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Coronavirus: Guidance for HR professionals and employers

Information to help you plan and support your organisation through a global health emergency.

Latest news

Last reviewed: 1:00PM, 23 March 2020
  • AHRI held a special Q&A session to answer some HR community questions around COVID-19.
  • AHRI has announced a series of Webinars to help HR practitioners and organisations manage their response to COVID-19.
  • AHRI has released a video on the top three tips for HR practitioners to help them respond to a global health emergency.
  • AHRI has released an update on upcoming events and professional development activities.
  • AHRI has prepared an Information on COVID-19 checklist and key websites guide to help prepare for general leave provisions, flexible work practices, workplace privacy practices, workplace health and safety and more.
  • AHRI members can post their COVID-19 related questions on Ask AHRI Assist to get advice and support from an experienced HR professional.

Quick links

Last reviewed: 1 April 2020

1. About COVID-19

2. Working through COVID-19: AHRI Webinar Toolkit

3. Special COVID-19 Q&A recording plus Infosheet

4. Recommendations for Australian employers and HR professionals

5. Information on COVID-19 checklist and key websites guide

6. AHRI update on events and training

7. 3 tips for HR practitioners to help them respond to a global health emergency

8. Resources

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms range from a mild cough to pneumonia. Some people recover easily, others may get very sick very quickly. There is evidence that it spreads from person to person. The incubation period of COVID-19 is between two and 14 days. Common signs of infection include a cough, difficulty in breathing and a fever. Good hygiene can prevent infection.

Find out more on the World Health Organisation website.

What can you do?

Make sure you remain up to date with the current advice from the Australian Government Department of Health information website.

The situation is changing constantly. There are basic, but effective, ways to help prevent the infection’s spread including:

  • Making sure your workplace is clean and hygienic.
  • Promoting regular and thorough hand-washing by everyone.
  • Providing all employees with disinfectant wipes or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Encouraging people to use and bin tissues.
  • Encourage coughing into an elbow or shoulder and not hands.
  • Use social distancing, self-isolation or quarantine.

Staff should not attend the workplace if they have any flu-like symptoms - they should see their doctor and get a clearance to attend work.

Working through COVID-19: AHRI Webinar Series 

A series of webinars to inform you on how to respond to COVID-19.
Complimentary for AHRI members, $50 for non-members. All times AEDT (AEST after 5 April).

Thursday 2 April - 12:30pm  Workforce management in a time of crisis

Tuesday 7 April - 12:30pm Managing your employment law obligations

Thursday 9 April - 12:30pm How to effectively transition into working from home

Tuesday 14 April - 12:30pm Preparing for a new work and caring environment

Thursday 16 April - 12:30pm Resilience

Thursday 30 April - 12:30pm Data-driven employee engagement

View past webinars below
Available only to AHRI members.

Working through COVID-19 webinar series

Login or become a member to access



Special COVID-19 Q&A with the HR community

We had a huge response to our Live Facebook Q&A about successfully working through COVID-19. Watch the video as we take questions from our community around working from home legal requirements, leave provisions, how to manage anxiety and more related topics.

Below is a handy Infosheet with the questions and answers provided. 


Responding to COVID-19 Q&A Infosheet

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Recommendations for Australian employers and HR professionals

Build a contingency team: Identify a person, or small group of people, to take responsibility for operating the contingency plan and allocate clear responsibilities for its implementation 

Develop a contingency plan: Every organisation will need to assess its own level of exposure to business disruption caused by the virus. If it has a site, conducts business or has supply chains in an affected country or region, there will be a direct impact to the company’s day-to-day operations. The plan will need to take account of current and potential impacts and manage the specific business risks associated with the disruption, including service delivery and workforce issues. Communicate the plan to key teams and individuals across the business. 

As the situation develops: Those responsible for the contingency plan should meet regularly to review the preparations and ensure they are still fit for purpose. It’s important to act early, even if planned contingencies are not then needed.

Test capacity to work remotely: Your IT team should be determining the organisation’s capacity to work remotely (and stress testing this), with staff being able to access all applications and systems required to operate the business.

International travel: If you have any staff who have been living or travelling abroad or who have had close contact with people returning from overseas - they should be implementing self-isolation for 14 days.

Leave provisions: There are currently no special leave provisions within the Fair Work Act - FWO’s website states that full-time and part-time permanent workers who can’t come to work because they are sick with COVID-19 can take paid sick leave, or if they need to look after a sick family member or housemate they can take paid carer’s leave. They can also take unpaid carer’s leave if they run out of paid sick or carer’s leave.

See the Fair Work Australia website for further information.

Annual leave and return to work process: Organisations should update their leave process to seek specific information from employees with authorised leave, or seeking leave, to include country destination(s) or any transit through a country. On return to work, employees who have actively, and intentionally, visited those areas identified by the AGDofHS as high risk should be required to self-isolate for 14 days. In addition, if they have been in contact with, or have symptoms of, COVID-19 they should not physically come to work but contact the workplace for an assessment of risk and identified strategies to manage an isolation period – i.e. work from home opportunities.

Staff intending to return to work following illness should have a medical certificate indicating they are fit for work. Make sure anybody's return to work process is a positive one – remembering they have been isolated from the workplace for some time and should be ‘welcomed’ back.

 COVID-19 checklist and key references

While it is critical to understand the legal requirements in place when working with employees, it is also important to consider what you can do as an HR practitioner to have an impact on the broader issues facing staff. We have compiled a list of key issues to consider relating to your business continuity, ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of employees and their families.

Coronavirus checklist and key references - PDF

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Information from the Dept of Health and Human Services

  • The situation is unprecedented and changing on an almost hourly basis. Ensure you are up to date with the most accurate information to make an informed decision for your workplace
  • Review your Business Continuity Plan and internal policies to ensure they’re equipped and appropriate for the changing circumstances.

Dept of Health and Human Services Website

Employee and workplace hygiene

Are all staff aware of handwashing techniques, coughing etiquette and distancing from others, and is the workplace safe?


  • Putting notices up in your offices reminding employees of good workplace hygiene
  • Providing regular updates about good hygiene
  • Providing hand sanitiser at entry points and around the office
  • Ensuring meeting rooms have tissues and rubbish bins
  • Checking your building is being cleaned properly and frequently
  • Providing employees with cleaning materials to clean their desks more frequently should they wish
  • Having a deep cleaning plan in place should an employee or visitor later find that they are infected with COVID-19 and has been in the office
  • Ensuring that contractors receive communications on workplace hygiene.


World Health Organisation website

Health Direct website

Safe Work Australia

General leave provisions

The legal leave requirements are outlined on the AHRI coronavirus webpage.


  • Hourly or casual employees
  • Whether you want to change your working from home policy to include working when children are at home
  • What, if any, provisions you want to put in place if employees run out of personal or sick leave
  • Stress and anxiety during times of crisis can impact employees' mental health. Review whether your current policies and processes cater for this.


Fair Work website

Flexible work practices

Review your flexible working arrangements policy.


  • Which roles / staff can work from home and which roles cannot?
  • Whether your IT systems have the capacity for all staff to be working from home
  • Whether staff have internet access or required equipment at home
  • Whether you need to purchase additional IT equipment
  • Stress testing the organisation’s capacity to work from home
  • How you might communicate with all staff should there be a need to work from home at very short notice
  • Whether or when you might wish to move to a partial or full working from home situation
  • Splitting your organisation into two groups and staggering their working from home to avoid cross-infection

Updating your working from home policy or procedure to ensure that it meets your needs if employees are subject to quarantine.

Fair Work flexible working arrangements

AHRI working from home checklist

Workforce planning

Plan for a range of scenarios.


  • Which roles are essential
  • Which essential roles can only be done by one or two specialists
  • What your back-up plans are if all the employees undertaking these roles fall ill
  • If certain tasks cannot be done from home, whether staff can be redeployed into other necessary roles.

Supporting staff during this period

Ensure that you support your staff during this difficult period. 


  • Having the CEO or another senior staff member provide regular updates to staff about the situation
  • Discussing the situation with your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Informing staff how they can access their EAP
  • Providing staff with links to other support services
  • Ensuring managers check in regularly with their staff to see how they are faring
  • Recommending employees who have low immunity or underlying health conditions, or direct family members with the same, work from home
  • Recommending employees who have high levels of anxiety work from home.


Beyond Blue

HRM Online

Travel policy

Review the organisation’s travel policy to ensure it aligns with government requirements and recommendations:


  • Review the Smart Traveller website to check which countries have been deemed at risk
  • Whether overseas travel for business should be cancelled
  • Whether other travel for business should be cancelled or restricted to essential travel only
  • If travel is continuing whether staff members can travel on the same aircraft
  • What steps employees returning from overseas should take before returning to work
  • What your duty of care to contractors is and whether you should align their travel to the organisation’s travel policy.

Smart Traveller website - news

Smart Traveller website - COVID-19 and travel

Department of Home Affairs website

Meetings, events and conferences

Develop a strategy for meetings and events, including ensuring that government policy is adhered to:


  • Options for using technology solutions to remove the need for a face to face or group meeting
  • Whether employees are permitted to attend external events and meetings, and in what circumstances
  • Which of these events or meetings can be held remotely
  • Whether you are going to cancel or postpone some or all of the events or meetings that you are holding.

Etiquette of Skype meetings


The crisis will affect your business. You should work with the organisation to identify these effects.


  • Businesses have a reasonable expectation that work will be carried out to the required standards.
  • Freezing new hires
  • Halting non-essential expenditure
  • Future workforce planning

Safe Work Australia website

Privacy and Discrimination

  • Employees should be reminded about the organisation's anti-discrimination policy
  • Remember to maintain employee’s privacy should there be any diagnosed incidences.


Fair Work website

Communication plan

  • Develop ways to keep all staff informed of organisational decisions impacting work and any other changes that have been decided.
  • Communicate to stakeholders and customers regularly.

Benefit Express website

AHRI update on events and training

Effective immediately, AHRI is putting in place a number of precautionary measures at all events and professional development activities:

Events update

  • The AHRI Diversity and Inclusion Conference scheduled for May is now postponed until later in 2020. We are currently reviewing alternative dates and will update you as soon as we have further information.
  • The Perth and Darwin State Conferences have been postponed indefinitely. 
  • The AHRI National Convention and Exhibition is expected to continue to go ahead in September as planned. We are very hopeful that developments over the next six months will allow us to run our marquee event without any disruption. Should this situation change, we would like to assure any delegates registered that they would be given the opportunity to reallocate the funds to other AHRI training and events (including Convention 2021), or be offered a full refund should they request it.
  • Face-to-face AHRI Network Forums will be canceled or postponed until further notice. We’re looking at alternative ways to provide these events online. Registrants will receive further information shortly.
  • We will continue to monitor the changing situation and undertake a risk assessment for planned events before deciding to proceed with, modify, postpone or cancel an event.
  • For future events we will take all necessary health and safety precautions as advised by the Australian Government and World Health Organisation (WHO) at that point in time.
  • Our refunds policy still applies to all events, and is available here.

View event cancellation and refund policy

Training update

  • We are assessing current face-to-face training planned and we will be contacting all currently-enrolled students in the coming days to confirm how they will be impacted. We do ask that you be patient with us as we work through what is a complex scenario. We are assessing a number of alternative options to deliver our programs virtually or study online. Where this is not ideal, we are also offering a referral to a later date or intake, or a refund if required.
  • At this stage, we are assessing the impact to training up until the end of April. However, we will make rolling-forward assessments on a weekly basis, and will contact affected students as the situation changes.
  • Students who may be having difficulty with completing assessments on time should contact their academic coordinator.
  • Customised training, delivered by Ignition Training, will continue to be delivered, however we will take all precautionary steps as advised by the Australian Government to ensure the health and safety of participants is prioritised.
  • Members concerned with their CPD points being affected during this time can still receive CPD points from several AHRI offerings including formal education (via distance delivery), webinars, reading publications, and participation in AHRI's LinkedIn groups. For more information on how to obtain CPD points, refer to the CPD Guide.

Tips for HR practitioners to help them respond to a global health emergency

AHRI CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett was joined by Head of People and Culture Rosemary Guyatt to share the top tips for HR practitioners to help them respond to a global health crisis.

AHRI will be holding a special Q&A session on Monday 23 March, 10:30-10:45AM AEDT to answer some HR community questions around COVID-19, on Facebook Live.


This page is updated on a regular basis.