One of the biggest lasting changes that we’re experiencing since the COVID-19 pandemic hit is the need to take even slight symptoms seriously. Gone are the days of “take a couple of Panadol and go to work anyway”. Now, if you or your employees are exhibiting any symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 it’s important to stay away from the workplace, and get tested.

Can I direct an employee to go home if I think they are unwell?

If you’re concerned about the health of an employee—for their sake as well as for the safety of others—it’s best to discuss your concern with them, and encourage them to get tested and self-isolate.

You can also ask questions such as:

  • Are you experiencing cold or flu like symptoms?
  • Have you had a temperature?
  • Have you been in contact with anyone that is confirmed to have COVID-19?
  • Have you returned from overseas in the past 14 days?

If testing is not an option or if they refuse for another reason, discuss whether they are able to work from home until they are fully recovered.

If your employee continues to refuse, you can direct them to get a medical clearance confirming they are fit for work. If this happens you would need to continue to pay them as if they were working regular hours, and also pay for the medical assessment. Call us on 1800 577 515 if you have any further questions regarding this.

Can I direct an employee to work if they don’t have any accrued sick leave?

If your employee has a medical certificate confirming they’re unfit for work then you can’t direct them to work for the period stated on the certificate. This is regardless of whether or not they are receiving JobKeeper payments, or are under any JobKeeper enabling directions.

An employee has asked to work different hours, to mimimise contact with other staff. Is this appropriate?

Once again, the answer to this will depend on the employee’s specific circumstances, and your business situation. If your employee is in a high risk category or is caring for vulnerable family members, then you’ll need to conduct a risk assessment to ensure you’re doing all you can do to meet your health and safety obligations to them.

Aside from this, the situation will depend on whether the employee is eligible to make a request for a flexible working arrangement. If they are a permanent employee with at least 12 months of continuous service, or a regular and systematic casual with at least 12 months service who has a reasonable expectation of continuing employment, they may make a request to change their hours of work if they are:

  • the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is of school age or younger
  • a carer (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010) have a disability
  • 55 or older
  • experiencing violence from a member of their family, or
  • provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household, who requires care or support because they are experiencing violence from their family.

Under these circumstances the request can only be refused on reasonable business grounds, for example, it would be too costly, or it would result in a significant loss of efficiency or productivity.

If your employee doesn’t fit these criteria you don’t have to agree to a request to change hours. Any agreement that you do make should be documented in writing and, unless the change is permanent, should have an end date specified, or a set time for regular review.

My employee has told me they cannot come back to work because they have no childcare. What can I do?

With ongoing COVID-19 cases across the country at times schools and child care centres need to close temporarily, causing havoc for working parents. If this happens to your employee it’s important to discuss the situation with them and come to an agreement that works for both of you. This may be a work-from-home agreement, a mutual decision to reduce hours, or the employee may be able to take carer’s leave. However, this would only be the case for as long as the situation to care for their children is classed as an “emergency”. Otherwise, the employee would need to access other forms of leave, such as annual leave or long service leave or take unpaid leave until their situation changes and they can return to work.

It is important to note that if your business requirements change and you need to take steps which will affect the employee’s role (eg you need to make the employee’s role redundant), it’s important to follow a proper process to avoid any discrimination claims. Please contact our team on 1800 577 515 for specific advice to your situation.

Come back tomorrow, where we’ll be discussing the ins and outs of working from home.

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