Coronavirus (COVID-19) and your duty of care to employees

Public news

The risk of Coronavirus has been widely circulated across the media for some time now and a few members have made enquiries as to what they should do where employees have returned from overseas.

Currently people returning from, or who have travelled through, mainland China and Iran and Italy, as well as those who have been in direct contact with someone who has a confirmed case of Coronavirus have been designated at the highest risk of contraction. Employees in these scenarios must self-isolate and must not attend work for a minimum of 14 days.

Where someone is required to be quarantined or is still stuck overseas, there is nothing in the Fair Work Act that covers these situations. If the employee falls ill while overseas then they are entitled to use personal leave. If they are not ill then the employee and employer may be able to discuss and explore using other paid leave entitlements such as Annual Leave or another arrangement agreed between them.

If an employee is not required to quarantine himself or herself, in this event the employee will either have to use Annual or Long Service Leave or if they don’t have this available, unpaid leave.

Where someone is returning from overseas and has been in a situation where there is a risk of contracting Coronavirus, an employer could potentially request an employee to get a medical clearance. However, this would not be recommended until the employee begins to show symptoms (including fever, coughing, shortness of breath). The Department of Health has detailed that there is currently no way to test if the person has contracted the virus before symptoms appear, therefore any clearance sought would be futile.

Given the current circumstances, employers may also want to advise employees to consult national travel advice if they intend to travel overseas and also to check their potential travel insurance coverage.

Employers should keep abreast of the latest information from the World Health Organisation, the SA and Australian Departments of Health and Safe Work SA in dealing with the situation.

Please see below links to some useful information for employers:

Employers should also ensure that their employees, customers and contractor have access to sanitizing hand rub dispensers placed in prominent places around the workplace and that they follow proper hygiene procedures such as:

  • washing of hands often with soap and water
  • using a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • avoiding close contact with others, such as touching or handshakes; and
  • cleaning surfaces regularly with disinfectant

The following posters can be placed around the business to assist with conveying this message to employees:

If any members have further queries please contact the Workplace Relations department on 8291 2000 or via email: wr@mtasant.com.au.