In the wake of the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus a global pandemic, many organisations are facing questions from employees, board of directors, shareholders and customers regarding what steps their organisation is taking to support the welfare of their employees, customers/clients and the business viability.
We are acutely aware that there is an overwhelming amount of information out there. This information has been designed to provide you with practical guidelines on what you should consider.
Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, communicate with your employees. Send out written correspondence to them on the control mechanisms the business has in place. This doesn’t need to be a complex. It could include:
- Instructions on hygiene to try and prevent the spread including washing hands, restricting physical contact (i.e. shaking hands), utilising hand sanitiser, disposing of tissues in sealed bins etc. The World Health Organisation has posters that can be displayed in the workplace to support this. https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/resources/posters/en/
- Asking all employees who return from any overseas travel or employees who have had contact with those returning from overseas travel to work from home for a period of 14 days upon return.
- Ensuring all employees who feel unwell or have family members who feel unwell do not attend the workplace
Liquid HR clients can access a 15 minute online training module on infection prevention and control. For non-clients, the cost for this is $45 per employee. It is an annual subscription and also includes a number of other legally compliant courses you can roll out. Please get in touch if you would like to implement this for your business.
It is important that your business has assessed:
- What it will do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 or if an employee has come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- The business continuity plan if employees are unable to attend the workplace or if there is a significant downturn in business due to COVID-19. Liquid HR has developed a business continuity plan template for all clients that can be used to assist you in assessing this. If you are a Liquid HR client, please get in touch if you would like a copy of this sent to you.
We have received a significant number of questions from employers on what employees should be paid in different scenarios. The below summarises some of our commonly asked questions. If we have no addressed a particular scenario relevant for your workplace, please get in touch.
What if an employee is unable to attend work as they have a positive test result for COVID-19 or need to care for an immediate family member with COVID-19?
Full time and part time employees may use their personal/carers leave entitlement. If an employee has exhausted all of their personal/carers leave, then you should consider allowing them to access their annual leave or long service leave (where entitled).
Casual employees are entitled to take unpaid personal/carers leave. The Australian government has limited the waiting period for employees to access the sickness benefit if they are unable to work. Casual employees may wish to apply for this benefit to support them whilst they are unwell.
What if an employee travels overseas and is quarantined overseas or upon return to Australia and unable to return to work?
If the employee is unwell and they are a full time or part time employee, they can take personal/carers leave. If they are not unwell, consider providing access to other leave entitlements such as annual leave or long service leave (where entitled). If the employee has exhausted all leave entitlements then they will be on leave without pay. You may wish to consider providing the employee annual leave in advance (although this is not a requirement).
What if an employee does not wish to attend work as they are worried they will contract COVID-19?
Where possible your workplace may wish to implement a working from home option for employees. If this is not a viable option (i.e. retail employees, warehouse staff) then an employee may request to take annual leave or long service leave (where entitled). These leave requests would be subject to your normal leave approval process.
Before instigating any working from home arrangements in your workplace, you should ensure you have a clearly documented working from home policy that sets out the parameters and expectations. Liquid HR has a template policy for clients – please get in touch if you would like a copy.
It is also important to acknowledge here that this is an unusual situation and the uncertainty is causing many employees to experience anxiety and fear. You should provide an avenue for employees to discuss any concerns with a designated representative in the workplace or refer the employee to your organisation EAP provider.
Liquid HR has a counsellor available for one hour phone sessions with employees. Should you wish to offer this to your employees, please get in touch.
Can I make my employees stay home on unpaid leave?
Not currently. Under the Fair Work Act 2009 a full time and part time employee can only be stood down without pay if they can’t perform their role due to equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible. As it currently stands there is no lock down prohibiting employees from travelling to work or orders for businesses to close, as such if an organisation requests an employee to stay home, they must be paid for this period.
You should also check the award, enterprise agreement and contracts of employment to see if there are any additional provisions relating to standing down employees without pay.
We are experiencing a significant business downturn due to a decrease in business, what options do I have to minimise labour cost to ensure the ongoing viability of our business?
We are receiving many calls from clients who are understandably worried about the financial impact of the current climate and we understand businesses are looking to make well informed decisions whilst trying to support their employees as much as possible.
If you do not have work for casual employees, then they will not be rostered. This will obviously impact their ability to earn income. Casual employees in this scenario should be encouraged to seek support from the government. The government has waived the waiting period for the Newstart allowance available. Where an organisation is in a financial position to do so, they may wish to determine if they can pay casual employees an average wage for a set period to support them whilst the business does not require them to work. Woolworths has just announced that they will pay casual employees their rostered shifts for up to 2 weeks if they are unable to work due to a directed request to quarantine themselves.
Full time and part time employees
For full time and part time employees the first step would be to ask employees to consider taking their annual leave or long service leave (where entitled). You should refer to the applicable award or enterprise agreement which will dictate when you can require an employee to take their unused annual leave.
The second step would be to ask any employees if they would like to take a period of leave without pay (you cannot enforce this). This may be an option for some employees who are happy to take some time off work and are able to do so without an income.
The third step would be to ask any employees if they would like to reduce their hours of work for a set period I.e. move from full time to part time for a fixed period. You cannot force this (without redundancy potentially applying) but some employees may want to move to 3 or 4 days and this could also support the business.
If after each of the above options have been implemented, your business is still experiencing financial difficulty, you may consider if redundancy is a viable option. This option should be considered carefully and as a last resort. No one can predict the future and we don’t know how long the financial impact may continue for your business. You may find yourself in a few months in a better position and needing to invest in recruiting new team members. Should redundancy be the only option, we encourage you to reach out to us to discuss the process related to this to ensure it would be considered a genuine redundancy and you follow the correct process.
For more information on the topic, please contact us on 1300 887 458 and speak with one of our HR Consultants. If you are interested in learning more about our HR services, including HR Outsourcing, HR Consulting, HR Advisory Services, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.