The Do’s and Don’ts of Returning to Work after Recovering from COVID-19

Wednesday December 2, 2020

While COVID-19 numbers are low in Australia, you may still face questions about your duty of care as an employer of a person who is recovering from the disease. As with any other health-related absence from work, employers should make sure they support Coronavirus survivors when they return to work.

Allowing COVID-19 survivors to return to work

You cannot stop an employee returning to work once they recover from COVID-19. However, there are guidelines in place to identify when they can or should return to work.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, employees who have isolated after testing positive for COVID-19 “can return to work once they have fully recovered and have met the criteria for clearance to return to work”.

The clearance criteria may be different in each state or territory and for different workplaces. Clearance may be provided by the survivor’s treating physician or the public health authority in their state or territory. If you’re an employer in the healthcare or aged care industries, it’s important to confirm the specific criteria within your state or territory, as they may change.

Physical and mental support by employers of COVID-19 survivors

As with many other health-related concerns, employers must manage and reduce any stigma around COVID-19 for staff returning to work after precautionary self-quarantine or illness. Employers also need to nip any workplace discrimination in the bud.

Some of the measures that can be taken to reduce the stigma and avoid discrimination include:

  • Keeping the details of staff members who have had the virus confidential
  • Creating a safe line of communication for staff to raise any concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Advising all staff that it is safe for their colleagues to return to work once they have completed a quarantine period and are free of symptoms

Managing ongoing symptoms after being cleared of the virus

Recovery from COVID-19 varies between people – just like any illness. So work closely with any employees who are recovering from COVID, to manage their workload as they return to work. We can help you map out a Return to Work program for them.

Should employees continue to be unwell, it’s important to take note of Fair Work regulations regarding ongoing illness.

Employees who have extended sick leave for three months or less over 12 months are protected from being terminated. They may, however, take unpaid leave once their paid leave has been exhausted.

An employee who has received paid leave for their entire period of absence is also protected against termination.

However, employees who require more than three months leave due to their illness, and have used a combination of paid and unpaid leave, are no longer protected from being terminated.

We urge employers to be cautious when making decisions regarding staff who continue to be ill for an extended period – whether it’s COVID related or another illness/injury. There are regulations on what you can and cannot do, and the rules for appropriately dismissing someone still need to be followed.

2020 has been a challenging time for many employers and employees alike. But you don’t need to navigate these challenging times alone. Give our HR experts a call if you have any questions or concerns around your HR practices.

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