Reboot Your Workforce after COVID-19

REBOOTING YOUR WORKFORCE

PLANNING YOUR BUSINESS’ RETURN TO WORK

It now appears clear that both State and Federal Governments are now planning the way out of COVID-19 restrictions and easing restrictions for business with a clear focus of trying to get business back up and running to ease the financial burden on the economy and the burden on the employees that have been impacted.

So, it would appear that in the coming weeks many businesses that have been closed or partially closed will now be able to re-open or re-open with some limitations. Clearly not all businesses are going to be able to re-open immediately however some will in the coming weeks. For some businesses this is now an opportune time to start thinking about preparing the workplace and preparing for situations that might arise in those first few weeks.

For some businesses, the return of employees to work will be smooth but for others there may be circumstances and scenarios that have not been dealt with nor contemplated. The return of staff to the workplace after a shutdown like this has never been dealt with before; and dare I say it, it is unprecedented.

Undoubtedly, questions are going to arise, such as how do I ensure my workplace is safe? Because all businesses have a duty to ensure that the workplace is safe, not just for employees but also customers, patrons and contractors.

There is also going to be questions asked by employees who have been away from the workplace for an extended period of time. They will also want to know how a return to the workplace is going to interact with JobKeeper.

So let’s explore some of these common questions about returning to work following the extended shutdown 

1.           How do I ensure my workplace is safe for staff, customer and contractors?

Employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of employees, customers and contractors, employers should take all reasonable steps to ensure a safe workplace. Employers should be taking steps and examining the contingencies to ensure any risk is minimised or eliminated within the workplace.

To that end, Safe Work Australia has developed and released a great resource to assist businesses in making the workplace as safe as possible. Here is the link:

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/

Some examples of what employers should be doing are:

  • Consulting with staff and educating staff about their obligations in the workplace, and monitoring and encouraging the rules throughout this pandemic period.
  • Ensuring any public health directions and advice from the health authorities such as www.health.gov.au and/or relevant State Health Authorities are strictly followed.
  • Introduce a strict cleaning and disinfecting regime in the workplace, which would include regular cleaning and disinfecting workspaces, including desks and phones.
  • Putting in place the necessary control measures and hygiene protocols  to reduce the spread of the virus such as making hand sanitizers readily available, regularly disinfecting surfaces, and promoting good hygiene practices for employees, contractors and customers.
  • Ensuring work stations adhere to physical social distancing rules, and put in place systems to ensure that physical contact is reduced or eliminated. Where appropriate installing screens to protect in high customer contact roles.
  • Utilise technology as much as possible which ensures close contact for work communication is reduced or eliminated, and  reduce the need for face to face meetings. E.g. Video conferencing such as Zoom, Skype etc.
  • For some businesses, it may be appropriate to introduce temperature guns to ensure that all persons entering a premise do not have the tell-tale high temperature associated with coronavirus

2.           What happens if an employee has been stood down doesn’t want to come back to work, particularly if they are receiving JobKeeper?

This is most likely to be the case with staff who are receiving JobKeeper, and this has been a common question that has arisen the past few weeks. There has been a general perception that those on JobKeeper do not have to come to work. This is false, and the JobKeeper legislation states that an employer can reasonably request an employee to come to work, subject to a few criteria.

But what is essential is that there should be consultation with the staff to establish the reason for not wanting to come to work. Are they of the view that they don’t have to work? Are they enjoying being off work and simply don’t want to work, because they are being paid any way? Or is it a more deep-seated concern regarding safety in the workplace?

If there is not a genuine reason for refusing to return to work following the stand down, the employer is able to direct the employee to return to work where the direction is lawful and reasonable, and it doesn’t expose the employee to risk. If you want them to work different hours, at a different place, or different duties than would normally work, you should be providing staff that are on JobKeeper with written advice that you want them to perform work and they should be given 3 days notice (or lesser period if agreed by the employee) of you wanting them to work. That written advice is called a JobKeeper Enabling Direction. We can provide you with that document should you wish.

Where the employee refuses to follow the direction, the employee may be able to consider addressing the issue in accordance with usual disciplinary processes. However, we strongly recommend seeking advice from us on this issue before taking too many drastic steps.

Where an employee has provided genuine reasons relating to their health and/or safety and has refused to attend work, it is more complex. Generally, where the employer has taken all reasonable steps to ensure the workplace is safe, the employee should not refuse to return to work. Again, we strongly recommend seeking advice prior to acting.

3.           Can I make positions redundant while on JobKeeper?

Now is an ideal opportunity to start looking at what your staffing levels are going to look like when you re-open or business starts to return to some sort of normality. I dare say that when restrictions are lifted the level of business that you had pre-COVID will not be the same for some time, so you will need to reassess your staffing levels. This may mean that you will need to make some positions redundant and look at restructuring the workplace.

So, the answer is yes, you can make positions redundant whilst staff are on JobKeeper. Of course, the employer’s obligations to undertake consultation and examine areas of re-deployment are still required. However, the current situation means that the reasons for making a position redundant are patently obvious and less questions will be asked as to why positions are being made redundant.

This does not detract from the process that needs to be followed when making structural change or making positions redundant. So please seek advice as to the process and we can step you through that process.

4.           What if an employee wants to work from the home long term?

The current situation has changed the way many of us work. It has also changed many of our attitudes to working from home. Whilst working from home has been an unusual situation in the past, COVID-19 has demonstrated for many of us that it is possible and probably advantageous for both employees and employers to be able to work from home. It is therefore likely that with the current experience that employers will soon see a rise in requests to work from home, whether it be full time or for a few days per week.

However, many staff miss the social interaction at work and many employees cannot wait to get back to the structure and social connection of the workplace.

If staff are requesting working from home permanently or on a part-time basis, we recommend that employers carefully consider whether working from home is going to be advantageous for the business or not. and that employers get on the front foot about flexible working arrangements so that there is a clear and consistent message and process being followed. This means introducing an appropriate policy which spells out the parameters for such arrangements. If this is the case please contact us and we can assist with the drafting and implementation of the policy.


IMPORTANT NOTE FOR CLUBS AND HOSPITALITY CLIENTS

After having discussions with a number of key industry figures, it appears that when the various sectors of the hospitality sector re-open, the Government will require all staff to undertake COVID 19 Infection Control Training. It may be a requirement for all staff to undertake this training either before or immediately thereafter re-opening.

It is free on-line training and the link is:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/apps-and-tools/covid-19-infection-control-training

Some of our hospitality clients have already directed the staff to undertake the training on the basis that it will assist staff in the coming months and also it may be compulsory and a requirement for re-opening the business.

By Greg Arnold

Director and Principal Consultant

Effective Workplace Solutions

Coronavirus, COVID-19, employees, JobKeeper, returning to work, Safeworkplace

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