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As the world learns how best to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are putting temporary leave policies in place to help their workforce. Some employees may get sick themselves or need to care for a sick relative. Others may be facing difficulty because their children are away from school.
This Coronavirus/COVID-19 Temporary Leave Policy is a short, simple document that allows an employer to communicate their temporary leave policies to their employees.
It also contains a section going over the recent best practices outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Australian Government Department of Health.
Under workplace health and safety laws, employers are required to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This means that employers have a duty to take steps to protect the health and safety of their employees, workers, and other visitors - and this includes taking steps to protect them from the coronavirus. Therefore, this Policy is also designed to help employers to do this. However, if in doubt, seek legal advice about how to meet these health and safety obligations.
Employment Policies are not generally intended to be contractually binding on employees. Instead, they explain the employer's general rules, procedures and expectations of employees. As a consequence, if the employer fails to follow a particular policy, the employee may not be able to claim that the employer has breached its contractual obligations. However, this also means that if there are specific matters of importance, that should be legally binding on the employee (such as their specific job duties, their hours of work, confidentiality obligations, or conflict of interest obligations), then the employer should make sure that these are addressed in a legally binding document, such as an Employment Agreement, a Confidentiality Agreement or a Non-Compete Agreement.
How to use this document
This document should be filled out by the employer or an authorised representative of the employer.
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Before preparing this document, it is a good idea to check for up-to-date information from authorities such as the World Health Organisation, the Australian Government Department of Health, or Safe Work Australia.
It is also important that the employer complies with all relevant employment laws when taking action in relation to the coronavirus. This may be particularly relevant to workplace health and safety considerations, leave entitlements, or work-from-home arrangements. If necessary, review employment contracts and any applicable laws, or seek legal advice if there are any concerns.
In this document, specific questions are asked regarding common policies that are being instituted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the document asks whether employees will receive additional paid or unpaid time off, as well as if they can work from home.
It also leaves room for the employer to include any additional information about their specific policies.
When this document is complete, it should be saved to share with employees in the most effective means of communication. An easy way to do this is by sending a Letter to Employees About New or Updated Workplace Policies.
Each state and territory has legislation in relation to work health and safety. Further information is available from Safe Work Australia.
In addition, general principles of employment law will apply to the employment relationship. Employment contracts may be interpreted in accordance with general principles of contract law, as provided by the common law. In some cases, an employment award or enterprise agreement may apply. The National Employment Standards, as set out in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Commonwealth) may also apply.
If in doubt, seek legal advice.
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