COVID and work: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Your employer must do everything they can to protect you from COVID at work. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding COVID in the workplace.
– What happens if I get COVID at work?
– What happens if my employer pressures me to leave isolation/quarantine early?
– Can my employer force to me cancel or delay my annual leave?
– Does my employer need to provide me ‘personal protective equipment’ like masks or sanitiser? What happens if they don’t provide this?
– What happens if my employer is doing something that I don’t think is Covid-safe? What are my workplace health and safety rights?
– Can I use leave if I’m required to isolate? What happens if I don’t have leave?
– Can my employer force me back onsite or into the office?
– What happens if you contract COVID while on annual leave?
– What if I can’t afford or access a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)? What if my employer requires me to take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for work, what are my rights?
What happens if I get COVID at work?
Any worker can lodge a workers compensation claim to receive income support. Any injury or illness acquired through the course of work should be covered by workers compensation. You should discuss this with your treating practitioner who will provide you with a certificate of capacity. For more information on the process of lodging a claim contact your union.
If you are injured or fall ill at work and need to seek immediate medical treatment you have the right to see your own treating practitioner or the practitioner of your choice. Your employer cannot force you to see a company Doctor.
Under NSW law certain essential workers are presumed to have caught COVID-19 at work. The NSW Government is seeking to remove this provision. Unions are currently lobbying to keep this provision in place. If you’d like to know what you can do to assist your union in keeping this important provision in place, please contact your union to see what you can do.
If you want to know if you are covered by this provision, contact your union.
What happens if my employer pressures me to leave isolation/quarantine early?
Your employer cannot force you to return to the workplace when you are sick or in isolation. Some workers will also live with vulnerable family members and these people may be extremely vulnerable to serious illness or death if exposed to COVID. You should seek advice from both your union and your medical practitioner who may provide you with a medical certificate for either personal leave or carer’s leave if you are caring for a member of your family who has COVID.
Can my employer force to me cancel or delay my annual leave?
An employer can only cancel or delay your annual leave if the cancellation or delay is not unreasonable. Factors that should be considered when determining whether the cancellation is unreasonable are costs incurred by you as well as the amount of notice given by your employer of the cancellation. In certain circumstances, depending on the industrial instrument you are covered by, your employer does not have a unilateral right to cancel or delay your annual leave. For more information on your rights in these circumstances you should contact your union for tailored advice about your workplace.
I’m a casual. What are my rights?
Casuals generally are not entitled to paid or annual leave or carers/personal leave. However, casual employees may be able to claim Pandemic Leave Disaster payments through the Government if they have self-isolate, quarantine, or care for someone with COVID.
Workers caring for someone with COVID-19 can also access up to 2 days of unpaid carers leave per occasion or 2 days unpaid compassionate leave per occasion if a member of an employee’s immediate family or household dies or contracts or develops a life-threatening illness or injury.
Casual workers with at least 12 months service can request flexible work arrangements to care for sick relatives.
Unions can assist you in reviewing your enterprise agreements, awards, employment contracts or workplace policies and, if they exist, accessing more generous conditions for casual workers.
Does my employer need to provide me ‘personal protective equipment’ like masks or sanitiser? What happens if they don’t provide this?
Yes. Your employer must provide you with clean and correctly fitted PPE that provides appropriate protection from the hazard. You cannot be asked to pay for PPE. Your employer must provide it. What kind of PPE your employer provides will depend on their risk assessment. For example, in healthcare settings full suit PPE will be provided. However, in most workplaces hand sanitiser and/or masks will be the appropriate kind of PPE.
What happens if my employer is doing something that I don’t think is Covid-safe? What are my workplace health and safety rights?
If you have an elected Health and Safety Representative, you should speak to your HSR. You have a right to work in a safe and healthy environment and your employer has a duty to ensure your workplace is safe under WHS Laws. You can cease work under s 84 of the WHS Laws until you are provided with a safe workplace. This could mean working from home where possible. Always seek advice from your union.
Can I use leave if I’m required to isolate? What happens if I don’t have leave?
Yes. If you are required to isolate, you have a number of leave options available.
Since the beginning of the pandemic unions have been campaigning for the introduction of universal paid pandemic leave and while the government has refused to implement it, many employers have. You should check with your employer to see if they provide paid pandemic leave.
If your employer does not offer paid pandemic leave you may be eligible for up to 2 weeks unpaid pandemic leave or alternatively you can negotiate with your employer to access other forms of leave such as your annual leave, personal leave or carer’s leave if you are caring for a member of your family member who has COVID.
If you become sick during your isolation period, you can access your paid sick leave entitlements for the time you are sick.
If you do not have any paid leave, you might be eligible for the Federal Government’s one-off Pandemic Disaster Leave Payment. You can also ask your employer to facilitate alternative working
arrangements where possible. If you want to know if you are eligible for unpaid pandemic leave and the Pandemic Disaster Payment or for assistance in negotiating leave with your employer, contact your union.
Can my employer force me back onsite or into the office?
The Work Health & Safety Act 2011 NSW (WHS Laws) requires your employer to maintain a safe workplace at all times. This includes workplace health risks such as COVID-19. Risk assessments should be conducted regularly, incidents including illnesses recorded and hazards should be eliminated where possible and minimised if elimination is not possible. An employer could be in breach of their duty by forcing workings to work in an unsafe environment.
If the workplace is unsafe or you believe the workplace may expose you to risks to your health and safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard you have the right to cease work under s84 of the WHS Laws.
If your workgroup or workplace has an elected Health and Safety Representative (HSR), the HSR may direct workers to cease work (s 85).
You do not have to work if the work environment is unsafe, or you feel it is unsafe. However, this can be difficult for an individual to do on their own, which is why there are unions to ensure you are empowered and protected at work.
What happens if you contract COVID while on annual leave?
If you contract COVID while on annual leave you are able to use your paid sick and carer’s leave, and recredit the annual leave balance from the time you contracted COVID. You should seek advice from your union and medical practitioner who may provide you with a medical certificate in the event your employer requests it. Your employer cannot force you to take annual leave while you are on sick leave under s 89 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FWA). If you do not have enough sick leave, you should seek assistance from your union in arranging to take an alternative type of paid or unpaid leave.
What if I can’t afford or access a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)? What if my employer requires me to take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for work, what are my rights?
In June and July last year, unions warned the NSW and Commonwealth Government about the need for access to free rapid antigen tests (RATs). Given the failure of the Commonwealth Government to source and supply RATs there is a limited access to some self-testing kits. At this time (January 2022) testing kits are being prioritised for some essential workers. There are estimated 300 million tests on order for Australia.
If your workplace requires you take a RAT for work then it should be paid as part of work time and the cost of RAT should be borne by your employer.
Employers must regularly review the controls they have implemented to minimise COVID-19 risks in the workplace. This means as supply and access of RATs improves workplaces may consider their implementation.