As we know, the World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outburst as a public health emergency of international concern. As a result, employers need to understand their obligations in considering how this may affect their employees. This may include the granting of different forms of leave, working from home or taking extra precautions in the workplace.

Frequently Asked Questions: Can an employer direct staff to stay home? Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), 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 coronavirus, employers should request the employee seek medical clearance from a doctor to work from home (if possible) or not work during the risk period. If an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee is entitled to pay. As a reminder, employers should also consider their obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employee contract and workplace policies. Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down with no pay if they cannot do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible.

What happens if an employee or their family member is unwell from coronavirus? If an employee needs take care of family member or member of the employee’s household who is unwell with coronavirus or suffering an unexpected emergency they are entitled to take paid carer’s leave. Note: 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 employer can request evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person in such circumstances.

What if an employee is stuck overseas or required to be quarantined? Both the employer and the employee need to make every effort to communicate fully in such situations. The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations so employees and employers need to come to their own arrangement. This may include: taking sick leave (if the employee is sick)taking annual leavetaking any other leave available to them (such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment)Arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and the employer.

What if an employee wants to stay home as a safeguard? If an employee wants to stay at home to reduce risks to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if this is an option) or to 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.
Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination. Employers can also find updated information on quarantine requirements: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov

Source of information: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/website-news/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws