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It seems like every day there’s another press conference, news story, or rumour at the (virtual) water cooler. With the news cycle moving so fast in the COVID crisis, it can be hard to keep on top of it all. But worry not, our good pal, lawyer and social commentator extraordinaire Simon Creek is here to decipher the news and break it down into bite sized chunks.

Simon Creek - What are an employer's obligations in this time?

Regional Borders Open

As most of the internal borders in WA open up, Simon explains that the timing is just right. The State Government made a wise move by closing the borders to begin with. Stopping the spread to regional and remote communities was a high priority, but now that the virus appears to be contained in WA, regulations can be relaxed. With so many people losing their jobs, 80,000 in WA alone, stimulating local and regional economies is very important.

Are interstate borders next?

This one is a bit more tricky. The closed borders are certainly not helping the tourism economy. But the risk must be weighed, as in most decisions at this time. Most people agree that the nation cannot afford another Job Keeper scheme, so if things move too fast and there’s another wave, there simply won’t be the same support. However, there has been pressure from certain parties. Most notably, Clive Palmer has been very vocal in his desire to enter WA to do business. He rightly points out that Andrew Forrest has been allowed to move in and out of WA for business reasons. Additionally, under section 92 of the Australian Constitution, all states are promised free commerce with one another. The counter to that is a previous High Court ruling that a massive public health issue would negate that rule. However, things are now somewhat muddied by the fact that with so few cases in WA, the question is raised about whether there is still a large scale health issue.

What obligations does an employer have in regards to their employee’s mental health in this time?

At any time, an employee has a duty of care. They need to make sure their employees are avoiding things that may cause them harm at work. One problem that has come about now unexpectedly, is bullying in the workplace. This still comes under duty of care. It is still an employers responsibility to have adequate training and staff management. Additionally, maintaining good records and policies not only ensures that you’re covered legally, but it does help to ensure the safety of your staff.

However, in this time, it’s important for an employer to show true care to their staff. Employees may be under stress, or uncertainty. Now is an excellent time to show good leadership, compassion, and empathy. Making sure your employees are doing okay is extremely important, now more than ever.

Does an employee have obligations as well?

Employees don’t really have very many obligations when it comes to notifying an employer of an illness that may impact their job. Obviously there are exceptions. A forklift driver that is going blind would be expected to raise that with their boss. But a worker with mental health issues has no obligation to raise this with their employer. Likewise, an employee can’t be forced to talk about it. An employer can ask kind and caring questions, but you can’t force them to talk about it.

This is a tricky area because it can lead to discrimination, or at least accusations of it. As Simon puts it, it’s law in progress. While you shouldn’t be able to force an employee to divulge health information, it is something that can be considered unfair to the employer.

What to do if you’re feeling the pressure right now?

The following organisations have cranked up their resources for this time, and are perfect to help out:

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