The rapid global spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has resulted in an unprecedented situation. “Governments have shut borders and imposed quarantines, and companies have imposed travel bans. The human and economic impacts on businesses have been stark.”
It’s every employers first and foremost responsibility to look after their employees’ safety. Being at the risk of having a significant number of employees or contractors not turning up for work – organisations have to plan ahead to keep the business running. Whilst most employers are reviewing strategies and procedures, many are wondering about the legal implications of those.
Organisations should consider the circumstances and various situations in which they would extend or expand benefits, protections and duty of care.
Here are 7 things to keep in mind while planning to ensure safety of employees and your organisation.
Stay informed – Update yourself through authoritative sources of public health guidance. Read officially recommended and actions in the applicable jurisdiction. Links we found particularly helpful – Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for employers, Health Alert, Easy to understand information, Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws, Isolation Guidelines
Communicate regularly – For legal and practical reasons, you need to provide reliable information to your employees. From ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus, services provided by employer to help during a possible threat of detection like EAP, medical benefits etc – it should all be communicated clearly.
Reduce risk – Implement measures to reduce the risk of transmission at the workplace. Ensure your employees have easy access to handwashing facilities, hand sanitizers and paper towels. High usage public surfaces like counters, doorknobs and elevator buttons should be regularly disinfected.
Facilitate flexible work – Consider flexible work options like remote work, shift work and lesser meetings to reduce crowding of spaces. Video-conferencing, for instance, is a good alternative to risky face-to-face meetings. This will also allow you to assess how the team functions with flexible situations.
Leave and pay – Analyse your legal obligation to provide employees with leave in the event of sickness. Exclusions from insurance policies should be identified. Most travel insurance policies exclude pandemics.
Returning to work – Employers can impose reasonable, fact-based restrictions if there is a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. Take input from a medical consultant regarding the return to work of an employee whose family or they themselves have been ill. Communicate this via an explicit written policy.
Document – Whilst you may already be stretched a little thinly, it is imperative to document all the communication and measures that you have taken during this time. This will protect you in case of any legal issues and be a good template for future reference.
While coronavirus is of concern, it’s important to remember that people displaying symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness are also likely suffering with a cold or other respiratory illness—not coronavirus.
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