Office reunion: risks set to rise as many return to the workplace

Published: 16/11/2021

Office reunion: risks set to rise as many return to the workplace

Australian small businesses know the complications of dealing with COVID all too well. While all states have had a different experience with the pandemic until now, that's about to change as we start opening - which means learning to live with COVID in the community.

It's been a turbulent couple of years for many businesses as we navigated a completely new environment. But that's coming to an end once vaccination targets are met. Are you ready?

As we head back into the workplace there is plenty to consider. There are still risks, and it's important to understand and examine them as lockdown restrictions are lifted, employees start coming into work part or full-time and our circumstances change yet again.

For businesses, insurance has an essential role in the transition. There are new risk exposures and understanding them now could save you a lot of worry down the line.

When everything is changing, expertise becomes even more valuable. Your broker knows which threats could impact your business and provides the professional guidance you need to navigate them confidently.

As your broker, we can help ensure workers' compensation policies are up-to-date and reflect any changes to your business - for example, payroll adjustments.

Now, businesses may also face liability if an employee, customer, or client comes into contact with COVID at their workplace.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released four tiers to assist businesses in determining when it might be 'lawful and reasonable' to make COVID vaccinations mandatory in their workplace. According to the tiers, it's essential for those in border control and hotel quarantine, health or aged care, and essential retail to be vaccinated. This goes all the way down to those working in roles with minimal face-to-face interaction.

Now, the final decision is up to employers. But, as a business, you need to consider the steps that are reasonably practicable for keeping employees safe in the workplace. Many companies have already moved to introduce a compulsory vaccination policy for their employees - such as PwC, Google, Facebook, Qantas and SPC.

When considering what's best for your business, the Therapeutic Goods Administration provides helpful guidance around COVID vaccinations. For example, conditions around offering incentives.

Various factors can influence whether a vaccine injury is covered under workers' compensation. For example, suppose an employer arranged for the vaccine, encouraged vaccination for their own benefit, or allowed for staff to get vaccinated during work hours. In that case, this may increase the likelihood of workers' compensation covering a vaccine injury.

Risk and compliance issues can also be amplified in some situations, like off-site visits. As every business is different, the way office spaces, and on-site workplaces open back up will vary from business to business.

When employees come into the office, they may expect you to remodel the standard set up to make the workplace safer. This may include separating the workstations, making software that allows for more collaboration available and in some cases, fitting plexiglass shields to desks.

There may also be more office cleaning that pre-pandemic, such as disinfecting surfaces and hand sanitiser bottles around the workplace. If your business uses hot-desking, this may be extended to all employees thoroughly wiping down their workspace with disinfectant.

'Tag teaming' by alternating when different teams are in the office is another great option, as is allowing vulnerable employees to continue working remotely.

How Coverforce can help

Our experienced team of brokers are here to help assess your risks and provide personalised advice on the right insurance program to adequately protect your business and assets.

For more information or to arrange cover, please contact our expert team of brokers at your local Coverforce office.

The information provided in this article is of a general nature only and has been prepared without taking into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. If you require advice that is tailored to your specific business or individual circumstances, please contact Coverforce directly.

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