“Get tested if you show symptoms for COVID-19” is likely a phrase you have heard again and again. 

In 2021, you want to ensure that you and your business remain successful and are doing your part to tackle COVID-19. 

So, what if your employee is showing known symptoms for COVID-19? 

Let’s break down what you can do.

Can I Force My Employee To Get A COVID-19 Test?

In accordance with Government advice, it is reasonable to expect that your employees will present themselves for COVID-19 testing if they experience flu-like symptoms. 

Similarly, it is reasonable to expect that your employees will not attend work if: 

  • They have a fever 
  • They have a symptom of respiratory illness, such as a sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath or nasal congestion. 

The Australian Government Department of Health states that employees should not attend work regardless of how mild or minor their symptoms may appear.

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your workplace is a COVID-Safe Workplace

What Is A ‘COVID-Safe’ Workplace?

Having a ‘COVID-Safe’ workplace will help ensure that your business is keeping up to date with Government advice. It also helps ensure a safe space for both your employees and customers. 

A COVID-safe workplace can vary from industry to industry. However, generally a COVID-Safe Workplace includes:

  • Maintaining physical distancing 
  • Working from home where possible 
  • Ensuring good hygiene measures
  • Providing employees and customers with the correct knowledge regarding COVID-19 
  • Placing COVID-19 related postage and signage around the workplace
  • Avoiding hot desking 
  • Avoiding large meetings and communal lunches 
  • Staggering start times

Having a COVID-Safe workplace will significantly help educate your employees about COVID-19. This way, you can reasonably expect that they abide by Government advice and health orders

My Employee Is At Work And Has Symptoms. What Do I Do?

It is your responsibility to ensure that your workplace is a safe and healthy place for your employees and customers. If an employee is at work and showing COVID-19 symptoms, it is important you take reasonable action. 

You must not attempt to diagnose your employees or humiliate them in front of other staff. 

However, it is important to take all reasonably practical action required to safeguard your work environment from COVID-19. 

Safework Australia provides important steps that you should take if you believe an employee is showing symptoms in your workplace: 

1. Distance The Person From All Other Staff and Customers

It is important that if a person is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they do not come into close contact with anybody else, so far as reasonably practicable.

Providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a mask, will help contain the possibility of spreading the virus. So too will removing the employee from the main working space. 

For example, you may respectfully ask that they reside in a closed-off meeting room until they can safely return home or to the nearest testing clinic. 

2. Get Advice

The National Coronavirus Helpline operates 24/7. It can help provide you with information about how to seek medical advice and where to encourage your employee to get tested for COVID-19. 

State and territory helplines can also be found here

3. Assess The Risk

It is important that you assess close contacts of the person who is experiencing symptoms. You will want to ascertain when they came into contact with them and for how long. 

Having the current contact details of your employees and customers will help you identify and notify relevant authorities and personnel about the risks involved. 

Here, it is important that you maintain the privacy of all individuals involved. It is important to not humiliate, embarrass or place blame on any individual.

4. Transport

It is important that you ensure that your employee has adequate transport to return home, to a point of isolation or to a COVID-19 testing clinic. 

It is best if your employee does not take public transport unless there is no other option.

If your employee is to take public transport or shared transport such as Uber, it is important that you encourage the use of PPE and the practising of good hygiene. 

5. Clean And Disinfect

All areas used by the person experiencing symptoms should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. 

Guides on cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be found here

6. Communicate

You need to maintain communication with all employees and customers throughout this time. This way you can ensure that all individuals feel up-to-date, respected and safe within the workplace. 

It is also vital that you maintain and encourage respect in the workplace. It is your responsibility as a business owner to set the standard of how individuals should be treated at work. 

For example, it is possible that some employees may be annoyed by the fact that another employee came to work with symptoms. It is important here to encourage respect and a welcoming work environment when the employee eventually returns to the workplace. 

7. Ensure That Your Workplace Is ‘COVID-Safe’

After you have completed all of the above steps, you can reflect back on the situation and ensure that all of the correct measures were and continue to remain in place. 

You may want to review your COVID-19 risk management controls and explore further steps you can take to ensure a COVID-Safe workplace.

What About The Vaccine? Can I Force My Employees To Get That? 

As of September 2021, some industries (e.g. aged care workers, NSW Police) are mandating vaccines however there is a lot changing around it.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released a “tier” system to answering the question where it might be ‘”lawful and reasonable” to mandate vaccination. Employers “may in certain circumstances be required to direct employees to get vaccinated” in order to comply with “work health and safety laws”.

Tier 1 work: employees interact with high-risk people (eg. border control, hotel quarantine)

Tier 2 work: employees interact with vulnerable people (eg. health care or aged care workers)

Tier 3 work: employees with public interaction (eg. retail workers at essential stores)

Tier 4 work: employees with minimal face-to-face interaction

Tiers 1 and 2 are likely to be required to get a vaccine under public health orders or workplace contracts, whereas Tier 4 workers may not be mandated to get the jab.

If you’re interesting in reading about case law regarding vaccines in the work place, check out this article.

Need More Help? 

If you have any more questions, reach out to our team for a free, no-obligations chat at team@sprintlaw.com.au or 1800 730 617.

Editor’s note: This information is correct at the time of 8 September 2021, and could change as vaccines continue to roll out in Australia. 

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