COVID-19 Work Health and Safety: Employers – do you have an obligation to protect workers?

COVID-19 Work Health and Safety: Employers – do you have an obligation to protect workers?

Under work health and safety laws, all employers have a duty to ensure that their employees’ health and safety are protected as far as reasonably practicable. This means employers are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that the workplaces are without health and safety risks. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that employers provide as much information as possible about health and safety risks associated with COVID-19, ways to reduce those risks and ensure that they have a system in place to monitor and minimise the risks.

You can:

  • restrict employee business travel but you cannot restrict personal travel
  • direct employees to work from home if it is necessary to close your workplace for a period of time
  • stand down employees in circumstances which the Fair Work Act permits
  • direct employees to take annual leave provided that the applicable modern award or enterprise agreement permits.

You should:

  • stay up to date with information released by state and federal health departments:
  • keep employees up to date with health information
  • provide hygiene facilities
  • ensure that you change the way you interact with customers, for example, at shops:
    • “no cash” and contactless card payment only policy install signs to remind customers comply with the social distancing rules
    • install barriers so that customers do not stand too close to your workers
    • consider directing employees to work from home if it is not possible to maintain the social distancing rule
    • develop a contingency plan for the worst case scenario – when one of the employees tests positive.

Going forward, there will be disputes about whether COVID-19 is a workplace injury. This will depend on the circumstances of infection. It will be difficult for one to assess whether the infection occurred in the work place.

As an employer, you should also consider what your obligations are under the workers compensation insurance policy. In order to mitigate risks, you should ensure that you have best practices for work health and safety.

Further information

If you require assistance with understanding your obligations and minimise potential exposure to liability, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced employment and litigation solicitors on 02 9963 9800 or [email protected].