COVID-19 update – 18 March 2020

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Keeping your organisation running during a crisis

In the current environment with the increasing threat from the COVID-19 pandemic, the community services sector plays a vital role in assisting the community. Keeping community organisations running where possible is crucial.

Many QCOSS members have been asking for more information about operational and industrial relations issues emerging from the pandemic so we’ve partnered with CCIQ to answer some of the most common questions.

Protecting employees and others in the workplace

Employers must have measures in place to eliminate or manage the risks arising from COVID-19. To do this, you should keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 information and advice to ensure that any action taken is appropriate. This includes closely monitoring the information provided by the Australian Government Department of Health, the Smartraveller website and advice from the Queensland Government.

When can employers direct employees to stay away from their usual workplace?

There is nothing in the model Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws that deals expressly with when an employer may direct an employee to stay away from their usual place of work. This includes when you can direct a worker to work from another workplace, including from home.

So far as is reasonably practicable, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of workers and others at the workplace. To meet this duty, employers must identify risks at the workplace, and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise those risks.

We encourage employers and employees to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of your workplace and your staff. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.

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

Employees who cannot work because they are sick with coronavirus can take paid sick leave. If an employee needs to look after a family member or a member of their 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 two days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Full-time 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 reasonable evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it. This will also apply to situations relating to coronavirus.

What if an employee is stuck overseas or is required to be quarantined or to self-isolate?

Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are unable to attend work because they cannot return from overseas, are required to enter quarantine or to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.

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:

  • working from home or another location (if this is a practical option), noting they should review any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employment contracts or workplace policies
  • taking sick leave if the employee is sick
  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave available to them (such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or employment contract)
  • arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and the employer.

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

If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution they will need to come to an arrangement with their employer that best suits their workplace, such as making a request to work from home (if this is a practical option) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave.

What if an employer wants their staff to stay home?

Under workplace health and safety laws, employers must ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace as far as is reasonably practicable. Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.

If an employee is at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because they’ve recently travelled from overseas, or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus), employers should request that they work from home (if this is a practical option) or not work during the risk period.

Where an employer directs an employee not to work due to workplace health and safety risks, the employee is generally entitled to be paid while the direction applies. However, if an employee cannot work because they are subject to a government order requiring them to self-quarantine, the employee is not ordinarily entitled to be paid (unless they use leave entitlements).

Employers should consider whether their obligations are impacted by any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies.

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

What about casual employees and independent contractors?

Casual employees do not have paid sick or carer’s leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards and usually are not entitled to be paid when they do not work (for example, if they miss a shift because they are sick due to coronavirus or because they are otherwise required to self-isolate). Employers should also consider their obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies.

What arrangements should be put in place for volunteers?

If your organisation works with volunteers, be sure to include them in your business continuity plan. As with paid employees, organisations must ensure the health and safety of volunteers at the workplace as far as is reasonably practicable.

For more information about working with volunteers, visit the Volunteering Queensland website.

How do I ensure we are receiving the right information for our organisation?

Safe Work AustraliaFair Work and Queensland Government’s Workplace Health and Safety office are the best places for information about health and safety in the workplace including legal obligations of employers and employees.

Queensland Health website is the most reliable source of health information for Queenslanders.

QCOSS will continue to keep you updated on issues relating to the community sector. We have created a COVID-19 section on the Community Door website to keep you up to date with the latest information affecting your community organisation and clients. We will continue to update the information on this page.

Thanks to CCIQ for their support with these questions. CCIQ have developed a COVID-19 Employer Guide to address the key safety and employment issues which you can download from their website.

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or updates about what is happening in the community sector. For COVID-19 related issues, contact us on [email protected].

18 March 2020