Article written by Mick Sayers, Principle Lawyer at Slater & Gordon (31/03/2020)
In this article we will explore:
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is provided for your assistance and should not be relied on as legal or medical advice or as a substitute for legal or medical advice.
Since COVID-19 (coronavirus) landed on our shores in January 2020, there have been many resources published on what to do to prevent the virus from spreading.
For most healthcare workers and other essential services, working from home is not likely to be an option. We are in uncertain times, and the threat that the COVID-19 outbreak poses means that government directions are rapidly evolving.
At a time when healthcare workers are on the frontline in terms of potential exposure to COVID-19, employers, in accordance with their obligations under the “Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (“the OHS Act”), are required to have appropriate plans and actions in place to ensure employees are able to remain at work and stay healthy. All healthcare workers are playing a vital role in ensuring our healthcare system remains operational and deserve the best protections available.
Apart from the obligations imposed on employers, the OHS Act also requires employees to take reasonable steps to ensure that their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omission at a workplace. It is imperative that both employers and employees work in a cooperative manner, especially during this current critical time.
In relation to COVID-19, you should already be adhering to strict health and safety measures including:
Your employer is responsible for minimising risk, providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring access to all necessary resources in the workplace.
You can keep informed of the current and evolving guidelines via sources such as: www.dhhs.vic.gov.au or www.2.health.vic.gov.au)
HSRs will continue to have authorisation to take action on behalf of their designated work group during this crisis. Now, more than ever, your roles are critical to the safety of healthcare workers. Your colleagues can assist you in performing your role. It is important to use all resources at your disposal to ensure that employers are doing the following things:
Under the OHS Act, HSRs have the right to seek further information from employers. This might include requesting a review of control measures. HSRs should consider contacting HACSU or WorkSafe if they believe their employer is not providing a safe and healthy workplace. HSRs should also consider issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice (“PIN”) if an employer has failed to consult or put appropriate measures in place.
This is not okay. Even in a crisis. It is never okay. The physical and psychological impacts can be devasting to workers and can have lasting consequences for workers and their loved ones.
If you witness or experience any inappropriate behaviour report it to your employer and/or to the police immediately.
An employer has an obligation to investigate reported incidents and implement new control measures to ensure that such incidents are eliminated or, at least, minimised. Always know that it is okay to speak up and report these types of incidents – if ever you’re in doubt, contact your HSR, Union Delegate, or Union Organiser for further assistance.
If the circumstances suggest that your workplace was the likely source of infection, you are entitled to lodge a Workers’ Compensation claim. You should obtain a WorkCover Certificate of Capacity from your doctor and complete and lodge a Claim Form as soon as possible.
If any troubles arise with your employer during these uncertain times or you need further information about your right, we recommend that you contact your Organiser or HACSU Assist via 1300 651 931 or firstname.lastname@example.org. HACSU may be able to assist directly or provide you with a priority referral to Slater and Gordon for further action.
About the Author: Mick Sayers is a Principal Lawyer of our Industrial and Employment Law team. Mick’s day to day practice involves assisting individuals with employment law related matters, as well as advising and acting on behalf of unions in industrial disputes. Mick has been a member of the Slater and Gordon team for over 23 years.
Slater and Gordon has proudly served HACSU and its members for many years, and as a HACSU member, we provide discounted legal services and benefits in the following areas:
Slater and Gordon has expert workers’ compensation lawyers located in each of our 17 offices across Victoria. We can help you at any stage of your workers’ compensation claim.
We also offer exclusive services to HACSU member in the following areas:
To access these discounted services*, contact HACSU Assist today on 1300 651 931 who will arrange a priority referral to Slater and Gordon to ensure your access to special benefits and discounts.
*Conditions apply. See www.slatergordon.com.au for details.
Department of Health and Human Services