Your phone rings. The news is as welcome as a dog in a game of Finska. A key employee (let’s call her ‘Geri’) has tested positive for COVID-19. What do you do?
Be sure to treat Geri as you would any sick employee. Full-time employees accrue 10 days of sick or carer’s leave each year and they can use their sick leave if they are unfit for work due to personal injury or illness. If Geri used up all her sick leave that time when she was attacked by her cat, she can apply for annual leave or unpaid leave.
As an employer, you have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of your employees. This includes:
- not exposing your employees infectious or potentially infectious people; and
- letting your staff know that someone within the workplace has tested positive for COVID-19 and to take such measures as their medical professional advises. When doing this be very careful of privacy and discrimination laws as it relates to Geri and her medical condition.
So, in true Spice Girls fashion, tell Geri she needs to stay away … far, far away. If she insists she’s fine and says she’ll come into work, direct her to stay away. If possible, get her to work remotely, which is a good way to achieve quarantine without too much inconvenience.
Call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 (available 24/7) and follow their directions. The position is changing on a daily basis but they’ll advise you of the current position. It may involve undertaking an industrial-type clean of your workplace, asking you and your employees to seek medical attention or to self-isolate, pending test results.
A business continuity plan is key in this situation – how will you continue to operate and service your customers? Can your employees work remotely? Can you engage contractors or short term employees? Do you have a list of casual employees that you could call in at a moment’s notice? Can you run shifts of unaffected workers? What about acquiring ‘white label’ or back office services from a competitor or related business?
If you’re considering dismissing Geri (she should never have taken that holiday anyway!), you are expressly prohibited from doing so if she has been absent for less than 3 months in a 12 month period. Even if it’s longer, dismissing her in these circumstances is risky. She may have a:
- a general protections claim, saying you dismissed her on unlawful grounds (i.e. because of their personal illness);
- an unfair dismissal claim (if eligible); or
- a discrimination claim under relevant anti-discrimination legislation.
If Geri has worked for you for more than six months (or more than 12 months if your business employs fewer than 15 permanent employees), she may also be eligible to bring an unfair dismissal claim.