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News & Views

18th March 2020

Current Global Outbreak of Coronavirus - What you need to know

We refer to the current global outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). The outbreak has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation. The purpose of this correspondence is to provide you with some brief management techniques.

As a starting point, the Australian Government have advised the following:

  1. All people entering Australia from overseas are required to self-isolate es for 14 days.  Further details can be seen here.
  2. Coronavirus may spread from person to person through contaminated droplets from a person who is sick with the illness, or contaminated hands, and generally occurs between people who are in close contact with one another; and 
  3. Everyone should protect themselves by: 
  • making sure to regularly clean their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub;
  • cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing; and 
  • avoid close (less than 1.5 metres) contact with everyone and particularly those with cold or flu-like symptoms.

 

Please click here to view to NSW Government health alerts. You may also subscribe to these alerts to ensure you remain informed on the situation as it progresses.

 

Additional Work Health and Safety information

It is important to note that under the each of the relevant states Work Health and Safety legislation, employers are obligated to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors.

You can read more about your obligations as an employer through the following links:

  1. for ACT, click here.
  2. for NSW, click here.
  3. for QLD, click here.
  4. for TAS, click here.

 

Stoppage of work and leave (due to illness or required isolation)

There are several factors to be considered when looking at payment and leave options when work must cease as a result of the outbreak. It is important to note, the most appropriate leave type will not always be clear as this matter is not specifically addressed in the legislation.

Employers and employees are encouraged to work together during this time to find appropriate solutions, which may include working from home, taking extra precautions in the workplace and different forms of leave where required.

In cases where an employee is unfit for work (showing symptoms), they may request use of personal leave in accordance with Section 97 of the Fair Work Act 2009. This may include time off required by an employee that has contracted the virus or time off for an employee who has not been cleared by a medical practitioner as fit to return to work. In other circumstances, annual leave, RDO’s or long service leave will be more appropriate, however each circumstance needs to be assessed individually.

To assist you with your leave and payment obligations during this time, we have put together some scenarios, which you can review below.

Please note that in certain circumstances, employers may be able to stand down employees lawfully without payment in accordance with section 524 of the Act, provided other required consultation and notice are met. It is highly important to refer to the applicable industrial instrument.

You can find relevant information on payment and entitlements during this time on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website here.

 

NECA assistance

 

This situation is complex and is still unfolding. Government advice may change and we will endeavour to keep members informed throughout this process. It is highly important that members also subscribe to the relevant government resources above.

To read the most recent Australian Government release around the economic response to the outbreak click here. We strongly encourage members to read through this document.

For tailored advice on how to best manage your situation including advice on leave and stand downs, please contact us on 1300 361 099.

NECA has taken measures, including (where possible) asking our staff to work from home to ensure continuity of service to our members during this crisis.

 

Coronavirus information and guidance

Example Scenarios – Leave and Stand-Down 

 

Scenario 1: Individual employee travels overseas and is required to self-isolate on return

The individual may request annual leave on return to cover the isolation period. If the employee was found to be unfit (by a medical practitioner) for work during this time, personal leave will prevail. Regular notice and evidence requirements would apply.

Note: where an employer sends an employee overseas and at the time of the employee leaving, the employer was aware that they employee would need to self-isolate, the employer would be obliged to pay the worker for any downtime resulting from self-isolation.

 

Scenario 2: Individual employee appears to be showing signs of cold and flu and employer requests a medical clearance - employee is cleared to return to work

Employer should send employee to a hospital or applicable health unit for a medical clearance. This time is to be treated and paid as ordinary work time. If the employee is cleared to work, they should return and continue to be paid as normal.

 

Scenario 3: Individual employee appears to be showing signs of cold and flu and employer requests a medical clearance - employee is advised to isolate themselves for a defined period, usually 14 days

 

Employer should send employee to a hospital or applicable health unit for a medical clearance. This time is to be treated and paid as ordinary work time. If the employee is not cleared to return to work and therefore found to be ‘unfit’ for work, they would be paid from their personal leave balance until this entitlement is exhausted. At this point the employer and employee may consider use of annual leave, RDOs or long service leave, where possible.

 

 

Scenario 4: Employees have come into contact with another person with the virus on site or at work and therefore must stop work for a defined period, usually 14 days

 

If employees must stop work due to safety concerns, the employer must notify employees that there will be a stoppage of work and an unpaid stand down period in accordance with section 524 of Fair Work Act. Employers may offer use of annual leave, RDOs or long service leave. 

 

It is suggested that if this approach is required, employers clearly communicate that an unpaid stand down is occurring and offer use of annual leave, RDOs or long service leave, where possible.

 

Note: where an employee comes into contact with someone with the Virus in a social context (eg cinema) and the Government or medical practitioner has identified the employee as having to self-isolate, the employee should be stood down or offered access to annual leave, RDO’s or long service leave.

 

 

Scenario 5: Business or site shuts down due to safety concerns - no alternate work available

Employer may be required to stand down employees in accordance with section 524 of the Fair Work Act. While payment would not regularly be required during this time, employers are encouraged to offer use of annual leave or RDOs where possible.

It is suggested that if this approach is required, employers clearly communicate that an unpaid stand down is occurring and offer use of annual leave, RDOs or long service leave, where possible.

 

Scenario 6: Business shuts down due to safety concerns, at its own initiative, where there is no evidence of contract (whether confirmed or suspected) with the virus

Employees should continue to be paid as normal.

 

Scenario 7: Individual employee has contracted virus

 

Personal leave to be used until this entitlement is exhausted at which point the employee will be on leave without pay or can request use of annual leave, RDO’s or long service leave (if available).

 

 

Scenario 8: Individual employee(s) requests to stay home as a precaution

 

If an employee requests to stay home as a precaution, they will need to request a flexible working arrangement or some form of leave such as, annual leave or use of an RDO. It is best practise for employers to work with employees to approve these arrangements where possible.

 

 

Scenario 9: Individual employee returns from overseas and must self-isolated for 14 days where the trip was at the request of the employer

 

Employees should continue to be paid as normal.

 

This guidance is based on the situation as it currently stands and there may be changes. As this is an extraordinary occurrence, in some cases the answers are not clear however employees and employers should work together to find appropriate solutions, which may include working from home, taking extra precautions in the workplace and different forms of leave where required. 

 

You can find relevant information on payment and entitlement during this time on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website here 

 

Please note that this document is not legal advice and should not be taken to be legal advice. The purpose of this document is to provide guidance. The list of examples provided is not exhaustive.