Are you like the many millions of Australians who have recently transitioned to remote working? For many of us, we’ve now adapted to our new normal, but now we need to start planning ahead for the return to work. As federal and state governments start to encourage teams to return to the workplace, it’s essential you have policies in place to protect your employees, especially if you’re placed in the unfortunate circumstance where you have to respond to a team member who has contracted COVID-19.
In the event that one of your employees becomes infected with COVID-19, it’s crucial your workplace has strict protocol in place to minimise the infection spreading to others. A COVID-19 incident management plan can help you achieve this. To protect your team, develop a transition plan that breaks down the specific tasks involved with getting your team back in the office in a healthy and safe manner. This plan should involve considerations around implementing workforce screening, strict hygiene practices and social distancing measures.
To help prevent incidents occurring in the workplace, you must follow government advice and emphasize that employees stay home from work if they are feeling unwell. For specific information relating to your state or territory, please visit Safe Work Australia for up to date advice.
We know that the last few months have been a whirlwind to say the least. With the announcement of the JobKeeper Payment and lots of other legislation, policies and restrictions coming into effect, it’s been hard for SMEs to keep up. So with this in mind, we’ve pulled together many resources to help you navigate these times in the Employment Hero COVID-19 Resource Hub. In here, you’ll find policies, templates, guides, ebooks and webinars help you through the other side of this pandemic.
What actions should you take if you believe that someone in your workplace is infected with COVID-19?
Firstly, if you have reason to believe that someone at your workplace has contracted the virus, it’s part of your duty of care to reduce the risk of it being transmitted to other employees. This is the objective of developing a COVID-19 incident management plan. If you believe an employee has come into contact with the virus, it’s critical you follow the advice and guidelines put in place by the government and health authorities.
If an employee is confirmed for having COVID-19 or is waiting on results, the employee should self-isolate at home as per government regulations. However, different scenarios may lead you to reasonably suspect that an employee may be infected. This may be due to them displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 or sharing information such as they’ve recently been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. These two scenarios may cause you to have reasonable concerns for the health and safety of others in your team.
According to SafeWork Australia, you should follow the necessary steps below as part of your COVID-19 incident management plan. The following steps relate to the possible infected employee being at your workplace now.
💡 Remember: Workers who are assisting a potentially infectious employee must wear appropriate PPE gear and follow all hygiene practices.
- Isolate the person to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Provide the person you are concerned about with a mask to wear.
- Seek advice and assess the risks associated. You can do this by calling your state or territory helpline. They will provide you with advice from public health and government officials.
- Ensure the person has transport to their home or to the closest medical practice or facility.
- Clean and disinfect the areas where the suspected infected employee has been. Secondly, block the areas off until thorough cleaning is completed, including all communal areas such as the bathroom, kitchen, meetings rooms and offices. Your state or territory public health unit can also provide you with further information as to how and where to clean. You must follow this procedure.
- Identify and tell close contacts of the suspected infected employee that they may have been exposed to the virus. Those who many have been exposed are required to follow the current advice on quarantine requirements.
- Review risk management controls and evaluate whether work needs to change. You should consult your employees on WHS issues.
According to SafeWork Australia, you should follow the steps below as part of your COVID-19 incident management plan if the employee you believe may be infected has recently been at your workplace.
- Seek advice and assess the risks associated. You can do this by calling the suspected infected employee to talk through your concerns. Make sure their employee file is up to date with contact information and discuss where they have previously been in the office so that the areas can be thoroughly cleaned. From here, you should also seek advice by calling your state or territory helpline. They will provide you with advice from public health and government officials.
- Identify and tell close contacts of the suspected infected employee that they may have been exposed to the virus. Those who may have been exposed are required to follow the current advice on quarantine requirements in accordance with the government, such as self-isolating for 14 days.
- Clean and disinfect the areas where the suspected infected employee has been. You must block these areas off until thorough cleaning has been completed in all communal areas such as the bathroom, kitchen, meetings rooms and offices. Ensure that no one has access to the areas other than those disinfecting the area. You should open all windows and doors in the office where possible. Your state or territory public health unit can also provide you with further information as to how and where to clean. You must follow this procedure.
- Review risk management controls and evaluate whether work arrangements need to change. You should consult your employees on WHS issues.
You can view the poster from SafeWork Australia here.
Should the workplace be shut down if an employee is suspected to have COVID-19 or tests positive?
According to SafeWork Australia, it is not a requirement to instantly close your office or workplace. It may not be necessary if the employee has only visited parts of your workplace or if government health officials advise that the risk of transmission is low. Office closure and suspension of business operations is dependent on different things such as:
- the size of the workplace
- nature of work
- number of employees
- suspected areas of contamination.
For advice on your specific situation, get in touch with your local health authority.
When can an employee return to work after they have completed their 14 day quarantine period?
If the employee did not develop any symptoms over the 14 day isolation period (as a result of returning from travel or being in close contact with a confirmed case), it is safe for them to return to work. They do not need a medical certificate to return to work.
When can an employee return to work after recovering from COVID-19?
Employees can return to work after they have isolated and fully recovered from the virus. Each state and territory has their own criteria for clearance from isolation. To find out your state or territory protocol, get in contact with your local health department for advice.
Please note: there is a set of different criteria for those who work with vulnerable people. Health care workers and aged care work should check with their local health authorities and follow advice before returning to work.
What are the state and territory helplines?
New South Wales - 1300 066 055
Queensland – 13 432 584
Victoria – 1800 675 398
South Australia – 1800 253 787
Tasmania – 1800 671 738
Western Australia – 13 26843
Australian Capital Territory – (02) 6207 7244
Northern Territory – (08) 8922 8044
Looking for more information to assist with your team’s return to work?
If you’re looking for more information on your teams return to work, we can help. We’ve put together this bundle that includes everything you need including:
- WHS for COVID-19 return to work
- COVID-19 incident management in the workplace
- Workforce planning and logistics
- Return to work survey template
- Welcome back letter template
- Public transport policy
- Workplace hygiene policy
- ➕ much more!