HR Hot Tip – Safe workplaces: COVID-19 tests and staff quarantine

06 May 2021

Welcome to our series of HR interviews with Associate Stephanie Shahine, who answers some of the most common questions asked by HR managers regarding employees’ legal entitlements and employers’ health and safety requirements, especially as business begins to transition back into the office.

Creating a safe and healthy work environment is a legal requirement for employers and an integral step in transitioning staff back into the workplace with confidence.

In Victoria, like many other states, the Government has made it mandatory for all Victorian businesses with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan. In addition to the COVIDSafe Plan, all businesses should work with employees and their workplace health and safety representative to update their Workplace Health and Safety policies and procedures.

The updated policies should be clearly communicated with workers prior to or immediately on their first return to the workplace.

A workplace must have policies and procedures in place to specify that workers and clients should not attend the workplace and place themselves in quarantine if they:

  • have COVID-19 symptoms
  • are in isolation after returning from overseas or interstate (if applicable); or
  • have been in close contact with a person who has been tested for or tested positive for COVID-19.

Communications to all employees regarding changes or updates in policies and procedures resulting from government changes must be communicated to all staff in a clear, effective and timely manner.

This includes:

  • up to date information on the latest Commonwealth, state and territory government advice
  • clear physical distancing, hygiene, and Personal Protective Equipment practices; and
  • control measures to manage COVID-19 risks, including staffing rosters and capacities.

The COVIDSafe Plan is based on six key principles to consider:

  1. physical distancing, where work is performed 1.5 metres apart, and the 4 square metre rule is applied.
  2. monitoring and following state government rules regarding wearing face masks with the provision of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. good hygiene practices by supplying effective sanitiser, ensuring frequent surface cleaning.
  4. keep records of all people (workers, visitors, customers, suppliers) who enter the workplace.
  5. avoid interaction in enclosed spaces, and where possible, enhance airflow.
  6. create workforce bubbles to minimise cross-infection between the workforce, staggering work start and finish times, and lunch breaks. 

By ensuring you have COVIDSafe plans and health and safety policies updated and communicated to staff, you are providing confidence to your employees that you are maintaining a safe and healthy environment for them to return to.

Employers need to familiarise themselves with and understand their legal obligations to avoid any possible claims by employees (both existing and former), as well as prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman or Safe Work Australia.

A HR Legal Audit conducted by Rigby Cookes’ Workplace Relations team can provide the HR function and, in turn, provide employers with comfort in knowing that they are legally compliant, or at least provide advance warning of any potential compliancy issues before they become problematic.

Disclaimer: This publication contains comments of a general nature only and is provided as an information service. It is not intended to be relied upon as, nor is it a substitute for specific professional advice. No responsibility can be accepted by Rigby Cooke Lawyers or the authors for loss occasioned to any person doing anything as a result of any material in this publication.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

©2021 Rigby Cooke Lawyers