Coronavirus and employees returning from holidays – What can an employer do?

The latest information from the Federal Government is that:

As of 12 February, at least 43,103 people have been confirmed infected around the world.

At least 1017 people have died, nearly all in Hubei Province, but officials have confirmed at least eight deaths elsewhere, including one in Beijing and one in Shanghai and two in Henan Province.

We have been receiving many calls from concerned employers asking what they are able to do in these circumstances if an employee has been on leave in a country that has notified of current cases of the virus.

At the moment, the Government is only requiring travelers returning from Wuhan in China, or those who have come in direct contact with the virus to self isolate for a period of 14 days. This means that these employees are unable to attend work but it is not due to an illness, or injury they have suffered, but instead because they are under an obligation set by the Government.

This means that such employees are not “ready, willing and able” to attend work. As such an absence under these circumstances would be unpaid.

If however the employee begins to exhibit symptoms of the virus, they are now ill, and are able to access their accrued entitlements under the Personal/Carer’s Leave provisions of the National Employment Standards.

This gets a bit more complicated where the employee is returning from holidays in a country which has reported that the virus has been diagnosed in that country. The situation here is that if the employee has not come into direct contact with the sufferer of the virus, they are not required to “self isolate” and can therefore attend work as normal. If the employer directs them to stay home, that direction could be reasonable and lawful as long as the absence is paid.

If the industry of the employer is related to health, child care, aged care, or food preparation the employer may also decide to implement a regime of PPE such as wearing surgical face masks, regular use of alcohol based hand sanitizer, etc. Such requirements would be considered a “lawful and reasonable direction” and can be enforced with resort to disciplinary action if employees fail to comply with the direction.

Please contact our office if you have any queries in relation to your rights and obligations as an employer.

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