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Embracing the new reality when returning employees to the workplaceEkaterina Skalidis Posted 11 June 2020
Employers should be busily preparing for the return of employees to the workplace in the near future. Employers are required to have their COVID-19 Safe Plan (Plan) finalised by 15 June 2020, however where possible employees are still expected to work from home and it is not until Stage 3 that there is an expectation more people will be returning to the workplace. Stage 3 is expected to be announced some time in July.
Considerations need to be made, however, as to how the return of employees will work in reality, and an assessment of the risk needs to be done now so that employers are not left scrambling to iron out final details when employees are close to returning to the workplace.
The size of your business will determine how you go about preparing your Plan. Small businesses (with less than 20 employees) and medium businesses (21-199 employees) can obtain a checklist and template Plan from the WorkSafe Tasmania website.
Larger employers with 200+ employees need a Plan tailored to their business. It is important to note that if you cannot comply with some of the requirements, you can apply for an exemption in limited circumstances. Applications can be made from 2 June 2020.
Important considerations when implementing your Plan come from the National Guidelines which have been prepared by the National Cabinet in consultation with expert health advice.
Some of those guidelines include:
All workers regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged have the right to a healthy and safe work environment.
This emphasises that workplaces should not be treating people differently or exposing a class of people to certain risks. For example, you wouldn’t attempt to protect your employees by engaging contractors and then not do what is reasonable to ensure their safety. You need to ensure that everyone in your workplace, or those who are affected by your workplace, have had their safety and protection thought about and covered by the Plan.
Employers in consultation with staff must assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify the risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
How you consult with your employees depends on the nature of your business and how you can work together to identify and assess risks.
Some considerations in relation to the risks within your workplace include –
the layout of the workplace and whether it is safe. For example, are staff seated far enough apart at their workstations/desks?
issues such as hot-desking;
looking at communal areas (kitchens, bathrooms and hallways) and minimising risk;
is there proper protection for the reception/accounts payable area and a barrier to stop customers from getting too close?
do you need to consider staggering the times employees come to work?
As restrictions are gradually relaxed, Employers must adapt and promote safe working practices, be ready for social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures.
This guideline ensures that employers practise what they preach particularly when employees become complacent. Things to consider include:
making sure you have hand sanitiser at every entrance;
notices on walls, bathroom encouraging good hygiene practices;
if you have repeat offenders, have a chat to them to make sure they comply with the rules and constantly remind employees of what those rules are.
Prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, effectively and consistently with the advice of health authorities.
We recommend that employers have a policy attached to their Plan which outlines what the workplace will do in situations where an employer either suspects that someone has COVID-19 or there is a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Considerations that need to be put in place are:
- Isolation of the individual;
- Seeking advice and assessing the risks;
- Transport of the individual from the workplace to hospital/home;
- Cleaning and disinfecting;
- Identifying and telling close contacts (with the prior authorisation of health officials);
- Review risk management controls.
It is essential that employers get this right because if not done correctly it could lead to a breach of an employer’s statutory duties or obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 and WorkSafe Tasmania may institute proceedings.
Penalties can range anywhere between:
$500,000 - $3 million for a Corporation;
$100,000 - $600 000 / 5 years jail for PCBU or Officer;
$ 50,000 - $300 000 / 5 years jail for an individual.
Finally, it is important to remember that you cannot impose or force employees to download the COVID Safe app before returning to the workplace as this is a breach of the Commonwealth legislation and could result in fines of anywhere up to $63,000.
If you need any assistance in preparing your polices or guidance with respect to any aspect of your COVID Safe workplace, please do not hesitate to contact our team.
Other articles by Ekaterina Skalidis
- Embracing the new reality when returning employees to the workplace
- Changes to the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 as a result of COVID-19
- Changes to the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 as a result of COVID-19
- Working from Home during COVID-19
- Do you need to stand down employees due to COVID-19?