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UpdatesJun 08, 2018

Can you make a sick worker take leave?

Cold and flu season is upon us, which increases the risk of unwell employees spreading germs around your workplace.

By Charles Power

Cold and flu season is upon us, which increases the risk of unwell employees spreading germs around your workplace. Sometimes, you just have to solider on and come into work even when you’re unwell, but at what point does this become a risk to workplace health and safety? And furthermore, can you legally direct an unwell employee to take leave?

Charles Power, partner at legal firm Holding Redlich, and Editor-in-Chief of the Employment Law Practical Handbook, has the ‘good medicine’ for employers.

“Personal/carer’s leave provisions under the NES do not deal with the circumstances in which an employer may direct an employee to take personal leave,” he says.

“However, under health and safety legislation, you are obligated to take steps to ensure that employees are not exposed to risks from other employees. This would permit you to suggest that an employee should consider taking personal leave if they are visibly unwell.”

So, while you cannot legally direct an employee to take personal leave if they are unwell, you are bound by your duty of care to the health and safety of all your employees, as far as reasonably practicable. Therefore, it is in your best interest to suggest the unwell employee take personal leave.

It’s also recommended that you take steps to minimise the risk of cold and flu germs spreading.

Train your workers to take the following precautions:

  1. Wash hands regularly throughout the day, especially before and after eating and going to the bathroom.
  2. Limit personal contact with other people in the workplace, such as handshaking.
  3. Make sure there is a ready supply of disposable tissues available.
  4. Regularly disinfect shared surfaces, e.g. desks, tables, photocopiers and communal appliances.
  5. Organise workplace flu vaccinations.
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