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Navigating the new ‘living with COVID’ workplace

  • emmat
  • December 21, 2021

Australian small businesses are in the vanguard when it comes to working while dealing with the complications of COVID. Even if you’re in one of those states that has escaped the worst of the virus, we’re all in the same basket when it comes to stepping out and learning to live and work with COVID circulating in the community.

The past couple of years presented many businesses – us included – with a whole new ball game. But with vaccinations reaching appropriate levels, it’s time. Are you ready?

There’s a lot to consider as we take those first tentative steps back into the office, and it’s vital to understand and assess the risks we face as lockdown restrictions taper off and employers support their staff towards a partial or full return to the office or business.

Insurance has an important role to play in the transition. And it’s essential that businesses understand their risk exposures.

Expertise is never more important than at times of great change, and as your broker we are best equipped to help you prepare and be sure the cover you rely on is optimal for our new “living with COVID” society.

For example, we can help ensure workers’ compensation policies are up-to-date and reflect any changes to your business, such payroll adjustments.

Critically, businesses face the possibility of liability if a member of staff, or a visitor, is exposed to COVID at their workplace, and have responsibilities if any team member comes into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has set out four tiers of employee to help assess where it might be “lawful and reasonable” to mandate COVID vaccinations, from those in border control and hotel quarantine, to health or aged care workers, to essential retail staff, down to employees with minimal face-to-face interaction.

For now this decision sits with employers, so it is important to consider what steps are reasonably practicable to help keep staff safe at your business. For example, PwC, Google, Facebook, Qantas and SPC have all introduced a compulsory vaccination policy for staff.

It is also best to familiarise yourself with Therapeutic Goods Administration guidance on communications regarding COVID vaccinations, which includes conditions around offering incentives.

Several issues may increase the likelihood that a vaccine injury is covered under workers’ compensation, including whether an employer made vaccine arrangements, encouraged or induced vaccination in order to obtain benefits or permitted vaccination during working hours.

We recommend you understand where risk and compliance issues are magnified, such as off-site visits. Of course, the business of every one of our clients is unique, and the measures you take to get your employees back to work will require you to “tailor” your response.

Some examples: With offices, many staff will expect more protection and you may consider remodelling by creating space between workstations, investing in tools like collaboration software and even fitting desks with plexiglass shields.

Stepped-up office cleaning might include surfaces being disinfected every night and providing hand sanitiser.

If your business makes use of hot-desking, ensure everyone thoroughly wipes down their desk, keyboard and mouse with disinfectant wipes.

“Tag teaming”, with different teams working different shifts, may also help, and it is likely best that vulnerable employees remain working from home.

If you have any questions about the steps you should take to ensure your employees are returning to a safe office, give us a call. We can help you make returning to the office a positive opportunity for your staff to connect, collaborate and support each other.

 

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