COVID-19 workplace relations refresher

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drag on, it is important to remain informed about your workplace rights, entitlements and obligations during this time.

I am an employee and I have been ordered by government or health authorities to isolate after returning from interstate. What am I entitled to be paid?

The Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2020 currently contains a specific entitlement to up to two weeks unpaid pandemic leave, which can be used in circumstances where an employee is unable to work as a result of the pandemic.

If you prefer to be paid, you can request to take annual leave (or long service leave if applicable and allowed in your state or territory).

Personal or carer’s leave (sick leave) should only be used if you are genuinely unfit for work due to an illness or injury.

My state or territory government has just announced a snap lockdown. What does this mean for my staff?

This will depend on the precise terms of the lockdown and, in particular, whether the lockdown requires the practice to close or substantially restrict operations (such as telehealth only).

In the event that your practice is ordered to close or restrict operations to the point where it would not be viable to remain open (such as if telehealth was not an option at your practice), a stand down under Section 524 of the Fair Work Act 2009 may be permissible.

These stand down provisions state that staff can be stood down without pay if they cannot be usefully employed due to a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.

Before standing staff down, however, other paid options should be explored—such as agreeing to take annual leave or long service leave if applicable.

The HR in Practice service has more information on this.

In a lockdown that does not place any specific restrictions or limitations on your practice, you cannot use the stand down provisions.

If you still wish to make changes to staffing arrangements, for example, due to a potential loss of revenue, you will need to seek agreement from employees to either temporarily reduce their hours or take a period of paid leave.

The HR in Practice service can provide further advice on managing staff during lockdowns.

Can I force my staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

At the time of writing, the advice remains that unless there are laws that require vaccination against COVID-19, any direction for a staff member to be vaccinated must be lawful and reasonable.

For this to be the case, the employer must be able to justify that receiving the vaccination is an inherent requirement of the employee’s role.

For example, if a government mandate requires a particular employee (or group of employees) to receive the vaccine, then it will likely be considered an inherent requirement of their role and a direction for that employee to be vaccinated will likely be considered reasonable.

The HR in Practice service can provide further advice about the COVID-19 vaccine in your workplace.

I have cold or flu-like symptoms; should I go to work?

No, stay home and get tested.

Contact your employer and request to use your personal or carer’s leave entitlement and only return to work when you feel better and have received a negative test result.

I provide care to a school-aged child and their school has been closed suddenly due to a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. What am I entitled to be paid for the period of the closure?

Given that the school closure was unexpected, you are entitled to personal or carer’s leave if you are a permanent employee.

This is because personal or carer’s leave can be used in the event of an ‘unexpected emergency’.

Can I force my employee to get a COVID-19 test if I suspect they may have been exposed to the virus?

Under work, health and safety laws, an employer has an obligation to do everything reasonable to ensure the health and safety of those in their workplace.

Therefore, if you have genuine reason to suspect that your employee may have been exposed to the virus, then a direction for them not to attend work until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result will likely be considered reasonable.

If the direction is strictly coming from the employer—that is, the employee has not been required to get tested by a health authority—they will need to be paid normal wages for any ordinary hours that would have otherwise been worked during the time taken to receive the negative test result.

Note: the information in this article applies to national system employers and their employees throughout Australia.

If your practice is in the Western Australian state system, contact the HR in Practice Service for information on staff rights and entitlements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

>> The HR in Practice specialist workplace relations and work (occupational) health and safety advisory service is operated by Wentworth Advantage. APA Business Group Premium Principal members can contact the HR in Practice service on 1300 138 954 or hrinpractice@australian.physio or click here to access the full suite of online resources. For more information about joining the APA Business Group, click here or call 1300 306 622.

 

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