As an employer and business leader, we know this is a challenging time. Good leaders make plans for the future but the coronavirus (Covid-19) has come out of nowhere and the situation we all find ourselves in is unprecedented. There is already significant information about the virus – reporting exposure, symptoms, flattening the curve, self-isolation and hygiene considerations – so we aren’t going to rehash all of that information. Rather, we will provide some answers to a few frequently asked HR questions that many of you are facing.
First of all, we want to confirm that we are here to help during this difficult and ever-changing period. We will continue to work on site in your offices as your HR Professionals where previously arranged unless otherwise advised by you or due to a government direction. All HR Staff n’ Stuff HR Professionals are extremely mindful of hygiene practices that will assist in minimising the spread of the virus. Phone and email access to the team will continue as usual for everyone needing HR Support.
WHAT DO I DO IF SCHOOLS CLOSE?
If schools are shutdown, employees WILL be able to access carers leave. There are some mixed messages out there about this but it is our opinion that this is a situation that cannot be planned for and it is important that you allow your team to access leave to help them get through if working from home is not viable. The focus is to be fair and reasonable with your approach while navigating your business through to the other side of the Covid-19 outbreak.
BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION FOR WORK FROM HOME
If working from home is possible for some or all of your team, ensure you have an appropriate policy in place that outlines expectations and ensures continuity of communication and required work. We recommend work from home agreements along with an OH&S checklist are put in place if working from home is to be a mutually agreed arrangement. Please contact our team if you require support preparing any of these documents as there are considerations that vary dependent on the individual circumstances of your employees and your business needs. We can also help you with how to effectively manage a remote work team as this presents its own challenges that you will need to address.
Allowing employees to work remotely is a choice only you can make for your business. We have already seen examples of employees demanding work from home approval, but it is a privilege and not a right. Employees can request to work remotely but you are not obligated to approve the application. That said, some countries are now imposing restrictions for all businesses stating that if employees can’t work from home the business must close. It is therefore, prudent for you to plan and prepare for a work from home eventuality in order to have some or all of your business operating where possible should a government direction be imposed.
In the event that working from home is not ideal, possible or permissible, employees can request unpaid leave or access annual or long service leave. In these uncertain times we recommend you consider all requests as it may reduce the stress load of your employees as they protect their health and their families but still allows for business continuity. This difficult time will be easier if we all apply flexibility and kindness in our decision making. A positive outcome may be that you reduce your leave liabilities.
WILL STAND DOWN BE APPLICABLE?
As an employer, you may stand down an employee during a period in which the employee cannot usefully be employed and no payments are required to be made. Some businesses may be in a position to provide employees who are stood down with full or part pay. Regardless of whether you can provide any payment or not, please note that full leave accruals will apply in this period. Under the Fair Work Act, there are specific criteria required to allow for a legal stand down and these provisions may apply to your business based on the coronavirus impact. It is not a given that stand down provisions will be applicable so please contact the HR Staff n’ Stuff team for guidance regarding your individual circumstances. We can also provide assistance with any communication to staff if this is an action that you need to take.
DO I PAY A RETURNING TRAVELLER WHO IS IN SELF ISOLATION?
As soon as the calendar clicked over to March 16, the Federal Government has declared that all travellers arriving in Australia must self-isolate for 14 days. For any full or part time employees who were overseas before this directive was announced and have now returned, are subject to the government's two week isolation directive. These employees can access their available paid personal leave for this period if leave is available. If they do not have sufficient personal leave, your employee may choose to access annual or long service leave or they may prefer to keep their leave entitlements and take unpaid leave.
Employees who choose to continue with their travel plans despite government advice and with knowledge of the mandatory two week isolation period will not be entitled to use personal leave for the self isolation period. You may choose to allow them to access other accrued leave entitlements such as annual leave or long service leave, otherwise this period will be unpaid – unless you can provide a work from home opportunity for them.
Do not allow travellers to return to work earlier than their 14 day self isolation period. First and foremost, you have a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all employees and this directive is designed to reduce the risk of spreading this highly contagious virus. Secondly, your employee will be breaking the law and penalties will apply and vary between states. You can allow them to work from home if it suits your business but they cannot enter your place of work or attend client sites.
As of 19 March 2020, the Australian Government has advised that Australians should not travel overseas and any citizens who are currently overseas should return as soon as possible. If you have any employees that ignore this advice and continue on with travel plans, you need to ensure they are aware that they may not be entitled to be paid when they return or if they are caught overseas due to closed borders.
Please reach out to the HR Staff n’ Stuff team with any questions you may have regarding managing and supporting your team through this period. Advice and direction from state and federal government is regularly updating and it can be confusing but we are absolutely here to help you and your business get through this really challenging and uncertain time.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!