or a statutory declaration.

Quarantine: Under bio-security laws, the government has wide powers to quarantine people who have or are suspected to have been exposed to the virus. This is novel. Australia's workplace laws do no have specific provisions which discuss what happens if a person gets quarantined under the bio-security laws. It is likely that the person will need to take sick leave. If they do not have a sufficient sick leave balance, they are likely to need to take either annual leave or unpaid leave.

Health and Safety: Employers have responsibilities to maintain a safe workplace. Practical step may include:

- Providing access to hand sanitizer and regularly cleaning surfaces.

- Developing an infection control policy.

- Advising employees not to attend the workplace if they have been in contact with a person who has a confirmed case of the virus or has been an affected region of the world.

- Providing information, directions and training on how to do their jobs safely.

- Monitoring the health of staff and the workplace.

- Reviewing workplace practices.

Each State and Territory has their own workplace safety laws. It is worthwhile checking with the local regulator.

Can a staff member stay home to care for their children, parents or sick people?

Leave: Yes. Full time and part time employees are entitled to carers leave.

Flexible working: The employees (non casual) who have 12 months of service are entitled to submit a request for a flexible working arrangement.

If schools and childcares centres close, many people will struggle to attend work due to their carer responsibilities at home.

Directing employees to not come to work

Lawful and reasonable directions: Employers can direct employees not to attend the workplace. They can also direct employees not to work.

If you direct a full time or part time employee not to work, then the employee is usually entitled to be paid their usual salary for that time they were told not to work.

Stand downs: The Fair Work Act, Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements allow employers to stand down workers without pay in some circumstances, eg- equipment breakdown, industrial action and natural disasters.

Terminating staff because of a business downturn

Australian businesses have been particularly hard hit with both the coronavirus and the bushfires.

In a business slowdown, you may consider terminating employees by making the role redundant. Employers are protected from unfair dismissal claims when it is a genuine redundancy.

Under the Fair Work Act, a genuine redundancy is when:

- A person's job does not need to be done by anyone; and

- The employer followed the consultation requirements in the award or enterprise agreement.

Anti-Discrimination legislation

Employees are protected against discriminatory practices and communications under federal and state discrimination and equal opportunity laws.

Inclusive and non alarmist internal communications are best practice to foster belonging over the long term and reduce legal liability.

Help is here

Legal Enablers is here in your time of need. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us on or (03) 8691 3128.

Best wishes,

The Legal Enablers Team

Disclaimer: We are passionate about helping businesses grow by sharing information. The content of this article is legal information, not advice and is not tailored to your circumstances.

This article is current as at 2:30pm on 5 March 2020.


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