The emergence and spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) over the past few days presents a potential risk to Queensland small businesses. If you're an employer you need to know your obligations and plan how you might respond if coronavirus impacts your workplace more directly than just running out of toilet paper.

Employers should, however, at all times be conscious of their particular legal obligations that will apply under the Fair Work Act 2009, respective State and Territory WHS legislation and workers compensation legislation, enterprise agreements, awards, contracts and policies and should seek further advice where necessary.
The content on this website is for general informational purposes only, it may not be applicable to your organisation and does not constitute legal advice. You should seek advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

How bad is it?

The current situation is ever-evolving the Department of Health website has the most comprehensive information on the coronavirus.

Make or update a plan now

Currently, there is no requirement to undertake a separate risk assessment in the workplace for coronavirus and the control measures for prevention should be approached like every other viral disease in the workplace.

If you haven't already, every business should spend time now working up a plan for how they will deal with a pandemic if the outbreak worsens. If the risk doesn't eventuate, you'll at least have done all the groundwork for next flu season. This WHS risk management framework provides a good basis for this.

The Queensland Government's Workplace Health & Safety office is the best place to get advice about managing coronavirus health risk.

 

Communicate with your team

Employees are likely to be anxious about the recent declared COVID-19 pandemic, and could have questions about what will happen to their working arrangements and employment.
Australia's model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risk to health and safety. 

Employers also have a duty under WHS legislation to provide information to workers about health and safety in the workplace. You should provide regular updates to workers about the status of COVID-19 that are consistent with information provided by the Department of Health and WHO. Safety regulators in Australia have all published guidance material for employer responses to influenza pandemics generally and we recommend that you familiarise yourself with the guidance material.

You value your people so we don't need to tell you that you should be open and up-front with them about how you're dealing with the risks.

Consider how you will update your staff and explain your decisions. It's important to provide a chance for your team to ask questions and state their concerns. Remember you have a legal duty to consult your staff on workplace health and safety matters.

Inform your employees to advise you if they believe they are at risk of CoV infection or have symptoms, and refer to their GP, to determine actions and fitness for work based on accurate and up-to-date medical information. You can view the latest information on the status of CoV here.

For staff travelling overseas, refer to Smart Traveller and carefully consider travel on a case-by-case basis.

Managing health and safety in the workplace

Employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees.
This includes identifying risks to health or safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19 and taking measures to control these risks.
Employers are taking various measures to the control the health risks to their workforces, including:

  • providing adequate facilities to enable good hygiene practices (e.g. soap, hand sanitiser, signage and reminders);
  • limiting or banning non-essential work travel;
  • developing infection control policies and procedures; and
  • directing employees to comply with quarantine measures, particularly following travel to high risk locations.

As the situation and corresponding medical advice is constantly changing, it is critical that employers keep up to speed with the latest information.

We encourage employees and employers to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of individual workplaces and staff. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.

For information about health and safety in the workplace, go to:


What happens if an employee or their family member is sick with coronavirus?

Full and part-time employees who can't come to work because they are sick can take paid sick leave. If an employee needs to look after a family member or member of the employee's household who is sick with coronavirus, or suffering an unexpected emergency, they are entitled to take paid carer's leave.

Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer's leave per occasion. Full and part-time employees can take unpaid carer's leave if they have no paid sick or carer's leave left.

An employee must give their employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it.

You can find more information on the requirements of available leave on the links below.

 

What if an employee is stuck overseas or required to be quarantined?

Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are unable to attend work because they can't return from overseas or are required to enter quarantine because of the coronavirus.

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health's website .

The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations so employees and employers need to come to their own arrangement. This may include:

  • taking sick leave if the employee is sick
  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave available to them (such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment)
  • arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and the employer.

 

What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?

If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace.

Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting coronavirus with their doctor, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate State or Territory workplace health and safety body.

 

What if an employer wants their staff to stay home?

Under work health and safety laws, employers are required to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace (as far as is reasonably practical). Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.

If an employee is at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because the employee has recently travelled through mainland China, or has been in close contact with someone who has the virus), you should request the employee seek medical clearance from a doctor and to work from home (if possible), or not work during the risk period.

Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work, the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction. You should consider your obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees' contracts of employment, and workplace policies.

Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination. 

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health's website .

Keep it clean

Make sure you reinforce good hygiene practices at work and at home. That means washing hands regularly and thoroughly. You might want to consider putting hand sanitiser in bathrooms, meeting rooms and other commonly used areas, and ask staff to wipe down shared equipment like phones or laptops after every use. It's not a bad idea to inform clients and visitors of your hygiene expectations at your front desk.

 

Managing employees and Leave entitlements

What do you do if an employee is feeling unwell and suffering flu like symptoms?  According to the WHO website the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose or sore throat. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.

If an employee presents with these symptoms they should be directed to follow advice from the Australia Government and seek urgent medical attention if they suspect they have contracted COVID-19. The health and safety of staff and those they come into contact with must be an employer's top priority. This should dictate the approach any employer takes to
responding to employees that may have come into contact with the COVID-19 virus.


An employee can (of course) avail themselves of their accrued sick leave if they take time off work due to being ill with the COVID-19 virus. Under the Fair Work Act, national system employees (other than those engaged on a casual basis), are entitled to 10 days each year paid sick leave (personal) for each year of service. This entitlement accrues on a progressive basis during each year of service and many employees will have an accrual in excess of 10 days. There is no limit on the number of days of accrued leave that can be taken as personal leave.
 

Standing staff down

You're likely to be asked by employees whether they'll be stood down with or without pay if a pandemic is declared.

It's critical that you know your rights and obligations under Fair Work. CCIQ members can call their HR Helpline anytime on 1300 731 988 to double-check their plans and announcements are within the law.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they can't do useful work because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer can't be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters.

Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.

 

What if my business dries up because of coronavirus?

The Fair Work Act has stand down provisions which are likely to apply in this circumstance, meaning you may be able to require your staff to stand down on a paid or unpaid basis. If you're a CCIQ member, they can help you with a plan to manage the stand-downs.

 

Workers Compensation

Employers need to be aware that the impact of COVID-19 being covered by workers compensation is a legal question that will differ by jurisdiction and circumstance. Any workers' compensation claim will require the person considering entitlement (whether it be an insurer or self-insurer, a Regulator or court / tribunal) to conduct a highly fact-sensitive enquiry.
Nevertheless employers should be very careful to guard against the risks of employee contracting COVID-19 at the workplace and should ensure that any mitigating steps they take in response to coronavirus are measured.
Where employers are concerned about this issue we strongly recommend they seek specific legal advice based on their circumstances.

Am I covered under insurance?

Don't forget to check your insurance policies. Business interruption insurance may cover lost income after a disaster. If you're not covered for disease-related disruption you may be able to ask for it to be added by your insurer, but they are within their rights to refuse or to ask for a higher premium.

 

Available assistance

CCIQ's HR Hotline is available for CCIQ members to call to discuss any concerns with managing staff 1300 731 988

There is help through the Queensland Government's Industry Recovery Package for further details information head to www.qld.gov.au/industryrecovery or contact 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

 

 

Coronavirus business support from the Federal Government

If your business has been affected by the coronavirus, the government has a team of  customer representatives who can help you on 13 28 46. The team will be available to assist you with extended hours between 7am - 9pm across Australia, Monday to Sunday.

Updated Information www.business.gov.au

The Australian Government has announced measures to support businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

Announcements include:

Boosting cash flow for employers

·         Up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, and not for-profits (NFPs) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. This is made up of the below components.

·         Under the enhanced scheme, employers will receive a payment equal to 100 per cent of their salary and wages withheld (up from 50 per cent), with the maximum payment being increased from $25,000 to $50,000. In addition, the minimum payment is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000.

·         An additional payment is also being introduced in the July October 2020 period. Eligible entities will receive an additional payment equal to the total of all of the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments they have received. This means that eligible entities will receive at least $20,000 up to a total of $100,000 under both payments.

 

Temporary Flexibility in the Corporations Act 2001

·         Temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive.

·         The ATO will tailor solutions for owners or directors of business that are currently struggling due to the Coronavirus, including temporary reduction of payments or deferrals, or withholding enforcement actions including Director Penalty Notices and wind-ups.

 

Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme

·         The Government will provide a guarantee of 50 per cent to SME lenders to support new short-term unsecured loans to SMEs. The Scheme will guarantee up to $40 billion of new lending.

·         The Government is cutting red tape by providing a temporary exemption from responsible lending obligations for lenders providing credit to existing small business customers. This reform will help small businesses get access to credit quickly and efficiently.

 

Reserve Bank of Australia Term Funding Facility for the Banking System

·         Banks will have access to at least $90 billion in funding at a fixed interest rate of 0.25 per cent. This will reinforce the benefits of a low cash rate by reducing funding costs for banks, which in turn will help reduce interest rates for borrowers. To encourage lending to businesses, the facility offers additional low-cost funding to banks if they expand their business lending, with particular incentives applying to new loans to SMEs.

·         The Government is providing the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) with $15 billion to invest in structured finance markets used by smaller lenders. This program will assist smaller lenders, who will not benefit from the RBA's term funding facility, to maintain access to funding and support competition in the lending market. This in turn will help keep mortgages and other borrowing costs for businesses low.

 

Income Support for Individuals

·         Over the next six months, the Government is temporarily expanding eligibility to income support payments and establishing a new, time-limited Coronavirus supplement to be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight.

·         Visit Services Australia for further information on assistance for individuals.

 

Visit business.gov.au for details on the complete assistance available for:

·         Support available for sole traders

·         Support available for employers             

·         Support available for companies

 

Tender opportunities

Expression of Interest published on AusTender seeking to identify suppliers of swabs used for testing for COVID-19 in Australia

·         Given current global demand for supplies related to COVID-19, the Australian Government is working to ensure reliable and sustainable supplies to collection centres such as laboratories and hospitals.

·         The Expression of Interest is for the supply of nasopharyngeal and/or oropharyngeal swabs which will be suitable for COVID-19 sample collection.

·         Any questions associated with the Expression of Interest may be directed by email to covidtestingsupplies@industry.gov.au.

·         Please note responses to the Expression of Interest will close at 12pm AEDT (Canberra time) on Wednesday 25 March 2020.

 

Request for Information PPE

Request for Information by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. This is a request for information only. The sole purpose is to obtain information in connection with gaining an understanding of Australian manufacturing of medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it is not a procurement and does not form part of any Commonwealth procurement process.  Specifically, submissions are sought from Australian manufacturers of:

a)      Surgical masks Must comply with AS/NZS 4381:2015 'Single use face masks for use in health care' or an equivalent international standard.

b)      Respirator (P2/N95) Must be non-valved particulate filter respirator (half-face piece with latex-free straps) for disposable use. Must comply with AS/NZS 1716:2012 'Respiratory protective devices' or an equivalent international standard.

c)       Surgical gowns

d)      Surgical gloves

e)      Surgical goggles / eyewear

f)       Hand sanitisers

g)      Clinical waste bags

h)      Waste bag closure devices (ties)

i)        Blood and fluid spill kits

j)        Mask fit test kits

k)      Thermometers

Please read the tender information on AusTender, particularly as it relates to storage requirements, Australian standards and particulars for products regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as medical devices (e.g. surgical face masks). Please note responses to the Expression of Interest will close at 5pm AEDT (Canberra time) on Tuesday 31 March 2020.

Should you be interested in other new tender opportunities, you can register with AusTender and elect to receive email notification of new open business opportunities and/or Planned Procurements.

ATO Customer Support

·         The ATO is also providing assistance to businesses experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, including deferred payments and monthly GST credits.  These relief options will not be automatically applied, so you need to contact the ATO directly to discuss them. The ATO Emergency Support Infoline is available on 1800 806 218.

 

Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws

·         Find out about your workplace entitlements and obligations if you're affected by the outbreak of COVID-19.

·         Fair Work encourage employees and employers to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of individual workplaces and staff. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.  If you have an urgent enquiry about your workplace entitlements or obligations, please contact Fair Work on 13 13 94 and select the prompt for the Coronavirus hotline.

 

Boosting Female Founders

·         The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is now accepting Expressions of Interest (EOIs) for Round One of the Boosting Female Founders (BFF) Initiative.
The BFF Initiative aims to help female founders to access early stage capital to grow their startups in national and international markets.  The program will provide grants between $25,000 and $400,000 on a co-contribution basis to successful applicants. It will run over three years from 202021 to 202223, with $6 million available for Round One.  Eligible EOIs will be accepted until 14 April 2020 5pm AEST.

·         Eligible female founded (majority owned and led by women) startups can apply:

The startup must be at least 50 per cent women owned (equity or shares) and at least 50 per cent of the founding team or senior managers must be women.
A startup is an early stage, innovative or disruptive business that is working on a new or novel product, service or has a different business model. The startup must be scalable able to grow quickly and has the potential to address large national and international markets.
·         The full eligibility criteria can be found in the program guidelines.

·         Visit business.gov.au/BFF for more information about the application process, including how to submit an EOI.

 

Queensland Government Small Business Support

Workshops

The registrations page for the Workshops in response to COVID19 is now available with details of other workshop times and locations to be posted on this website soon. Workshops will be delivered in several locations with two distinct workshops available:

WORKSHOP 1 Managing Cash Flow In Response To Covid19

WORKSHOP 2 Business Planning/Strategies In Response To Covid19.

Delivered by TAFE Queensland, workshops will provide you with practical tools and skills to build business resilience. You will also have an opportunity to connect and network with other small businesses facing similar issues.

 

Small Business Financial Counselling Service

The Rural Financial Counselling Service traditionally provides free financial advice to primary producers who are suffering financial hardship and have no alternative sources of impartial financial information. This service has been expanded to support any Small Business impacted by COVID19 and is funded by grants from government to local organisations that employ financial counsellors.

Any Small Business impacted by COVID19 can now contact the Small Business Financial Counselling Service in Southern Queensland phone (07) 4622 5500.

 

Department of Employment Small Business and Training support

Small business impacted by Coronavirus can contact the Department of Employment Small Business and Training through www.business.qld.gov.au/starting-business/advice-support/support/novel-coronavirus. All calls are then actioned in the local region for personalised assistance.

Queensland COVID-19 jobs support loans

You may be eligible for a loan to retain employees and maintain your operations.

The $500 million concessional loan facility will include low interest loans of up to $250,000 for carry on finance with an initial 12-month interest free period for businesses to retain staff.

Register your interest through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority or contact 1800 623 946.

 

Mentoring for Growth

The Mentoring for Growth program currently has more than 50 mentors ready to connect with impacted small businesses. Mentors are available to provide tailored support including financial mentoring and business planning.

Register your interest in a Mentoring for Growth session. Contact 1300 654 687 or m4g@desbt.qld.gov.au for more information.

 

Manufacturing Supply Matching

Manufacturer's supply matching is underway to assist Queensland manufacturers and businesses who are finding it difficult to obtain vital materials and supplies.  Complete the form and a contact from DSDMIP will be in touch to discuss.

 

Support from Banks

If you're dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or facing the impacts of drought, bushfire or flood, there are practical ways your bank can help.

Australian banks have hardship teams ready to help you, depending on your circumstances.

Assistance could include:

  • deferring loan payments, waiving fees and charges,
  • helping with debt consolidation,
  • waiving penalties for early withdrawal of a term deposit, or
  • deferring upcoming credit card payments and increasing emergency limits.

You can contact your bank's financial hardship team on the web or on the phone.

 

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