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Coronavirus is likely to present challenges for businesses regarding workplace safety and industrial relations.  From a health and safety perspective, information can be found by clicking on the following links:

Department of Health – for the latest information and advice about Coronavirus

Safe Work Australia – for information and referrals about dealing with Coronavirus in the workplace

Your State or Territory workplace health and safety body

What happens if an employee or their family member is sick with Coronavirus?

Full and part-time employees who can’t come to work because they are sick can take paid sick leave.  If an employee needs to look after a family member or member of the employee’s household who is sick with Coronavirus, or suffering an unexpected emergency, they are entitled to take paid carer’s leave.

Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion.  Full and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left.

An employee must give their employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it.

What if an employee is stuck overseas or require to be quarantined?

Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are unable to attend work because they can’t return from overseas or are required to enter quarantine because of the Coronavirus.

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website.

What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?

If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to Coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave.  These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace.

Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting Coronavirus with their doctor and their workplace health and safety representative.

What if an employer wants their staff to stay home?

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website.

Under work health and safety laws, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace (as far as is reasonably practical).  Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.

If an employee is at risk of infection from Coronavirus (for example, because the employee has recently travelled through mainland China, or has been in close contact with someone who has the virus), you should request the employee seek medical clearance from a doctor and to work from home (if possible), or not work during the risk period.  Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction.  You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ contracts of employment, and workplace policies.  Members can seek advice from the Association’s Industrial Relations Department on this point.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they can’t do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible.  The most common scenario usually involves a natural disaster.  Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.  Again, the Association’s Industrial Relations Department can assist members in this regard.

Members need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination.

More information:

Casual Employees

Directing an Employee to take annual leave

Protection from discrimination at work