News

COVID-19 | Employ­ers and the COVID­Safe App

By Michael Byrnes, Part­ner and Emi­ly Capen­er, Solicitor

The COVID­Safe app recent­ly released by the Depart­ment of Health is one mea­sure cur­rent­ly being under­tak­en by the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment to facil­i­tate the process of con­tact­ing peo­ple who may have been exposed to coronavirus. 

The mes­sage from author­i­ties is that the more Aus­tralians who down­load the app, the eas­i­er it will be to trace out­breaks of the virus and poten­tial­ly pre­vent fur­ther spread. 

Some peo­ple are of the view that if you’re not down­load­ing the app you’re let­ting the side down’ or not doing your bit’. Whether that view is jus­ti­fied is a mat­ter for debate and beyond the scope of this arti­cle, but some employ­ers who hold that view might be tempt­ed, either out of what they con­sid­er to be gen­er­al com­mu­ni­ty duty or as a way of man­ag­ing work­place safe­ty risk, to pur­port to direct staff to down­load the app with a threat to impose dis­ci­pli­nary action on employ­ees who refuse to do so. Any employ­ers con­tem­plat­ing such a course should reconsider. 

In that regard, clause 9 of the Biose­cu­ri­ty (Human Biose­cu­ri­ty Emer­gency) (Human Coro­n­avirus with Pan­dem­ic Poten­tial) (Emer­gency Require­ments — Pub­lic Health Con­tact Infor­ma­tion) Deter­mi­na­tion 2020 (the Deter­mi­na­tion), made pur­suant to sub­sec­tion 477(1) of the Biose­cu­ri­ty Act 2015 makes it clear that down­load­ing and using COVID­Safe is entire­ly vol­un­tary and such a direc­tion from an employ­er would be unlawful. 

Specif­i­cal­ly, clause 9(1) of the Deter­mi­na­tion states:

  1. A per­son must not require that anoth­er person: 
  • down­load COVID­Safe to a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device; or
  • have COVID­Safe in oper­a­tion on a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device; or
  • con­sent to upload­ing COVID app data from a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device to the Nation­al COVID­Safe Data Store.

Clause 9(2) of the Deter­mi­na­tion rel­e­vant­ly states:

(2) A per­son must not:

  • take adverse action (with­in the mean­ing of the Fair Work Act 2009) against anoth­er person;

on the ground that, or on grounds that include the ground that, the oth­er person:

  • has not down­loaded COVID­Safe to a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device; or
  • does not have COVID­Safe in oper­a­tion on a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device; or
  • has not con­sent­ed to upload­ing COVID app data from a mobile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions device to the Nation­al COVID­Safe Data Store.

This means that an employ­er must not require its employ­ees to down­load or use the app even where those employ­ees are still required to work at the employ­er’s premis­es or may be in con­tact with oth­er employ­ees or clients. In addi­tion, an employ­er can­not take adverse action (such as warn­ings for mis­con­duct or ter­mi­na­tion of employ­ment) against an employ­ee (or poten­tial employ­ee) for fail­ing to down­load or use COVIDSafe. 

Sec­tion 479 of the Biose­cu­ri­ty Act 2015 pro­vides that a breach of the Dec­la­ra­tion may attract a max­i­mum penal­ty of 5 years impris­on­ment or 300 penal­ty units ($63,000).

Notably, while the Deter­mi­na­tion pre­vents employ­ers from coerc­ing employ­ees to use COVID­Safe, it does not pre­vent employ­ers from encour­ag­ing its use. It is of vital impor­tance, how­ev­er, that employ­ers observe this dis­tinc­tion when dis­cussing COVID­Safe with employees.

If you have any ques­tions or con­cerns about the use of COVID­Safe app in the work­place, con­tact us today on +61 2 9233 5544.

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