This past week has shown us just how precarious the Covid situation really is in Australia. While vaccination rates are low, the reality of ongoing lockdowns and restrictions will be felt by all, with new lockdowns, increased restrictions, state border lockouts, quarantining and self-isolation throwing all sorts of personal and business plans into disarray. Which brings us to the question of employees travelling…
Travel and Coronavirus
Until recently, crossing the border or jumping over to New Zealand has been relatively safe in terms of risks posed by Covid. But the last few weeks have shown us that we cannot take the decision to travel lightly and we all must consider the very real possibility that employees sent interstate may be impacted by an outbreak in terms of being about to get back across the border or may face a 14 day quarantine.
As an employer, you get to decide as to whether or not any of your team will travel for the purposes of company business. Naturally, you will be making this based on Government directives with priority consideration given to the safety of your employees along with the needs of the business. Thankfully, we have all become incredibly adept when it comes to video calls and there are exemptions for work travel where there is no alternative but to have someone with a required skillset actually on site.
Coronavirus Management Policy
But what about employees who are taking annual leave and have plans to head interstate? Easy peasy, just refuse their holiday request, right? NO!
Let’s be very clear here – you are NOT able to regulate your employee’s personal life and direct where they can or cannot travel. What you can do though is make sure you have a clear and current policy on travel during the pandemic so both you and your employees know and understand the implications if anyone chooses to travel interstate for personal reasons.
A policy around Coronavirus management is really important as it will provide clarity for employees who may be unsure as to what they can do. This is not about punishing employees who decide to travel, rather it is about ensuring everyone understands the position of the business, the legal directives that will need to be followed should an outbreak occur and options available to the employee.
For example, a policy should confirm that any travel is at an employees own risk. As an employer, you are under no obligation to pay an employee who cannot work due to quarantine or an inability to return due to an outbreak, but you may want to allow employees to access their accrued annual leave entitlements so this should be addressed within your policy. If there are no accrued entitlements to access you should make it clear that the alternative is unpaid pandemic leave until they can return to work. You should also be clear that personal leave is not available unless they are actually unwell and cannot attend work as a result and that documentation from a medical professional verifying this will be required.
It is also valuable to outline that the business will require any return travellers to adhere to the relevant state government directives as the situation requires. Ultimately you are wanting to make it clear as to what an individual must consider before finalising any travel plans.
If your business does not require employees to be on site, you may consider allowing employees to work remotely if trapped interstate or at home in isolation, but this may require them taking a laptop on their travels. This discussion and agreement needs to be finalised before departure so that all parties understand what is expected if a smooth return to office is disrupted by Covid.
Planning for unknowns
For the time being, we do need to expect the unexpected as far as this pandemic is concerned. The best that you can do is look at what might happen and what might need to be addressed and put in place policies and define outcomes that assist in removing uncertainty and confusion. Providing a consistent and reasonable approach in a time when everything else seems so erratic and uncertain will help build and support a positive working environment which can only be good for your employees and your business.
If you need assistance in preparing a Coronavirus Management policy that is specific to your business, contact the HR Staff n’ Stuff team now.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!