Small and medium businesses are struggling to get ready for a return to work as they attempt to decipher the complex and costly requirements which allow them to reopen, says Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace advisory firm for SMEs.
The call comes as states begin to ease lockdown restrictions and permit a reopening of hospitality and other businesses, as long as strict procedures are followed. The requirements for a business to be ‘COVID-Safe’ are complex, onerous and number more than 1300 pages of principles and directives published on the Safe Work website.
Among the requirements are for employers to ‘eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 if reasonably practicable’. Employsure Managing Director Ed Mallett says this presents both a huge legal and financial challenge for SMEs.
“Businesses of any size can’t be expected to eliminate entirely the risk of exposure to COVID-19, let alone SMEs. It’s unclear what the litmus test for eliminating this risk would actually be and how that will be applied.
“Of course, all steps should be taken to ensure staff are safe and protected but asking SMEs to attempt to eliminate all risk is not practical or financially viable.”
The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia has warned that several hundred thousand businesses will not reopen largely because they will not be able to afford to do so.
“Businesses face a significant compliance bill to ensure they can reopen safely, and the government should be streamlining requirements and providing financial assistance to SMEs to help them meet these obligations,” Mr Mallett said.
In the past week 91% of calls to Employsure’s advice line have been from businesses worried about safely reopening and their various obligations to employees.
Many businesses are also concerned about their legal liability were an employee to contract COVID-19 at work. Complicating matters is the inconsistencies between the federal guidelines and how they’ve been applied and enforced between states, presenting a challenge for employers to know their obligations.
“Employers need to make sure they are complying with all relevant guidelines as they look to reopen their doors to ensure they aren’t subject to legal liability should an outbreak occur at their worksite, of the kind we’ve seen recently,” Mr Mallett said.
Employsure has launched a new Workplace Ready service to help businesses understand their obligations and ensure their workplace is compliant. As part of the service Employsure will conduct an on-site Risk Assessment of their workplace, develop strategies to minimise COVID-19 risks, and offer materials that can support them in managing these risks.