The mandatory five-day isolation period for people who test positive to COVID-19, has been scrapped in Australia. While there are some limited exceptions for infected workers in high-risk settings, most workers will no longer be prevented by law from working while they have COVID-19. The health advice is still to stay home if you test positive, but it does not have the force of law. The abolition of mandatory isolation will have huge repercussions for workplaces. In light of this change, we consider what employers should be doing right now in response…
Decide what your organisation’s policy is going to be with respect to infected workers
We set out some likely scenarios below and pose the questions that may assist you to develop your approach.
What will you do about casuals?
If infected workers (who are not casuals) are unwell and unable to work, they can take personal leave. In contrast, if casuals are unwell and unable to work, they ordinarily will not earn an income as they do not have paid personal-leave entitlements. If you are concerned that casuals may continue to work, out of financial need, while unwell and positive, you should start to carefully consider your organisation’s response now.
What if workers have mild or no symptoms?
If infected workers are well enough to work, for example because they have very mild or no symptoms, or their symptoms have disappeared quickly, you will need to consider your organisation’s approach. The following questions may guide your thinking:
- Will your organisation require them to work from home (especially given that asymptomatic persons can still spread the virus)? If yes, for how long? If no, what measures will you implement to protect their co-workers?
- What if your infected workers, who are well enough to work, are employed in a role that cannot be worked from home – is your organisation’s policy going to require them to remain at home and not work? If yes, for how long?
- If their role cannot be worked from home, will your infected workers be able to take personal leave even if they have no symptoms and are feeling fine?
What if infected workers without symptoms refuse to take leave?
What will you do if infected workers without symptoms refuse to take their personal leave or have none accrued – i.e. “I’m not sick, I can work, if you want me to stay at home then pay my wages”? Will your organisation then pay them to stay at home?
Do a risk assessment ASAP
A risk assessment is essential and will help your organisation identify the measures you can adopt to minimise the risk of your workers becoming infected by their COVID-19 positive colleagues. Your risk assessment should be the basis for your new policy.
Consult, consult, consult
Your organisation’s policy with respect to infected workers is a health and safety issue. This triggers your organisation’s obligations, including under OH&S legislation, to consult with its workers. If you have a health and safety committee, this is a key issue for them to consider.
Given the changes, if you have not consulted already, you must start to consult now. If you are thinking of implementing a policy whereby infected workers who no longer have symptoms can come into work, you should first consider what your workforce thinks of that proposal, as their views might surprise you. You need to know what those views are, and genuinely consider them, before deciding what your organisational policy will be.
Should you have any questions or require any assistance with understanding your obligations please contact Magda Marciniak, Partner, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Meg Crawford, Special Counsel at email@example.com