Coronavirus (COVID-19) – your employer obligations

[Article updated 04/03/20]

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new outbreak of coronavirus associated with Hubei Province, including Wuhan City, in China, with confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continuing to emerge in Australia.

Businesses and organisations need to manage their communications, policies, practices and employer obligations regarding this new public health issue. Business owners, HR managers or WHS officers should address the following considerations:

  • Providing health & safety information about the virus including symptoms, risk management, hygiene and further resources

  • Addressing concerns by staff

  • Advising employees on payment and leave policies and entitlements

  • Updating policies and procedures if necessary

The Australian Government continues to monitor developments and has issued a health alert as a precaution. While this is a rapidly changing situation, the Department of Health has reported that there is no cause for alarm. However, the Government has advised that anyone who has recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected, should self-isolate by remaining at home for 14 days and seek medical advice. Additionally, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Iran is currently considered to be one of the largest outside of the Hubei province in China, with The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advising travellers arriving from Iran to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

Symptoms of coronavirus can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Affected people may experience:

  • Fever

  • Flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, and headaches

  • Difficulty breathing / respiratory problems

If a staff member is experiencing the above symptoms or thinks they may have been in contact with novel coronavirus, they should self-isolate and call the Health Direct Helpline immediately on 1800 022 222, or the dedicated DHS hotline on 1800 675 398.

Employers may not have anticipated some of the staff issues that have surfaced along with this public health concern. For example, we have had a client seeking advice regarding a healthy staff member who refuses to come to work due to their fear of coronavirus. In another instance, an employer has received a formal complaint by an employee who feels rejected by his co-workers due to his Chinese appearance. All of your HR policies around bullying and harassment, discrimination, sick leave, personal/carer’s leave, and annual leave should continue to be enforced.

HR managers should be prepared to advise staff on your policies and procedures, particularly around taking leave and returning to work. Any staff taking leave because of having potential contact with novel coronavirus should be required to provide medical clearance before returning to work.

It is advisable to remind your employees about safe hygiene in the workplace, such as washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

More information and resources are available on the following Government websites:

If you need assistance clarifying your policies around novel coronavirus and sick leave, personal/carer’s leave, annual/long service leave, workplace health & safety, or anti-discrimination, please contact us today.

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