Tired businesswoman holding her nape
Tired businesswoman holding her nape

Boss’s brutal coronavirus rule

Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au's weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn tackle your legal rights when it comes to coronavirus and work.

QUESTION: My housemate is in self-isolation after being exposed to someone who has coronavirus. We are fully across all the NSW Health guidelines and she eats in her own room, is using her own bathroom and hasn't had any contact with us (the other two housemates) at all. I made the mistake of mentioning this situation to my boss and he is now insisting I take 14 days off to self-isolate, even though my housemate has not been diagnosed and has no symptoms. Can he force me to take my annual leave? What are my rights when it comes to coronavirus and annual leave? Katie, NSW

ANSWER: These are unprecedented times, Katie, and it sounds like your boss is jumping into action without properly considering your rights. As with any contagious illness, the presence of coronavirus in your workplace could have a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of yourself and your colleagues, as well as the business itself.

While employers are entitled to take reasonable precautions to protect their other employees, this doesn't mean it needs to be at your expense.

As you aren't sick, but your employer wants you to stay home, you should follow his direction.

It would also be a reasonable direction to self-isolate if you have been exposed to a person with confirmed coronavirus.

However, he shouldn't ask you to use your personal leave, nor as a general rule can he direct you to take annual leave.

Instead, you should receive at least your base rate of pay for the period of your self-isolation.

In the event your boss has also directed you to see a doctor, then you should follow that direction but you should receive your base rate of pay for that too.

You can be directed to work from home if this is feasible.

You might be concerned about being sacked if you do contract coronavirus.

Well, you'll likely be relieved to know that your employer cannot discriminate against you for having an illness.

If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, you will be required to take personal leave just the same as if it were the common cold or flu.

You should provide your employer with a valid medical certificate as soon as possible and focus on recovering.

Once your doctor gives you the all-clear to return to work, your employer must allow you to do so.

If you're not sick, but your boss has asked you to self-quarantine and then attempts to sack you, it could be unfair dismissal.

You've mentioned you have annual leave which means you are likely a permanent employee, but your housemate might be concerned especially if they are a causal worker.


Can you be forced to work from home or take annual leave due to the coronavirus pandemic? Picture: iStock
Can you be forced to work from home or take annual leave due to the coronavirus pandemic? Picture: iStock

For casual workers, if you are diagnosed with coronavirus, or suspect you might have it, you should let your employer know as soon as possible.

If you aren't able to work any of your rostered shifts, you may be required to provide a medical certificate.

As a casual, you are not entitled to paid sick leave, however, your boss is not allowed to terminate your employment or stop giving you shifts because you are sick.

Let your employer know as soon as you are able to return to work.

Some employers might be concerned about cashflow and this might be the reason behind your boss sending you home and telling you that you need to take annual leave.

If your employer has no choice but to close your workplace, they may initiate a "stand down".

Unfortunately, in that situation, employers do not have to pay employee wages.

This is quite an extreme measure, and can only be used when the decision is effectively out of the employer's hands.

If you believe you may have been discriminated against or treated unfairly in the workplace, you should seek urgent legal advice.

And during this time it's important we are "caremongering " rather than scaremongering.

This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor.

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Originally published as Boss's brutal coronavirus rule