COVID-19 | Changes to COVID-19 isolation rules – impacts for businesses

12 October 2022
Deivina Peethamparam, Partner, Melbourne

More than two years on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Cabinet announced on 30 September 2022 an end to mandatory COVID-19 isolation commencing 14 October 2022.

From this date, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate for any mandatory isolation period (which was reduced from seven days to five days on 9 September 2022 for those that are asymptomatic). The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment will also end, meaning that employees without leave entitlements, will no longer have access to this payment if they test positive to COVID-19 and cannot attend for work.

While nearing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is welcome news, given isolation will be voluntary for individuals, businesses will need to consider how best to manage employees who test positive for COVID-19 including understanding work health and safety obligations and continued risks with COVID-19 in the workplace.

Work health and safety obligations

Broadly, businesses have responsibilities under work health and safety legislation across States and Territories to provide, so far as reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment. This includes having a plan to keep the workplace safe and healthy, managing COVID-19 risks and minimising COVID-19 infection.

Given changes to isolation rules, businesses will need to be mindful of the risks that employees who test positive for COVID-19 pose.

How can employers keep employees safe at work despite changes to COVID-19 isolation rules?

Changes to COVID-19 isolation rules mean businesses will need to consider how they manage employees who test positive to COVID-19 who are no longer required by public health order to isolate.

Businesses should consider the following to ensure they are meeting work health and safety obligations:

  • if employees test positive to COVID-19, consider directing those employees to work from home during this period – provided it is lawful and reasonable to do so in the circumstances, including with regard to the terms and conditions of an employee’s employment contract;
  • encourage employees to use their personal leave if they are unfit to work due to COVID-19;
  • continuing to encourage all employees who have symptoms of COVID-19, whether or not they have tested positive for COVID-19, to work from home or to take personal leave as appropriate in the circumstances; and
  • if employees are not able to work from home, or are asymptomatic, consider implementing the following measures in the workplace to mitigate transmission:
    • direct employees to wear masks in the workplace if they test positive to COVID-19;
    • continue physical distancing;
    • practice hygiene measures including hand washing and sanitiser; and
    • continuing to ensure the workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected.

The above processes and procedures will go towards ensuring, so far as reasonable practicable, a safe and healthy workplace.

Risks of employees contracting COVID-19 in the workplace

The risk for businesses is that employees who test positive to COVID-19 may transmit COVID-19 to others in the workplace. If an employee contracts COVID-19 in the workplace, they may be able to make a claim for workers’ compensation.

In addition, workplace regulators such as SafeWork NSW or WorkSafe Victoria may also investigate a business’ compliance with work health and safety requirements. Should businesses not manage COVID-19 isolation changes adequately, there may be operational and reputational issues that arise.

Given the above, businesses should review and consider any COVID-19 policies in place to include changes to isolation rules. Businesses should be mindful of any relevant consultation obligations, should they adopt any new work health and safety practices in relation to COVID-19. Reviewing employment contracts should also be front of mind to ensure businesses can rely on their terms to direct employees to work from home should they test positive to COVID-19. Gadens is able to assist you with this and any queries you have in relation to COVID-19 in the workplace.

For details of all our COVID-19 tips and updates, visit the Gadens COVID-19 Hub.

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Authored by: 

Deivina Peethamparam, Partner
Nakita Rose, Lawyer

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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