Coronavirus – to test or not to test? That is the question.
As an employer you are legally obliged to contain the health and safety risks presented by COVID-19 infection in the workplace by seeking to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:
- your workers (employees, contractors, volunteers); and
- third parties exposed to your business operations (clients, customers, patrons, bystanders).
Failure to do so may not only result in risk to employee or public health, lost productivity or interruption to normal business operations, but also criminal penalties.
There are three elements to managing the risks:
- maintaining appropriate levels of hygiene;
- employing appropriate levels of social distancing (including by isolation of people with infection or suspected infection); and
- following an appropriate medical response to infections and suspected cases.
As such, you should ensure you have appropriate signage and controls in the office to enable staff to follow the guidelines above. You should also have a procedure in relation to your response to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
What if someone just has the sniffles, but is not experiencing all or any of the COVID-19 symptoms?
Safework Australia clearly advises that anyone who is unwell should not be in the workplace, COVID-19 or otherwise.
Of course it was once a regular occurrence for people to continue to attend work feeling a little under the weather with the common cold or a headache, but in light of the recent pandemic and increased concern of community health, we are seeing a push from staff to ask that anyone who is ill to stay at home. Whether or not they take sick leave or are able to work from home is a up to the individual circumstance and an employees ability to carry out their role from home.
The next question then is – if they are unwell, can we ask them to get a COVID-19 test?
As present, the guidelines are that if anyone is experiencing COVID symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath), they should seek independent medical advise from their GP, but are not to go directly into a COVID testing clinic without being told to do so as COVID clinics may present an increased risk of infection (or of spreading the infection). They can also call the National Coronovirus Hotline on 1800 020 080
Can I (or should I) request a medical clearance before people who are ill return to work?
Depending on your policies, you may be able to request a medical certificate / clearance from anyone who has had 2 or more days off work due to illness.
In relation to COVID-19, employers can ask employees to seek a medical clearance before returning to work if is reasonable in the circumstances. Whether it is reasonable will depend on a variety of factors including the employee’s location in relation to community spread, travel, their role and contact with others at risk or their symptoms. You might request that employees work from home where possible instead.
It might not be reasonable for employers to ask employees to pay for a medical clearance if:
- you do not need to self-isolate according to the Australian government’s rules
- you are healthy and able to work
- it does not form part of your current HR policies in relation to sick leave
The direction is still the same for those who have either travelled interstate or internationally or been in contact with those that have: they should advise their employer, and isolate at home as per government instruction.
Vital to the process of employers maintaining their health and safety responsibilities in relation to COVID is to remain up to date with information and government guidelines and regularly consult and communicate with employees.
Some resources include;
- National Coronovirus Hotline : 1800 020 080
- Commonwealth Department of Health at health.gov.au;
- Queensland Department of Health at qld.gov.au;
- Western Australia Department of Health at health.wa.gov.au;
- Safe Work Australia at safeworkaustralia.gov.au;
- Smart Traveller at smartraveller.gov.au;
- Fair Work Ombudsman at fairwork.gov.au;
- Queensland Department of Workplace Health and Safety at worksafe.qld.gov.au;
- Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety at commerce.wa.gov.au; and
If you would like assistance in putting together a policy around managing workplace risks associated with COVID-19 such as directions to stay at home when unwell, attend medicals or what procedure to follow if you suspect or have a confirmed case of COVID within your organisation please don’t hesitate to reach out.