Reading time: 5 minutes

If your business employs workers in customer-facing roles, they may be at a greater risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19). Therefore, it is important to consider what your responsibilities are here as an employer. You need to understand whether you are legally responsible for your employee’s health if their work puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus. This article will explain your obligations as an employer and the steps you should take to minimise the risks of your employees contracting coronavirus.

What Are Your Obligations as an Employer?

Australian workplace health and safety laws require employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers. This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety. 

In terms of coronavirus, you must identify any risks of an employee contracting coronavirus through their work, and do what is reasonably practicable to either eliminate or minimise those risks. 

For example, those steps may be that customers or clients are required to wash their hands before entering the workplace.

Am I Liable if a Worker Contracts Coronavirus?

A worker may have grounds for a workers’ compensation claim if they can show their employment was the main contributing factor to contracting coronavirus. 

For example, workers’ compensation claims are commonly seen in industries such as education and aged care, where workers contract diseases from coming in contact with patients.

However, this potential liability would be balanced against the steps you have taken to minimise risks of infection.

It is important to note that your liability to ensure workers are safe from physical harm also covers casual employees and independent contractors

How to Reduce Risks for Your Workers

There are some essential steps that every employer should take to minimise risks of their workers contracting coronavirus.

1. Communicate and Educate 

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly evolving and you must provide employees with the information they need to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. Provide employees with current information from official sources. You should also provide clear guidance and direction about what is expected of them. This includes:

  • what action to take if they become unwell;
  • what symptoms to be aware of; and 
  • when they may need to stay away from the workplace. 

2. Consult

You should consult with your employees about any health and safety risks they may face in the course of their work. This includes providing options to reduce those risks. You should consider their views about the issues and steps you are taking to minimise those risks.  

3. Conduct a Risk Review

You should conduct a careful assessment of the risks involved in the work your employees complete. Identify any risks and what steps you can take to either eliminate or minimise those risks. 

For example, you could introduce procedures that eliminate your workers’ need for physical contact with members of the public. This includes no-touch food delivery procedures, where deliverables are left at a designated place.

4.  Protect 

Take all steps to protect your employees from contracting coronavirus. These should include: 

  1. providing appropriate personal protective equipment and information on how to use them properly; 
  2. providing advice to ensure they practice good hygiene;
  3. reminding workers they have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others; and
  4. providing workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns and access to support services, including employee assistance programs. 

What Do I Do if My Employee Refuses to Work?

If your worker asks to work from home because of concerns about coronavirus, you should come to an arrangement with them that suits your business and addresses their concerns. You will need to assess the legitimacy of health risks they may raise and consider the needs of your workplace. 

For example, there may not be a practical alternative for a worker in a customer-facing role. 

Here, the normal leave application process should apply, so options may include offering them paid or unpaid leave. If you do not reach an agreement and they do not have paid leave available, the worker is not entitled to receive pay if they are fit for work but they refuse to work. You should encourage the employee to discuss their level of risk of contracting coronavirus with: 

  • their doctor;
  • a workplace health and safety representative; or 
  • the appropriate government workplace health and safety body.

If the worker still refuses to work, you should seek legal advice to confirm your rights and the next steps.

Key Takeaways

The coronavirus pandemic means employers are needing to weigh up the health and safety implications of employees attending work. This is particularly important if they work in front-line, public-facing roles. You should be aiming to minimise the risks of your workers contracting coronavirus during their work by taking steps, including providing: 

  • up to date information;
  • training on minimising risks; and
  • any equipment that will assist in minimising the risk of contracting coronavirus.

If you have any concerns about your obligations as an employer or other issues with your business due to COVID-19, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.  

Webinars

Redundancies and Restructuring: Understanding Your Employer Obligations

Thursday 7 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
If you plan on making a role redundant, it is crucial that you understand your employer obligations. Our free webinar will explain.
Register Now

How to Sponsor Foreign Workers For Your Tech Business

Wednesday 13 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Need web3 talent for your tech business? Consider sponsoring workers from overseas. Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

Advertising 101: Social Media, Influencers and the Law

Thursday 21 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Learn how to promote your business on social media without breaking the law. Register for our free webinar today.
Register Now

Structuring for Certainty in Uncertain Times

Tuesday 26 July | 12:00 - 12:45pm

Online
Learn how to structure to weather storm and ensure you can take advantage of the “green shoots” opportunities arising on the other side of a recession.
Register Now

Playing for the Prize: How to Run Trade Promotions

Thursday 28 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Running a promotion with a prize? Your business has specific trade promotion obligations. Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

Web3 Essentials: Understanding SAFT Agreements

Tuesday 2 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Learn how SAFT Agreements can help your Web3 business when raising capital. Register today for our free webinar.
Register Now

Understanding Your Annual Franchise Update Obligations

Wednesday 3 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
Franchisors must meet annual reporting obligations each October. Understand your legal requirements by registering for our free webinar today.
Register Now

Legal Essentials for Product Manufacturers

Thursday 11 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Online
As a product manufacturer, do you know your legal obligations if there is a product recall? Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a commercial law firm that provides businesses with affordable and ongoing legal assistance through our industry-first membership.

By becoming a member, you'll have an experienced legal team ready to answer your questions, draft and review your contracts, and resolve your disputes. All the legal assistance your business needs, for a low monthly fee.

Learn more about our membership

Jodie-Thomson
Need Legal Help? Submit an Enquiry

If you would like to get in touch with our team and learn more about how our membership can help your business, fill out the form below.

Our Awards

  • 2020 Innovation Award 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation Finalist – Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Employer of Choice Award 2020 Employer of Choice Winner – Australasian Lawyer
  • 2020 Financial Times Award 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2021 Law Firm of the Year Award 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards
  • 2022 Law Firm of the Year Winner 2022 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards