Beyond lockdown: Walking a tightrope … What employers should and shouldn’t do as restrictions ease

Wednesday May 20, 2020

With restrictions easing and the Federal Government releasing their three-step framework for a COVID-safe Australia, business owners might feel like they’re walking a fine line. While the government has the ability to dictate our behaviour, employers don’t. Therefore, it’s imperative employers understand what they can do and when.

Caution in delivering advice

It’s especially important to have a clear distinction between giving advice for the workplace versus telling employees what to do in their private lives. Employers are well within their rights to deliver advice, guidance and recommendations for maintaining a safe workplace. However, this advice cannot be extended beyond work. Also, an employer cannot discriminate against employees based on their decisions around COVID-safe behaviour.

Keeping yourself and your employees up to date

One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is to ensure you stay up to date with the latest guidelines and recommendations regarding a COVID-safe workplace (both at a state and federal level). Then pass that information on to your employees. For example, how does the new 3-step Framework apply to your business?

It’s important that employers continue to clearly communicate the changes to their employees and map out what these changes look like for their workplace.

The COVIDSafe app is voluntary

The new COVIDSafe app is being framed as a support for easing restrictions. The app helps with contact tracing should a person be diagnosed with the virus. However, it is really important that employers note the app is completely voluntary. Employers cannot force their employees to download and use the app. Doing so can result in penalties.

An employer also cannot discriminate against their employees for not wanting to use the app. Again, doing so could result in litigation later on.

How to manage reluctant employees

With the threat of a second COVID-19 wave coming as we ease restrictions, it’s more than likely some employees will feel reluctant about returning to work. These situations should be handled on a case-by-case basis, and always with understanding.

Steps should include completing a risk assessment and a COVID-Safe plan for the return to work. The plan should be developed on the basis of public health guidelines for workplaces that are relevant at the time. Currently, these guidelines include physical distancing of 1.5 metres and, for some workplaces, the four square metre rule.

The plan should also include details on how you will meet these guidelines, such as staggering work shifts, or relocating workspaces.

To comply with the work health and safety requirements, employers need to ensure they are providing and maintaining a safe working environment. The plan will need to cover your systems for maintaining effective hygiene, monitoring health and cleaning requirements. Employers will also need to plan for potential COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

For detailed COVID-related work health and safety guidelines, visit the Safe Work Australia website.

Help is at hand

With so many balls in the air and strict requirements on what employers can and can’t do, it is understandable that preparing for a COVID-safe workplace could be overwhelming. The HR Dept is here to help you decipher the information and identify what is relevant to your business. Give us a call to help you create your COVID-Safe return to work plan.

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