The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving and escalating situation. Gerhard Moll, of our Andersen in Australia Legal Team updates you on some of the potential issues.
What does COVID-19 mean for your business?
1. You are responsible for your workers health:
- Have a clear strategy to deal with the virus that complies with government recommendations, and ensure it is implemented (i.e. travel, quarantine, social distancing etc).
- Update the strategy as the situation develops, and ensure staff are kept up to date through clear and regular communication.
- Don’t allow people to come to work if they are feeling unwell.
- Make sure all staff have the resources (hand sanitiser, disinfectants etc.) to maintain good hygiene practices.
- For staff working from home, ensure that they are in a safe and appropriate environment. Consider the OH&S aspects of that environment and assist them to address any issues.
2. Your workers are likely to request more leave:
- Be as flexible as reasonably possible.
- Consider whether working from home is a solution.
- Self-isolation may be compulsory for them in which case you are required to allow it.
- Consider whether they can access accrued annual leave or long service leave or annual leave in advance if sick leave is exhausted.
- Track any virus associated leave carefully for future reconciliation as it is possible this may be directly impacted by government policy or regulatory developments.
3. You will need private information relating to your workers health:
- Ensure you are clear about what you are asking and why, and do it in writing.
- Only ask questions directly relevant to virus related health issues.
- Treat the information as confidential other than for disclosure to relevant authorities or health professionals.
4. Reducing staff numbers or hours:
- Carefully check legal obligations before taking any actions – particularly contracts, awards or enterprise agreements.
- Alternate duties, working at different locations, modified hours, salary reductions, forced leave etc. may all be options but need to be implemented with care.
- Ensure that the business is ready to increase activity again as the effects of the virus pass.
As always, the circumstances of each business and each worker will be different so there is no single answer to these questions. What is clear however is that COVID-19 will not be a sufficient reason to justify every corporate action and that some actions will result in litigation. Handle these matters carefully, pay attention to government directions and information, obtain advice where you think it may be required and you will minimise the risk of being the subject of one of the many legal cases that are definitely going to follow in the wake of this virus.