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We have all be advised to avoid public gatherings and many upcoming sporting, entertainment and recreational events have now been cancelled.  This raises the question of whether we should be travelling on crowded public transport to get to work?

Employment Law Issues 

Employers will face a number of issues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including: 

  1. employees or their family/household members testing positive to the coronavirus; 
  2. travel restrictions impacting employees overseas in high risk countries;
  3. managing work arrangements; and 
  4. a downturn in operations and therefore revenue. 

In circumstances where an employer is made aware of an employee’s potential exposure to coronavirus, employers should immediately contact the Department of Health for advice and to ensure they follow the government’s current guidelines. 

Employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of employees and to remove or minimise the risks to other employees. If an employee believes they may have been exposed to coronavirus, employers must send them home from the workplace and direct they be tested for coronavirus. 

If an employee tests positive what are they entitled to?

The National Employment Standards (NES), employees are entitled to 10 days paid personal leave per annum if: 

  • they are unfit for work because of their own personal illness; or
  • to provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household because of an illness, injury or unexpected emergency affecting the family member. 

Employee’s may be entitled to personal or carers leave if they or their family/household members test positive for the coronavirus. 

If employee’s do not have enough personal leave accumulated, they would be entitled to unpaid personal leave or request to utilise their annual leave during this time. 

How can employer’s minimise disruption to their workplace?

In order to minimise disruption and risks to employee’s health and safety, employers may consider the following: 

  • Think outside the box, if employees can work from home then consideration should be given to permitting this.
  • Cancel or at least postpone upcoming work travels for employees.
  • Require employees who have returned from overseas to self-quarantine for at least 14 days prior to returning to the office.  Remember employees who have returned from certain countries must self-quarantine for at least 14 days.
  • Ensure soap, hand sanitizers and other hygiene products are readily available for employees to use in the workplace.
  • Consider supplying facemasks to employees particularly those who are travelling on public transport to get to work.

Employers should consider what specific steps may help their businesses to manage this challenging time.

Migration Law Issues

On 15 March 2020, the Australian government announced that: 

  • All international travelers, including Australian citizens and permanent residents are required to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • A ban on cruise liners from foreign ports arriving at Australian ports for 30 days.

The Australian government confirmed that the existing entry ban for foreign nationals who have left or transited from mainland China, Italy, Iran and the Republic of Korea will remain in effect. 

Foreign nationals are banned from entering Australia for 14 days from the date they left or transitioned through these countries. Australian citizens, permanent residents and their family members can continue to enter Australia but will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

Any foreign nationals who attempt to enter Australia and do not comply with the existing entry bans may face severe consequences such as a visa cancellation. 

What should employers consider if they employ foreign nationals? 

Employers should conduct a review of their temporary visa holder population and assess whether any employees are currently overseas or have recently left or transitioned from one of the banned countries. 

Employers may consider the following when managing their foreign national employees: 

  • Delaying the assignments for temporary visa holders.
  • Organising temporary accommodation for foreign nationals to self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • Advising foreign nationals transiting or leaving from one of the banned countries of their inability to enter Australia and possible consequences if they to not meet the entry requirements.
  • If any of the foreign national’s immediate family members Australian citizens or permanent residents as the Department of Home Affairs is considering these matters on a case by case basis. 
  • Cancel any unnecessary business trips for all employees including Australian citizens and permanent residents. 

Conclusion

At this stage, the self-quarantine requirement for all international travellers is temporary and employers should keep up to date with the most recent updates from the Australian government and the Department of Health. 

The coronavirus situation is constantly evolving on the daily and employers must remain informed with the most recent updates from the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation. 

 This article should not be considered legal advice. If you have any questions or have any concerns about your employment and immigration obligations, please contact us on (02) 9058 4930. 

Nicole Dunn                                                                                                  Mary Saliba

Legal Practitioner – Director                                                             Legal Practitioner & Migration Agent

                                                                                                                              MARN: 1799617

19 March 2020