Article orginally posted by The Australian
Employees who test positive to carrying the potentially fatal Wuhan coronavirus could be placed on unpaid leave until they are no longer infectious.
Workplace lawyers say they had been inundated with employer inquiries on how to manage sick-leave entitlements as the disease spreads across the globe.
In Australia, 14 people have been diagnosed with the virus and are being treated in isolation in hospitals.
Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors, a subsidiary of the NSW Business Chamber, said education, childcare and food manufacturing firms made up the majority of queries regarding employee entitlements.
ABLA Sydney workplace relations managing director Luis Izzo said the firm had had a significant spike in calls in the wake of the outbreak. “All employers we have spoken to are taking a very responsible approach,” he said. “They have been focusing on safety as a priority in regards to sick leave.”
Mr Izzo said most queries related to situations where an employer was concerned about a particular employee — even when the employee had not exhibited any symptoms.
“In this case, the employer can direct the employee to be independently medically assessed and that should be at the employer’s expense,” he said. “If the opinion comes back that the person is at high risk or suffering from an illness, the employer could then place the employee on unpaid leave or sick leave — it is the employee’s choice.
“If the employer is forcing people to stay away, they’ll have to pay them until they get proof there is actually an illness issue there.”
Mr Izzo said if an employee self-identified as needing sick leave, an employer should force them to pass a medical clearance before they could return to work.
Some businesses have taken measures to ensure staff are not financially disadvantaged if they are required to stay at home.
Australian Childcare Alliance NSW president Lyn Connolly, the director of eight childcare agencies, said she had asked a staff member who had returned from China to stay home from one Sydney centre.
“Prior to the 14 days to stay home being mandatory, I said to her it was in her best interest and the children’s to stay at home and I would pay her,” she said.
“I paid her because I believe everybody should do the right thing. I can’t understand anyone would expect a staff member to stay home and not eat or pay their rent, because they have expenses.”
McArdle Legal employment lawyer Chris McArdle said he had been advising clients on employers’ rights regarding coronavirus for the past few weeks, and the disease had raised a number of unusual workplace matters.
“What’s been introduced to the mix here is the scenario where an employer could make you go home for health-related reasons,” he said. “If you’re isolated but not sick, the employer … can hand you a laptop and say get online when you get home. The employer doesn’t necessarily have to lose productivity from you.”
Department of Health guideline say employees must isolate themselves at home if they have left China’s Hubei province less than 14 days ago or been in close contact with coronavirus cases.