As the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues to spread across Australia, it is imperative for retailers to take precautions and prepare for major disruptions. Here’s how to keep yourself, your staff, your customers, and your business safe.
Under Australian law, business owners are required to ensure the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.
According to Safe Work Australia, this means business owners must identify and eliminate, or minimise, hazards and risks.
There are several key steps that retailers can take to manage the risks of COVID-19:
- Remain up to date with the latest information and health advice from the Australian Government Department of Health, as well as state and territory authorities. See a list of resources at the bottom of this page.
- Mitigate transmission of the virus by altering everyday business processes, following stringent hygiene practices, and limiting non-essential contact.
- Keep employees informed of any changes to processes within the business and link them to relevant information, such as official health and safety advice, workplace entitlements, and travel restrictions.
Assistance for your business
Owners of small and medium businesses – those with annual turnover under $50 million – may be eligible for the Australian Government’s Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure.
For details on lodgement requirements, visit the Australian Tax Office website.
Further financial support measures, including cash payments and Commonwealth-guaranteed loans, were passed by Parliament this week. For details, read the Treasurer’s statement here.
The Treasury has also set up a dedicated page and support service for businesses.
In addition, small businesses employing fewer than 20 full-time employees can apply for a 50 per cent wage subsidy for current apprentices and trainees. Details are available from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment and Australian Apprenticeships.
Guide for managing staff
You should communicate clearly and frequently with your employees, keeping them up to date with any developments or changes to your usual operating hours and procedures.
The Australian government has advised all work-related travel, such as conferences and buying trips, be cancelled. Instead of meetings, switch to digital channels of communication – for example, teleconferencing and videoconferencing.
Additionally, the West Australian, South Australian, Northern Territory, Tasmanian and Queensland governments have introduced strict border controls for interstate travellers.
The NSW and Victorian governments directed non-essential businesses, including most retailers, to close from Tuesday 24 March. However, under federal government rules, retail stores within shopping centres are allowed to remain open if they are able to provide space of 4 square-metres per person.
If your store remains open, staff – both sales and administrative – should be aware of:
Proper hygiene practices, including:
- Frequent hand washing for 20 seconds with soap, or using alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Avoiding touching their own nose and mouth
- Limiting physical contact with fellow staff members, such as shaking hands
- Covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing using tissues or their elbow – rather than the palm of their hand – and disposing of tissues in a closed bin, followed by hand washing or sanitising
- Providing appropriate protective equipment such as latex gloves, and disinfecting surfaces frequently following the guidelines from the Department of Health
When to stay away from the workplace
There is no specific legal guidance on when you should direct an employee to stay away from their place of work, and retail sales staff are not able to work from home.
However, you could consider implementing staggered shifts to prevent close contact between multiple staff members.
If any employees become unwell, they should notify management immediately and not attend work.
Actions to take if they become unwell and which symptoms are of concern
The symptoms indicating possible COVID-19 infection are fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Advise your employees that if they experience these symptoms, they should contact their health provider immediately and avoid work.
Some employees may be at higher risk of contracting the virus, including those who are immunocompromised or with underlying health conditions. Encourage these employees to seek advice from their healthcare provider over the specific precautions necessary.
Engage with any employees who have recently returned from overseas to ensure that they intend to follow 14-day self-isolation guidelines. Your employees have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and not to endanger others.
If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed at your store, seek immediate advice from health authorities.
Additionally, provide your employees with links to government resources – including health updates and assistance programs – and nominate a point of contact within your business with whom they can privately discuss any concerns they may have.
Reduced footfall has been noted as the government has directed all non-essential shopping to cease. This presents an opportunity to promote your e-commerce offering through social media and other forms of digital marketing.
This may require you to reassign staff to focus on a fulfilment role rather than in-person sales.
The Australian Government’s Smartraveller service recommends all overseas travel – regardless of destination – be postponed to a later date unless essential, including business travel.
Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas is required to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.
- Full-time and part-time employees who cannot come to work due to a coronavirus diagnosis can take paid sick leave; casual employees are not entitled to paid sick leave or annual leave, but can claim the Centrelink Sickness Allowance with no waiting period under new government rules
- Full-time and part-time employees who are caring for a family member with coronavirus – or another unexpected emergency – are entitled to paid carer’s leave
- Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion
- Full-time and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left
- Employers cannot compel employees to take sick leave or carer’s leave, but they can direct sick employees to receive medical clearance before returning to work
- Employees must provide evidence of illness or unexpected emergency if asked, such as a medical certificate or statutory declaration
- The Fair Work Act protects employees from being dismissed due to a temporary absence for illness
Your staff may be eligible for additional entitlements under an enterprise agreement, award, contract of employment, or workplace policy.
For more specific information regarding workplace entitlements and obligations, call Fair Work Australia on 13 13 94 and select the coronavirus hotline prompt, or visit the Fair Work website.
HOW JEWELLERS CAN MANAGE RISKS TO CUSTOMERS
Jewellery retail presents several risks to customers because of its personal nature. If possible, switch to an appointment-only or e-commerce model. If taking appointments, confirm that customers have not travelled overseas recently and are not experiencing flu-like symptoms. During the appointment, maintain proper hygiene and distancing protocols.
If your store remains open, implement the following practices:
- Communicate your cleaning practices with customers both in person and through your e-newsletter or text-messaging database.
- Limit physical contact from staff and ensure alcohol-based hand sanitiser is available if customers wish to try on products, and immediately disinfect products that have been tried on.
- Consider cashless payment and switch to ‘tap-and-go’ cards only.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitiser does not tarnish metal or wear away rhodium plating. However, abrasive soaps can cause damage to some jewellery and leave a filmy residue on diamonds and sapphires. Avoid using hand sanitiser and abrasive soap on pearls and opals.
- Advise staff to maintain at least 1.5-metre distance between themselves and any customer.
- Your existing security practices – such as buzzing in customers one or two at a time – can limit the spread of the illness from one customer to another.
- Additionally, keep your customers aware of any delays on their special orders, and changes to store opening hours. Use social media, text messaging, phone calls and email to keep the channels of communication open, and direct them to your website so they can shop online.
Help & Hotlines
• Coronavirus Health Information Line – Seeking Information: 1800 020 080
• Healthdirect Hotline (Speak to a registered nurse): 1800 022 222
• Australian Treasury: Support for Businesses
• World Health Organisation (WHO) Online Training
Keep up to date! Additional Resources
• Australian Department of Health: Current situation and case numbers
• Safe Work Australia: Advice for Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU)
• Australian Retailer’s Association (ARA): Retailer Information | Download Awareness Kit
• World Health Organisation: Live Updates on World Map
• Worldometers: Live Updates of Global Coronavirus Statistic