As cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 explode across the country, employers and employees are faced with the dilemma of whether to request or provide rapid antigen testing results as a precaution rather than as a response to a public health order.
ACT Health currently requires anyone at high or moderate risk of getting COVID-19 from exposure to a known case to test and isolate after a PCR or rapid antigen test (RAT). But what if the test is just to make sure someone is COVID free?
Snedden Hall & Gallop director and employment law specialist Emily Shoemark said the situations in which an employer can request a rapid antigen test are likely to come down to individual circumstances, but there are some key considerations to cover most situations.
Emily said the first thing is to consider what is lawful and reasonable.
“An employer must take into consideration any public health directions and recommendations and must also take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace,” Emily said.
The steps to provide a safe workplace include having a COVID-safe plan, implementing social distancing measures, requiring the wearing of masks when social distancing is not possible, as well as good standards of hygiene and good ventilation.
“A safe workplace is a balancing act between the employer and the employee. Each must play their part in keeping everyone safe,” Emily said.
“The next thing to consider is, if an employer is requesting an employee take a RAT, what is the reason? Is the business going to suffer if an employee comes to work COVID-19 positive?
“Employees retain their right to choose what happens to their body or refuse medical treatment, but with testing, there is a grey area where this lands.”
Emily said if a job is in a low risk, non-public-facing setting, it is hard for an employer’s request for a RAT to be reasonable, particularly if the tests are hard to get. But if the business is at risk of a catastrophic impact if staff get sick or cannot operate due to a lack of staff, a RAT request becomes more reasonable.
Emily cited the example of an employer in a hospitality business requesting and providing a RAT in order to prevent other staff from getting sick and ensure the business has enough staff to open its doors.
“It is certainly a grey area, but if the employer provides and pays for a test to keep the business running and preserve employees’ shifts or even their jobs if a business is forced to close, that could be seen as a reasonable request. The test of what is reasonable will likely be based on day-to-day circumstances of any particular business.”
Safe Work Australia provides information for employers, small businesses and workers on the COVID-19 vaccines and how to manage risks from COVID-19 in the workplace.
“We are all in control of the safety of our workplace. Based on the Safe Work Australia recommendations, an employer must take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace, and if an employee has any symptoms, they should not come to work. We all share the responsibility to keep everyone safe.”