COVID-19 and managing workforce absenteeism in 2022 - Business 360 Pty Ltd
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COVID-19 and managing workforce absenteeism in 2022

COVID-19 and managing workforce absenteeism in 2022

COVID-19 case numbers are rapidly escalating across Australia, together with the number of people who are required under public health orders to isolate while they await testing results and to quarantine as a result of being a close contact. It is anticipated that many businesses will continue to be impacted by employees who are unable to attend for duty due to COVID-19 in the coming months and/or who need to care for their family or household members. The information provided below is current as of 10th January 2022. As public health directions and Fair Work advice are changing rapidly, it is highly recommended that business owners monitor the situation regularly.

What are the rules and entitlements around leave for COVID-19?

  1. When an employee is sick with COVID-19

Full-time and part-time employees can take paid sick leave if they can’t work because they’re sick with coronavirus. If they have no paid sick leave left, they can take unpaid sick leave. Employers are entitled to be provided with notice of the absence and reasonable evidence.

Casual employees are not entitled to paid sick leave, although they may be eligible to apply for unpaid pandemic leave and one-off hardship payments from the relevant state government.

  1. When an employee is required to self-isolate or quarantine

In the event a full-time or part-time employee is sick with COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolating or in quarantine whilst awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, sick (personal) leave may be taken.

Full-time and part-time employees who are not sick with COVID-19 but required to quarantine or self-isolate may apply for annual leave or leave without pay.

Additionally, up to 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave may also be available to employees employed on an Award that contains what is known as Schedule X. A list of these Awards is available at: https://coronavirus.fairwork.gov.au/coronavirus-and-australian-workplace-laws/changes-to-workplace-laws-during-coronavirus/unpaid-pandemic-leave-annual-leave-changes-in-awards#awards-with-unpaid-pandemic-leave. Unpaid pandemic leave is only available if an employee is prevented from working:

  • as a result of being required to self-isolate by government or medical authorities, or acting on the advice of a medical practitioner, or
  • by measures taken by government or medical authorities in response to the pandemic (for example, an enforceable government direction restricting non-essential businesses).

Casual employees covered under an Award that includes Schedule X may also access unpaid pandemic leave.

Employers are entitled to notice and the provision of reasonable evidence.

Alternatively, depending on the nature of the employee’s job role, the employer and the employee may agree on flexible working options. This might include working from home until they receive a negative test or the quarantine period ends, and they can return to the workplace.

If a full or part-time employee who is self-isolating or in quarantine falls ill with COVID-19, they may then access their paid sick leave entitlements.

  1. When an employee needs to care for a family or household member due to COVID-19

Paid carer’s leave is available to full-time and part-time employees when they need to look after a family member or a member of their household who needs care or support because of a personal illness, injury or an emergency.

Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Full-time and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left.

An unexpected emergency is an unforeseen or sudden and urgent event or situation. Whether an employee can take carer’s leave because of an unexpected emergency depends on the circumstances. Things to consider might include:

  • how much notice, if any, the employee had of the emergency
  • any public health orders in place that affect caring arrangements
  • whether the employee can work from home or use other alternative work arrangements(such as changing their pattern of work to help manage their work and caring responsibilities)
  • the age and independence of the family member or household member who needs care
  • whether the employee can make alternative arrangements to care for the family or household member.

If paid or unpaid carer’s leave is not available other options may include taking annual leave, unpaid leave or other paid leave or undertaking alternative work arrangements.

 Sample Scenarios:

Below are some typical examples being experienced in the workplace. In all scenarios, notice is required to be given to the employer as soon as is reasonably practical for the employee to do so, along with an indication of the anticipated duration of the absence. 

Scenario

Type of Leave Available

Evidence Requirements

Part-time or full-time employee required to self-isolate due to being a close contact who has no COVID symptoms, i.e. the employee is not sick

  • Annual leave, leave without pay,
  • Unpaid pandemic leave (Schedule X covered only)

OR

  • Alternative work arrangements such as work from home
  • Positive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test text message from a state health authority
  • Registered positive Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) test with relevant state government authority
  • Medical certificate

Casual employee who is sick with coronavirus

  • Sick leave is not available; the employee remains off work and is unavailable to work for the duration of the illness
  • Unpaid pandemic leave (Schedule X covered only)

Schedule X only:

  • Positive PCR test text message from a state health authority
  • Registered positive RAT test with relevant state government authority
  • Medical certificate

Part-time or full-time employee required to care for a child or elderly family member with coronavirus

  • Paid carer’s leave
  • Unpaid carer’s leave
  • Available annual leave (if paid carer’s leave is exhausted)
  • Positive PCR test text message from a state health authority
  • Registered positive RAT test with relevant state government authority
  • Medical certificate

Part-time or full-time employee directed by their employer to get tested for COVID-19

  • The employee is entitled to get tested on work time and be paid for the time as if they had worked.
  • PCR test text message from state health authority to meet the employer’s WHS requirements

Casual employee on duty receives notice during their shift that their child’s daycare centre is forced to close

  • Up to 2 days unpaid carers leave
  • Copy of notice from a childcare centre

 For support and guidance with interpreting COVID-19 leave entitlements reach out to us on info@business360pps.com.au or call us on 1300 287 360 

COVID-19 AND GOVERNMENT FUNDED ENTITLEMENTS

 Pandemic leave disaster payments and COVID-19 hardship payments might be available for employees who don’t have paid leave entitlements including casual employees. Business360 has collated the following handy links for our clients. All information is current as of 10th January 2022.

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment:

The Australian Government provides support to people who can’t earn an income because they have been personally directed to self-isolate by a health official or are caring for someone with COVID-19. The Services Australia website provides further information on eligibility for each Australian state and territory and instructions on how to apply for the payment:

https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/pandemic-leave-disaster-payment

Effective from 10th January either a positive PCR test or a registered positive result from a home administered RAT test will be accepted. For people eligible to receive payment an amount of $750 per 7-day period will be paid.

COVID-19 Hardship Payments:

In addition to the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, each state and territory provides support to individuals who are unable to work. For example, most states provide financial support for people unable to work whilst they are isolating and waiting for the results of a PCR test. Information on state funded payments, eligibility and instructions on how to apply for support are accessible from the links below:

ACT:       https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/community/access-help

NSW:     https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/apply-test-and-isolate-support-payment

SA:         https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/school-and-community/financial-support-for-individuals

TAS:       https://coronavirus.tas.gov.au/families-community/household

VIC:        https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/450-coronavirus-covid-19-test-isolation-payment

WA:       https://www.wa.gov.au/government/announcements/covid-19-test-isolation-payment-be-introduced

NT:         https://coronavirus.nt.gov.au/updates/items/2021-11-17-covid-19-support-for-territory-businesses-and-workers

QLD:      https://www.qld.gov.au/jobs/support-workers-coronavirus

 

COVID-19 MANAGING EMPLOYEE ABSENCE CHECKLIST

 Your employee notifies you they will be absent due to COVID-19. What needs to be considered to manage the employee absence and the impact to your business? What do you do if multiple employees become absent?

As workplaces are impacted by COVID-19, particularly through employee absence due to illness and the requirement to isolate, business owners are faced with the dilemma of how to manage risk, stay viable and keep their employees and customers healthy.

To support our clients to manage employee absence and the wider workforce impacts, Business 360 has created the following guide that highlights a range of workforce issues you might like to consider supporting your business continuity planning during these challenging times. Feel free to add further items relevant to your business or reach out to us for further support at info@business360pps.com.au or call us on 1300 287 360.

Establish the Details of the Absence

1.       Confirm the reason for the absence. Is it due to:

a.       illness due to a positive COVID-19 test and COVID symptoms?

b.       a requirement to self-isolate while awaiting test results?

c.       caring for a family or household member who has been impacted by COVID-19

2.       Request an indication of the length of the absence. In all circumstances, the employer is entitled to be provided with notice and the expected period of the absence.

3.       Check the isolation and quarantine requirements for your employee. The Australian Government provides detail available at https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-self-isolation-faqs Each state and industry have slightly different requirements so be sure to check the specifics for your business. Links to each state’s requirements are accessible from the HealthDirect website.

Leave Entitlements and Alternative Work Arrangements

1.       Review the leave options available and discuss these with your employee. Refer to our article on COVID-19 and leave entitlements or contact us for advice.

2.       Explore alternative working arrangements.

a.       Is working from home an option rather than the employee taking leave?

b.       If your employee has tested positive for COVID-19 but only experiencing mild symptoms, would they prefer to work from home (where possible) for all or part of the duration of their illness? Be guided by what your employee has to say.

c.       Is there another arrangement that could be put in place such as working in isolation in your workplace with control measures in place?

Payroll and Administration

1.       Request the employee complete a leave form or apply for leave using your payroll portal. A leave form can be found in your Business360 HR System Kit.

2.       Request evidence of the reason for the absence. This might include a positive PCR test text message, registered RAT test result or a medical certificate.

3.       Confirm in writing the details agreed with your employee including leave arrangements, alternative working arrangements agreed and their duration and other relevant requirements and expectations.

Workforce Planning

1.       Make arrangements to cover the absent employee’s duties. Do you have a casual pool to draw from? Do you have part time employees who might like to work additional hours? Do you have employees who would be willing to work overtime if necessary?

2.       Consider whether you have sufficient personnel to cover further absences during the COVID period and potential staff shortages that could arise. Do you need to advertise to recruit additional casual or temporary employees? Should you consider establishing a relationship with a labour hire agency for the provision of temporary workers? Should you start upskilling existing staff to cover different roles? Have you considered what work could possibly be outsourced?

3.       Update rosters and notify relevant personnel and managers of staffing and workflow changes.

4.       As a worst-case scenario do you have a plan in place to stand down workers should you be unable to continue some or all of your business operations? Contact Business360 for support and advice as required.

5.       Consider how your workforce plans intersect and impact your business operating plans? Do you need to develop a comprehensive business continuity plan?

Health, Wellbeing and Engagement

1.       Provide your employee with helpful and useful information. Include in your email confirming arrangements for the absence the links to the government supports that may be available. Refer to our article on Government funded entitlements.

2.       If you provide an Employee Assistance Program, remind your employee of its availability and the contact details.

3.       Schedule time in your diary to call your employee to check in every other day to ask how they are.

4.       Consider sending a “care pack” to show your employee they are valued and missed.

5.       Depending on the severity of the employee’s illness you might like to consider offering a staggered return to work program to enable you employee to safely transition back to the workplace. For example, offer a hybrid return to work arrangement with some time in the workplace and some time working from home (where possible).

Demonstrating your genuine care and concern for the health and wellbeing of your employee will always be welcomed. It’s a great way to keep up morale and engagement during these difficult times that also include “the great resignation”.

Work Health and Safety

1.       Consider which employees may be deemed to be a close contact and need to be informed of a positive COVID case in the workplace. Confidentiality and privacy are essential so make notification on a need-to-know basis. Send a general notice to other employees and request they check for symptoms. Remember that if you direct an employee to get tested the time taken to obtain a test is taken to be time worked and the employee must be paid.

2.       Do you need to notify a state authority of a positive case in your workplace/business? Check with the WorkSafe Regulator in your state as to the requirements and procedure to be followed accessible at: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-04/Infographic-Suspected-or-Confirmed-Cases-COVID_19.pdf

3.       Do you need to clean and disinfect the area in which the infected person and their close contacts were working?

4.       Do you need to review the COVIDSafe Plan for your workplace? Are there any additional controls that could be introduced? Remember to consult with employees and seek their feedback before making any changes.

5.       Do you require your employee to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the workplace? Requirements do vary by industry, company policy and additional testing requirements may be required if your business and your employees work in a high-risk setting.

For support and guidance with interpreting COVID-19 leave entitlements reach out to us on info@business360pps.com.au or call us on 1300 287 360.