After a year spent largely working from home, business travellers are set to take to the skies once more, at least within Australia.
But the onus is on the firms for which they work to keep their staff safe as they board planes and stay at hotels once more.
The first step is to understand the rules and regulations to follow to ensure staff are as safe as possible when travelling. These rules differ between states (links to the individual states’ and territories’ information pages are below). But your first port of call should be Business.gov.au for details on national COVID-19 restrictions.
Bear in mind in the event of a COVID cluster forming, states or territories can shut their borders and impose lockdowns with very little notice. This risks staff being trapped outside their home place, potentially for lengthy periods.
Some states or territories also impose quarantine periods on travellers from other places. SafeWork Australia has all the information. Unless staff really do need to travel, it may be better for them to use technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct meetings with interstate counterparts at the moment.
Sarah Thomas, managing director, SJ Personnel, recommends being mindful of employee concerns when it comes to interstate travel and potential border closures and lockdowns. “Have an action plan and quarantine plan that’s part of a broader travel policy, which is ready to go if staff are travelling and COVID restrictions change rapidly.”
“Ensure your staff understand their obligations in the places they are travelling”
The travel policy should also address social distancing and limits on how many people can congregate within a certain area, as well as safe hygiene. The business needs to stay totally up-to-date with federal and state government policies around COVID-19, which are likely to continue to change for at least 2021 and potentially beyond.
Thomas says a COVID workplace corporate travel policy could include:
- A guide for assessing the risks to which staff are exposed during business travel, including the likelihood and outcome of contracting the virus.
- A definition of what is considered essential travel.
- A guide to assessing whether work could be conducted through Zoom, Skype or Microsoft teams and achieve the same outcome versus travelling.
- Criteria employees must meet before being approved to travel, such as COVID testing pre-travel and any isolation requirements prior to and during travel.
- Information about how the business will protect travellers, including the personal protective equipment (PPE) it provides, when private charter should be used, as well as the hygiene standards staff and their accommodation must follow.
- Guidance on how travel is approved and who is approved to travel.
- Locations to which travel is approved and how travel to COVID hotspots is treated.
- Information on how to maintain minimal points of contact.
- Information on how to book, including taking direct flights where practicable.
Here are links to state and territory-based COVID guidance to business. Check your relevant site regularly to stay on top of this fast-moving situation.
- Victorian state government.
- NSW state government.
- QLD state government.
- SA state government.
- WA state government.
- Tasmanian state government.
- ACT government.
- Northern Territory government.
Use the guidance from your local health department to keep your COVID plan constantly updated. In particular, this should include information about wearing of face masks. Many departments states stipulate wearing of face masks in airports, on flights, on taxis and in ride sharing vehicles. Ensure your staff understand their obligations in the places they are travelling.
“Develop inhouse COVID travel training to ensure staff know the rules by which they need to abide. Consider engaging a health professional to advise the business,” says Thomas. If a staff member does contract COVID while travelling, he or she will need to follow all health guidance about immediate testing and quarantining.
“Stay in touch with relevant bodies and maintain daily contact with the employee who has tested positive and provide all necessary support, including ensuring their accommodation needs are met. It’s the employer’s responsibility to cover costs,” she adds.
The illness is likely to become a workers’ compensation claim for the duration of infection. So it’s an idea to check how workers’ compensation cover would respond to a COVID infection before the business is required to face this situation. “The employee is likely to be paid for the time while infected and recovering,” Thomas says.There are so many unknowns when it comes to COVID.
What’s important is to avoid business travel unless it’s essential to reduce risks to the business, have a COVID plan in place and understand how regulations and requirements change as they happen. That’s the best way to keep staff safe and still maintain communication and relationships with interstate counterparts.Your Steadfast broker can advise you on insurance for business travel.
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