Our news feeds are being flooded at the moment with news of COVID-19 and Queensland businesses are being severely impacted.
As an employer, other than having your employees work from home, there are some simple steps regarding hygiene that you should be taking now to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. WorkCover Queensland has prepared a brief news alert detailing the steps that employers should be taking. You can access it here: https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/news/2020/coronavirus-covid-19-workplace-risk-management
Otherwise, what leave are employees entitled to?
- If an employee has COVID-19 or a family member has COVID-19 then full-time employees may access paid sick leave (personal leave) entitlements. If the employee does not have sick leave entitlements, then they may access unpaid leave entitlements. Casual employees can access 2 days unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Employers are entitled to request evidence of the illness in the form of a medical certificate. They may also have a right to request medical clearance before the employee can return to work, if reasonable.
- If an employee is required to self-isolate in order to comply with government restrictions (such as after travel) there are no hard and fast rules contained in the Fair Work Act or modern awards and employers will need to come to their own arrangements with employees. These arrangements may include working from home, accessing annual leave or long service leave entitlements or arranging other paid or unpaid leave by agreement.
- If an employee wishes to self-isolate for their own protection then the employee needs to come to an arrangement with their employer. This may take the form of working from home or accessing paid or unpaid leave entitlements. If the employee does not enter into an arrangement with their employer or use paid leave, they are not entitled to payment in these circumstances.
- What about standing employees down? Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they cannot be usefully employed because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible. Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay. Employers are not required to make payments to employees for the period of a stand down, but may choose to pay their employees. Given current circumstances, the stand down provisions in the Fair Work Act have now been used by a number of employers. If you are uncertain whether the stand down provisions will apply in your circumstances then you should seek advice.
- What about casual workers or contractors? Casual employees do not have paid sick or carer’s leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards and usually are not entitled to be paid when they do not work. Independent contractors are not employees and do not have paid leave entitlements under the Fair Work Act.
The Fair Work Ombudsman have released information on COVID-19 and employers obligations and that information can be accessed at https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/website-news/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws
Employers may also need to consider redundancies. The obligations for redundancies will differ between each business depending on what is contained in awards, contracts or enterprise agreements but generally speaking the employer has an obligation to consult with employees and then pay notice and redundancy pursuant to the National Employment Standards. We can assist employers navigate these issues and provide advice on employee entitlements.
If you require advice on issues that your business is facing as a result of COVID-19 then our office is able to assist. Please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our team today.