Are you safe at work during the COVID-19 pandemic? WHS rights and entitlements
Under Australian Work Health Safety laws, employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, your health and safety and that of your colleagues at work. As coronavirus continues to play an increasing risk to all Australian workers, your employer must allow you to work from home wherever and whenever you can. This should include the modification of business practices where possible.
If, however, your role can only be performed in the workplace your employer must ensure the following procedures and practices are in place.
Physical distancing must be adhered to in the workplace and workers must remain a minimum of 1.5 metres from each other.
Physical distancing also requires employers to ensure that work stations, desks and tables are arranged in a manner that complies with the 1.5 metre rule. Further, employers must ensure that maximum safe capacity is not exceeded in lifts and meeting rooms.
Meetings should occur by phone or online whenever possible and employers should request the contactless delivery of goods and services including money.
If possible, your employer should introduce shift arrangements to reduce the number of workers on site at any one time.
Unwell employees must remain at home
Employers must ensure that no worker comes to work if they have any of the symptoms of COVOID-19.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, and shortness of breath.
Workers who are sick or required to self-quarantine (for example, due to recent travel or due to possible exposure) must be provided with appropriate leave entitlements. Employers must also ensure all information about workers’ health is handled in line with privacy legislation.
Handwashing and hygiene
Employers should ensure that workers frequently wash their hands and are provided with easily accessible sanitisation products such as soap and hand sanitisers.
Upon assessing the risks, employers need to provide employees with all necessary Personal Protective Equipment including gloves and face masks where appropriate. Further, employers need to ensure that the workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected and that there is adequate rubbish disposal.
Signage and posters
Signage and posters are instrumental to remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the necessary measures to stop its spread. Workers should be advised of COVID-19 symptoms and directed to self-report.
Employers must ensure that workers who have COVID-19, have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have arrived in Australia after midnight on 14 March 2020, self-isolate. Further, employers should ensure there is a continuity of business plan if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Your rights under WHS laws
Your employer is required (at all times, not just during the pandemic), to consult with you regarding health and safety issues in the workplace and you have a right to report any concerns without any adverse consequences.
If you have a reasonable concern about a serious risk to your health or safety from immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard, you may cease or refuse to carry out work.
Before you exercise this right, it is essential that you seek advice from your Union or a lawyer experienced in employment law.
Your employer’s failure to adhere to these requirements may be a breach of the applicable Work Health and Safety legislation as well as the legislation that has been introduced to enforce social distancing measures.
In Queensland businesses who fail to comply with social distancing requirements face penalties of up to $66,672.50. Similar provisions are enforceable in other states and territories.
Further reading about COVID-19 and your workplace rights and entitlements
- Employment rights and obligations while working from home during COVID-19
- COVID-19 and workers’ compensation
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You can contact us by phone or email to arrange your consultation; either face-to-face at one of our offices, by telephone or by videoconference consultation.
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This article relates to Australian law; either at a State or Federal level.
The information contained on this site is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of such information. Appropriate professional advice should be sought based upon your particular circumstances. For further information, please do not hesitate to contact Hall Payne Lawyers.