Coronavirus for employers: Common questions and advice

- March 17, 2020 3 MIN READ

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, places of employment are being impacted. Employer advice service Employsure has been inundated with requests from business owners wanting to know their rights. Here’s the lowdown on coronavirus for employers if an employee is diagnosed with the virus.

 If an employee has a confirmed case of Coronavirus

If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, you should take the below steps:

  • If the employee is still at work, you should immediately direct them to leave the workplace. Allowing the employee to remain at work presents an unacceptable health and safety risk to others.
  • Ask the employee to provide a medical certificate to allow the absence to be paid as personal leave, and direct them that they must obtain a medical clearance before returning to work.
  • Contact the Department of Health to ensure they are aware of the diagnosis, and seek their advice as to which employees are at risk of contracting coronavirus and whether the workplace needs to be shut down.

If the employee was present in the workplace immediately prior to the diagnosis, you should also take the below additional steps:

  • Notify your remaining employees that there has been a confirmed case of coronavirus in the workplace. Do not disclose who the employee is. Depending on the type of business, you may also need to notify customers, clients etc.
  • Where possible, have remaining employees work remotely (eg from home) for the self-quarantine period recommended by the Department of Health.

Your next steps will then depend on the advice you receive from the Department of Health:

If the Department of Health advises you to shut down the workplace, and your employees cannot reasonably work elsewhere, you may be in a position to stand down your employees without pay in accordance with the Fair Work Act. Contact the Advice Team for further advice, if you need to shut down the workplace.

If the Department of Health does not require you to shut down the business, you may still make a business decision to request employees to work remotely or shut down the workplace on health and safety grounds. Be aware that shutting down in these circumstances, you will likely need to continue to pay employees for the duration of the shutdown.

Employees returning from higher risk areas

People who are returning from overseas are advised by the Department of Health to self-isolate for 14 days even if they don’t have any symptoms. If you are aware that your employee has travelled internationally, and they return to work within the self-quarantine period, immediately take steps to send them home from the workplace.

Employees who refuse to come to work due to concerns about infection

Some employees may be reluctant to come into the workplace as the risk of catching the coronavirus rises. This may cause operational and staffing issues. If the employee is not on any form of recognised leave (eg personal leave or annual leave), and there is no safety reason why they cannot attend work, the expectation is that they continue to attend work.

However, you may wish to work with the employee to alleviate their concerns. Consider whether you could allow the employee to work remotely, or access paid leave entitlements (eg annual leave or long service leave) to reduce their concerns.

Employees who are unable to attend due to closure of schools etc.

If schools, child care centres etc close due to suspected or actual cases of the virus, employees may notify you that they are unable to attend work due to a breakdown in their usual childcare arrangements. In this case, normal rules relating to personal leave will apply. It may be worthwhile to work with your employee to identify if they can work remotely during this time.

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