Coronavirus factsheet for employers

Read our coronavirus Q&A to find out how the outbreak could impact your workplace.

BrightHR Team

First published 18th March 2020. Last updated 27th March at 3pm.

Now that the coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about how it will impact your business and what you can do as an employer. Here we answer some of your complex HR questions…

Q. One of my employees has a confirmed case of coronavirus. Do I have to give these employees time off work with pay?

A. If the employee is still at work, allowing them to remain presents an unacceptable health and safety risk to others.

You should advise that they leave the workplace and ask that they provide a medical certificate to allow the absence to be paid as personal leave. Further, you can direct them to obtain medical clearance before returning to work.

Q. One of my employees was diagnosed with coronavirus shortly after having attended work. Do I need to let the team know?

A. You should notify your remaining employees that there has been a confirmed case of coronavirus in the workplace. Be careful not to disclose who the employee is. Depending on the type of business you may also need to notify customers or suppliers etc.

You should contact the Department of Health to ensure they are aware of the diagnosis, and seek their advice as to which employees are at risk of contracting coronavirus and whether the workplace needs to be shut down.

Where possible, have employees work from home for the self-quarantine period recommended by the Department of Health.

If this is not possible and you have been advised to shut down the workplace, you may be in a position to stand down your employees without pay in accordance with the Fair Work Act.

If you are not required to shut down, you may still consider working from home arrangements of a business shut down on health and safety grounds. However, in this instance, you would likely need to continue to pay employees for the duration of the shutdown.

Q. My employee is required to self-isolate and has requested whether they can work from home. Do I have to accept this request?

A. Your employees have no legal right to work from home because of the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore employers and employees must come to their own agreements when an employee is required to self-isolate, is quarantined or is overseas and unable to travel back.

Arrangements may include working remotely if this is practical but you should refer to any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employment contract or workplace policies.

If this is not practical, due to the nature of the work or lack of appropriate equipment, you may decide instead to agree to the employee taking annual leave, taking any other leave available or arranging unpaid leave. If the employee is sick, they may take personal leave but should cover this with a medical certificate.

Q. One of my employees is concerned and wishes to stay home as a precaution. What are the employee’s entitlements in this instance?

A. You should discuss the matter with your employee to understand why they are concerned. If the employee has a reasonable concern about risk to their safety, for example, if they have a weakened immune system, you may wish to agree support through home working or some form of approved leave.

As the employee merely wishes to stay at home as a precaution, rather than on the direction by the employer or government order, they would need to reach agreement with the employer. Usual leave application processes apply. Without agreement, the absence would be unauthorised and unpaid.

Q. One Of My Employees Will Be Travelling Overseas Soon. What Can I Do?

A. Employees may have pre-booked annual leave to countries which have a high number of cases and you may be concerned that they pose a risk of picking up the virus and exposing the rest of the workforce to it. You cannot force employees not to travel if there are no restrictions in place and employees may not be inclined to cancel their plans if it means they may miss an important family event or stand to lose money.

If an employee is travelling overseas, encourage them to maintain good hygiene whilst travelling and pay attention to any signs of ill health. If they return from their travels and are unwell, manage this in accordance with the guidance above, depending on where they have travelled.

Q. The coronavirus has caused a downturn in business and I cannot afford to keep my employees. What can I do?

A. If you have experienced a downturn in business and one of the following applies to you, you will need to consider commencing the redundancy process with some or all of your employees:

  • Cannot sustain paying all of your employees.
  • Only have enough work for some but not all employees.
  • Have temporarily shut down but now you do not believe that your business will recover in its current form.
  • You are permanently ceasing operations.

Prior to making a decision to commence redundancy consultations, review your workforce to consider any alternatives, such as redeployment or reduced hours.

If there are any alternatives, have a discussion with affected employees to see if they would be willing to do this. If they agree, ensure that any changes to terms and conditions are recorded in writing. Be wary of how you approach this to ensure the employee does not feel pressured into accepting any alternative.

If you are unable to identify any alternatives to redundancy, you may be in a position to commence consultation with employees. This will involve a series of meeting with affected employees, usually three, whereby you discuss the proposal and seek any feedback or suggestions from employees.

The redundancy process will vary case by case depending on the reason and any changes during consultations. You should seek advice before proceeding.