How Should Employers Deal With Coronavirus?
The sharp increase in cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a cause of concern for many Australian employers. Here's how you can manage it in the workplace.
The outbreak of COVID-19 (more commonly known as Coronavirus) is on the cusp of becoming a global pandemic. Although not a lot is known yet about the virus, what we do know is that it’s highly contagious. Similarly, the severity of the illness differs amongst different people, with the most serious cases resulting in death.
With news that the virus has started to be contracted within Australia and amongst people who have not recently travelled overseas, it’s important for employers to know what precautions to take. Here we will provide some guidelines on how you can take care of your employees.
1. Alert your employees
Many of your employees likely know about Coronavirus from what they’ve seen in the news. However, a lot of the news surrounding Coronavirus has been purely speculative. Make sure the information you provide is factual and not sensationalised. The most accurate source which contains information on COVID-19 is the World Health Organisation (WHO). Consider printing out information from WHO and giving it to your employees. Your employees will know what signs to look out for and also how they can lessen the likelihood that they’ll contract the virus. One big myth is that wearing a mask will protect you from Coronavirus. It won’t – it will only prevent you from spreading germs if you are already experiencing symptoms. Further, evidence suggests that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, not surface-to-surface.
2. Insist that sick employees stay at home
If any employees are feeling unwell, it’s important that they stay at home and take time to recover. Even if there is a lot of work to be done, or your employee isn’t bedridden, now is the time to prevent your employees from bringing germs into the office. Just as with any flu or contagious illness, sick employees coming into work puts your other employees at risk. If you have a policy of requesting medical certificates from sick employees, you can continue to enforce this. However, there’s the risk that sick employees will still then come into work if they aren’t able to see a doctor.
3. Allow employees to work from home
Some global companies are already requiring that employees work remotely, and this has become the norm in China for most offices. Workplaces are known for being a hotbed for illnesses such as colds to spread, and having less employees in the office is the most effective way of mitigating this. However, this can be easier for some businesses more than others. If your business is one where employees need to be physically present, make sure you have products such as hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial soap available for your employees to use.
4. Reinforce good hygiene practices
Now might be a good time to refresh your employees on hygiene practices in the workplace. Simple gestures such as covering your mouth when you cough or washing your hands regularly can make a big difference. Health experts have also recommended refraining from formal physical contact with strangers such as handshakes.
5. Reconsider any international business trips
If you send your employees on business trips overseas or interstate, you should consider cancelling or postponing the trip. It may be worth opting to instead host these online through Skype or another platform. The Australian Government has already placed travel warnings on countries such as Italy, Iran, China, South Korea, Mongolia and Japan. This is due to the high level of confirmed COVID-19 cases in these areas.
6. Take precautions for employees who have recently returned from overseas
Australian citizens and residents who have returned to Australia from mainland China since 1 February 2020 must isolate themselves for 14 days. This is even if they aren’t displaying any symptoms. If you have any employees who have recently travelled to or transited through mainland China, it is important that you do not let them come into work for this amount of time. If you have employees who have returned from anywhere else overseas and are feeling ill, they should also stay at home.
The Coronavirus has the potential to cause widespread disruption to Australian businesses, but taking the right precautions is a must when it comes to your employees. Make sure your employees understand what’s going on, how to practice good hygiene and most importantly, don’t let them come in if they’re sick.
Jackie is the Content Manager at Lawpath and manages the content team. She has a Law/Arts (Politics) degree from Macquarie University and is an admitted solicitor in the Supreme Court of NSW. She's interested in how technology can help shape the future legal landscape.