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

The latest information from the Federal Government is that:

As of January 30, at least 7,711 people have been confirmed infected in mainland China, most of them in and around Wuhan.

At least 170 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.

CMS has been receiving many calls from concerned members 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 Federal Government is only requiring travellers returning from Wuhan in China and Hong Kong, 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.

Note: Self-isolation means staying at home and not accepting visitors.

This means that such employees are notable 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 and Queensland 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, or where they are working with clients, or children who have just returned from such countries i.e. not China or Hong Kong. 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 (Personal Protective Equipment) 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 CMSolutions if you have any queries in relation to your rights and obligations as an employer.

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