One of our employees has contracted COVID-19 – what happens next?
While many early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings may have plans in place to manage ordinary illness amongst staff members, the presence of COVID-19 in the community is likely to attract extra attention, and obligations from an employer.
To support services to navigate this space, The Sector has prepared the following guidance, based on information from SafeWork Australia. Please note that while this information was correct at time of publication, advice and guidance is rapidly changing in response to the pandemic, and readers are encouraged to conduct their own research prior to implementing the suggestions given below.
When an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, an employer must contact the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080, or the health line specific for their state/territory, and follow the health advice given.
An employee must not return to work while infectious. Specific guidance about meeting work health and safety duties will depend on the unique circumstances of your setting and employee team. More advice on meeting WHS obligations is available from the relevant WHS regulator for each state/territory.
In the event that an employee is unwell, with signs and symptoms relevant to COVID-19 – for example frequent dry cough – and you believe they should not be at work, the usual policies and procedures relating to illness, including a directive to go home, should be followed.
General advice – next steps
- Identify the hazards. For example: is the worker still at work? Were they at the workplace while they may have been infectious or have they been identified by a public health authority as a ‘close contact’?
- Assess the risks. For example: how much contact did the worker have with others or the workplace while possibly infectious?
- Control the risks. For example: if the infected worker had limited contact you may be able to evacuate that area, ensure it is deep cleaned, and send home workers who had contact with them in accordance with any health advice. If the worker had contact with several others or large parts of the workplace you may also need to direct all workers to self-isolate for 14 days.
- Review the control measures. You need to regularly review control measures to make sure they are working. For example, if other workers get sick this may mean your current control measures are not working as intended.
- Consult with workers and other duty holders. It is important to consult with your workers at all stages of this process and keep in touch with workers who may be isolated away from the workplace. You must also consult with other duty holders (for example, other businesses you share communal spaces with).
You may be asked to help health authorities trace close contacts, in which case, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has published guidance on when disclosing personal information may be permitted.
Who needs to be informed?
If a service, either voluntarily, or as advised by its local Public Health unit, is closed due to COVID-19, approved providers are reminded that any incident that requires the approved provider to close or reduce the number of children attending a service for a period requires notification to the relevant State or Territory Regulatory Authority within 24 hours.
If a child or staff member at your service is diagnosed with COVID-19 you are required to report any risk or incident of infectious disease to:
- Regulatory Authority in your State or Territory
- Your local Public Health Unit – for contact details, see here.
A confirmed case of COVID-19 is a serious incident and as such requires notification as soon as practicable within 24 hours.
There is also an obligation as ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs)’ to notify WHS regulators of instances of employees with COVID-19 within the workplace. These obligations vary by state/territory.
A full list of the obligations for each jurisdiction, as well as contact details, is available here.
Healthline contact details
The following health helplines should be contacted in the event that an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19:
- New South Wales – Healthdirect – 1800 022 222
- Queensland – 13 Health – 13 43 25 84
- Victoria – Coronavirus Hotline – 1800 675 398
- South Australia – SA COVID-19 Information Line – 1800 253 787
- Tasmania – Tasmanian Public Health Hotline – 1800 671 738
- Western Australia – Use the National Coronavirus Information Helpline – 1800 020 080
- Australian Capital Territory – Healthdirect – 1800 022 222
- Northern Territory – Use the National Coronavirus Information Helpline – 1800 020 080.
To review this information in full, as produced by SafeWork Australia, please see here.