As the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus continues, we know that it has impacted Australian businesses in numerous ways. From reduced revenues due to drastic tourism drops, through to concerns among staff and customers, it can be a challenging time to be in business.
First and foremost, employers need to consider the health and safety of their staff and customers. Current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health has provided advice as a precautionary measure. Based on this information, a risk assessment for your business should be prepared. This risk assessment would first:
- Identify the hazard novel Coronavirus infection.
- Assess the risk Have any of our staff travelled to China recently? Do we have a lot of contact with the general public? Do we work in the health system? Do we have staff/customers who could be at higher risk, should they contract the virus? etc.
- Control the risk Self-isolation of staff who have travelled to China, perhaps working from home could be a control, if appropriate. As could encouraging good hand hygiene and staying at home if staff are unwell, for example.
- Review the controls Keep up to date with the latest government recommendations and review workplace practices for adherence to the risk controls and effectiveness of those controls.
In some cases, staff may be concerned about having regular contact with the general public and want to stay home as a precaution. In some cases, a request to work from home may be appropriate. In other cases, these staff would usually need to make a request to take annual leave (paid or unpaid) or perhaps access long service leave.
In scenarios where staff are currently quarantined or unable to return from overseas, due to travel restrictions, the Fair Work Act doesn’t have provisions for these specific scenarios. In either case, the employee should notify their employer of these circumstances as soon as possible, to work out an appropriate arrangement. This could include working from their current location, taking sick leave, annual leave, long service leave or other unpaid leave as suitable. Dismissing an employee for not being available in these scenarios could quite likely end up as a General Protections or Unfair Dismissal claim.
Another scenario we’re aware of is the sudden downturn of business, which is impacting business across all levels of the tourism sector. Redundancies are a real possibility due to the genuine slow down in sales or production. If this is the case, the usual steps to manage possible redundancies should occur, including:
- Assessing that this job is no longer required to be done by anyone (which could include the number of people required to do the same job)
- Following the required consultation terms under the Award or Agreement.
It’s not a decision to be made lightly, so if you’re considering redundancies and restructuring your business due to these external factors, you would benefit from speaking to an expert in this field first.
If your employment obligations are keeping you up at night, talk to our Workplace Partners about how we can make life easier for you.
*This is general information only and doesn’t take your specific requirements into account.