Legal Insights

Updated – Coronavirus/COVID-19: What should Australian employers be doing?

By Catherine Dunlop, Dale McQualter & Gerard Twomey

• 06 April 2020 • 3 min read

Two weeks ago we provided a short note about what employers should be considering. The World Health Organisation has now declared a pandemic and Australian employers need to ensure that they are taking active steps to monitor risk to employees, put in place alternative working arrangements and know how to deal with leave requests.

Our list of what you need to be doing is here. We will update this list as the situation develops.

Responding to a crisis

Many employers have not had to address a crisis of this nature before or test their crisis response plan. You should check your Pandemic Plan/Policy, your Crisis Plan and Business Continuity Plan and implement them. If those documents are not fit for purpose or you do not have them, you should be actively planning.

Some tips

You may be overwhelmed by the number and size of issues you need to address. A helpful way to address them is to use an ‘ABCH’ approach as a way of organising your crisis team’s planning and action items:

A – Absences: Understand what you need to do in terms of absence and leave, and return to work after illness.

B – Business Continuity: Plan for what you need to do to keep operations running, particularly if you are unable to access your normal workplaces, a large number of staff are unwell and/or you have supply and/or demand issues.

C – Communications: Communication to your employees (and to clients and suppliers) is vital. There is a great deal of fear, and some misinformation, in many workplaces. You should link and refer to official sources of advice from the WHO, the Department of Health and state/territory health departments and Smarttraveller.

H – Health & Hygiene: Promote good hygiene for employees and have a plan for if/when an employee tests positive.

You should also consider whether you have the right people in your Crisis Team. Not everyone has the right temperament or skills. You should include some people who can scenario plan and develop practical solutions to the issues you are considering. Also ensure that not all the Team meet at the same place, as the Team may all be required to self-isolate if some become unwell.

You should recognise that decision making in a crisis will be difficult. You have incomplete information, you make decisions that often have long lag times before the impact of the decision is known and your decisions may be non-reversible. Your crisis team should consider your legal obligations, both under employment and WHS, your organisational values and your consultative arrangements as well as financial, supply chain and operational impacts when making decisions. We recommend testing your decisions through different lenses if you can, and getting advice, including legal advice, if you are unsure what your organisation’s options are. Finally, take care of the mental health of your Crisis Team and recognise the impact that this may have on them, and on all employees.

Maddocks has produced guides to a range of legal issues raised by the coronavirus (COVID-19). You can access these guides here.

Looking for further advice on responding to COVID-19?

Get in touch with the Employment, Remuneration & Benefits team.

By Catherine Dunlop, Dale McQualter & Gerard Twomey

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