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.
Recently the government has dictated that anyone who has returned from overseas travel, as well as those who have been in direct contact with someone who has a confirmed case of Coronavirus, have been told they must self-isolate and must not attend work for a minimum of 14 days.
The requirement on all people who had been overseas to quarantine themselves took effect as of midnight on the 16 March 2020. As such, this requirement will not retrospectively apply to those who returned from overseas prior to this date and they will not be required to quarantine unless they returned from one of the high risk areas (e.g. China, Iran, Italy or South Korea depending on the date of travel) and were directed to do so at the time.
Where someone is required to be quarantined, 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 and can then use annual leave or other paid leave should they not have enough paid personal leave accrued to cover this period. If they are not ill, then as the quarantine is still related to preventing the spread of the illness and they are being made to quarantine by the government authorities, they should still be allowed to use personal leave.
If an employee is not required to quarantine himself or herself and voluntarily elects to quarantine, then 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. If the employer directs an employee to quarantine without the employee being required to do so however, then the employer will have to pay them as normal.
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.
Lastly, in the event that someone within the business does contract the infection or come in direct contact with someone who is confirmed as having Coronavirus there is the possibility that the business is required to shut down for a period of time. In this event, it is likely that this would be considered as a stand down, where due to unforeseen circumstances a business cannot stay open and no work can be done by employees. In this event, the default position will be that the employee will be on unpaid leave, however if the employee has accrued annual or long service leave and wish to take it they may do so.
Employers should keep abreast of the latest information from the World Health Organisation, Australian Departments of Health, Safe Work SA and NT WorkSafe in dealing with the situation.
Please see below links to some useful information for employers:
Employers should also ensure that their employees, customers and contractors 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
- and displaying the: COVID-19 Stop The Spread poster.
If any members have further queries please contact the Workplace Relations department on 8291 2000 or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.