It is becoming clearer that coronavirus will have major impacts upon Australian businesses and their employees. In responding to the coronavirus risk all businesses need to understand their rights and responsibilities as employers. 

Employers should stay up to date with Australian government recommendations and health alerts for managing the risks of coronavirus. Information is available here.

When an employee has the coronavirus

An employee who is away from work and has the coronavirus can apply to take personal leave.

An employee who is away from work and caring for a family member who has the coronavirus can apply for carer’s leave.

If their personal/carer’s leave runs out then unpaid personal/carer’s leave may apply, or the employee may apply to take accrued annual or long service leave if they have any.

Rights and obligations for workers who are in isolation

The Australian Government has issued an isolation guidance information sheet to help limit the spread of coronavirus: (“Isolation Guidelines”).

An employee who is isolated in accordance with the Isolation Guidelines but who does not have coronavirus is probably not entitled to access personal leave and is not entitled to be paid. They can apply to take annual leave or long service leave (if available) and an employer would usually agree with that.

An employer can lawfully require a worker who has returned from a country not listed in the Isolation Guidelines to stay at home. If the worker does not have the coronavirus the employer has to pay the wages of the worker and cannot force the worker to take leave. The employer can expect the employee to work from home if that is reasonable and practicable. If the worker unreasonably refuses then the employer can probably withhold pay on the “no work no pay” principle.

If the business has to suspend operations

In limited circumstances the Fair Work Act (section 524) allows an employer to stand down without pay an employee that cannot usefully be employed. However these rights must be exercised with care and may also be affected by provisions of a modern award.

The laws affecting rights to leave, pay and stand down are complex and we recommend businesses to take advice about their own specific circumstances.

If you require advice about an employment law matter please contact our experienced employment law team.