Now that national cabinet has scrapped the mandatory five-day isolation requirement for anyone who tests positive to Covid-19, the onus for wellbeing has become personal, and public health has shifted ‘not-so-subtly’, into the work, health and safety remit.
Although recommended to isolate, anyone who tests positive to Covid will no longer be required to do so by law, and therefore stay home from work. Employers will be faced with new considerations in managing Covid. Should they allow employees who have recently tested positive attend the workplace – and if they no longer need to report a positive case, as with NSW and Victoria, how will anyone know if they are indeed spreading the virus?
While the relaxed requirements may be seen as an opportunity to assist businesses in boosting existing workforce numbers, work health and safety obligations remain a critical consideration.
According to Holly Mylne, Principal of award-winning employment law firm Blossom Lawyers: “Businesses must eliminate, or if not possible, minimise risks to workers and others at the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. And while it is not possible to eliminate the risks associated to Covid, proper planning and implementation of controls will ensure risks in workplaces arising from the pandemic are minimised.
“Employers should continue to conduct risk assessments and implement appropriate measures to manage risks associated with Covid – and organisations with on-site operations should have in place and regularly review a ‘Covid-safe plan’.
“Even if non-attendance remains a requirement at the employer level, there is a risk that changes to the financial support available for employees who test positive to Covid may result in fewer cases being reported to an employer. This is especially true for casual employees who may not have access to any paid entitlements if not working because they have the virus.
“In view of these matters, employers should consider what their position will be in relation to workers who test positive for Covid – in particular:
Whether they need to implement or amend a Covid-19 policy to address their isolation requirements and expectations?
Whether any other measures need to be implemented or changed to reduce the spread of Covid in the workplace, particularly for any vulnerable or immunocompromised employees?
How to meet their consultation obligations with respect to managing the health and safety of their workers exposed to Covid and changes that might be implemented?
“Employers should also remind employees that they have an ongoing obligation to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others at the workplace and this may mean not attending work when they are concerned that they are unwell,” added Mylne.
So, how does an employer reasonably protect a workforce from Covid?
An adaptation of the former rapid antigen test screening process is one of the easiest protocols to put in place, and one that is now being taken up by many larger organisations, including banks and supermarket chains.
Establishing a policy of ‘return to work testing’ with a very highly sensitive rapid antigen test in conjunction with a digital verification, recording and reporting platform that ensures the test has been taken in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and is traceable due to a unique QR code, provides management with peace of mind that the employee is well, that they are eliminating the ingress of COVID-19 at the workplace and that they are protecting the workforce and greater community in a collaborative and compliant way.