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Workplace Health and SafetyMay 27, 2015
About 15% of Australians will come down with the flu this year – and many more will get colds more than once. Flus have more severe symptoms than colds, such as fever, strong headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. As the weather grows cooler, you may notice more employees taking personal leave because they’re sick. Others will keep on working, but risk passing on the virus to their co-workers or clients.
If you want to keep your business functioning smoothly you should understand your legal obligations towards employees during the flu/colds season.
How to prevent it
There are some simple ways to stop the spread of the flu, colds or virus at work:
– Educate employees about what they can do to prevent infection;
– promote good hygiene practices, such as covering mouth while coughing;
– make hand sanitisers, tissues and disinfectants readily available;
– regularly disinfect shared equipment, such as phones and computers.
These preventative methods are crucial in industries, such as hospitality, where employees have to work closely with people who may be sick.
Take personal leave
When one of your employees has the flu, advise them to take personal leave and give them notice according to your personal leave policy.
You need to pay your employee at least their base rate for their normal hours of work unless their award, agreement or contract offers more. This does not include penalties, loadings or bonuses.
If your employee asks for leave, they must give you evidence they are taking leave for the right reasons. It can be a medical certificate or statutory declaration to say they are unfit for work. They have to give as much notice as possible and say how long they expect to be on leave.
Some employers might want to encourage their workers to be vaccinated but this should not be mandatory. You could risk exposing your business to adverse action claims from employees who cannot be vaccinated because of pregnancy, disability or religious belief. If you terminate an employee because they refuse, you could face constructive unfair dismissal claims.
Some industries, such as childcare and healthcare have vaccination as a condition of employment. If you are in one of these industries – or considering vaccination – please consult Employsure to see where you stand.
What employers can do
Be prepared for when some of your employees do come down with the flu. Make sure you have policies in place, such as personal leave or managing infectious diseases, which set out exactly what you expect to happen. Your employees will need to read and understand them.
Some employees may want to keep coming to work. This is quite common. The US National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found more than a third of workers feel pressured to go to work because they feel guilty or afraid of work piling up. Even so, half said they were irritated when co-workers came to work sick. Your communicable disease or illness policy could say employees should not come to work when they are sick and can only return with a medical certificate.
If you instruct an employee not to come to work, you have to pay them for the hours they would have worked during their absence. In fact, it is more cost effective if you first encourage them to take personal leave and may also be a better way of protecting your business from viruses.
Another option, especially for your key workers, is to suggest they work at home and use teleconferencing to stay in touch. If this happens, both parties must mutually agree. You will need to have a home working policy and a written agreement about responsibilities and obligations at this time.
– Take some preventative measures early in the flu/colds season;
– check procedure for giving notice for personal leave and policies on contagious diseases and illnesses – make sure employees understand them;
– encourage employees to take personal leave, rather than instructing them to do so;
– draw up contingency measures, such as home working, if key members get the flu;
– if you are in childcare, aged care or healthcare, always consult us first to explore any further options for your business.
Employsure will help you stay one step ahead of employee colds and flus that could so easily affect your business. We can guide you on personal leave notifications, sickness or infectious disease policies and any questions about vaccinations. Please call Employsure today on 1300 651 415.
Stuart Chan Employsure Adviser