06 May 2024

Navigating COVID-19 in Australian Dental Practices

While we are no longer at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian dental practices continue to face the challenge of balancing operational continuity with the health and safety of staff and patients. While infection control protocols remain paramount, understanding the protocols for attending work when an individual has COVID-19 are equally as important.

Protocols for Attendance When Infected with COVID-19:

Although mandatory isolation is no longer required, staff members exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or testing positive for the virus, should consider a period of leave to rest, recover and prevent further transmission within the practice. Staff requesting time off work due to illness will typically use their personal leave entitlement for this period. In cases where the employee does not have any personal leave, the individual may take a period of annual leave (if mutually agreed) or leave without pay. It should be noted that if the practice directs an employee to go home or not attend the practice, this time should be paid for.

Employees may seek medical advice and follow the guidance provided by their treating practitioner regarding the management of their illness and when it is safe to return to work. Any guidance regarding an employee’s ability to work, or rather not to work, should be documented and adhered to by the practice. Although not a mandatory requirement, where an employee has requested time off work for the purposes of personal leave, practices can request evidence to authenticate that this type of leave was required. Evidence may include a medical certificate. Where an employee’s treating practitioner has provided guidance regarding the time in which they need to be away from the workplace, or has advised that the individual can attend work, but with certain limitations on their capacity, practices should comply with these medical recommendations.

In cases where employees are well enough to work but may have limited capacity, remote or alternative work arrangements should be explored where feasible. For example, consider whether tasks such as administrative duties could be performed remotely to minimise disruption to practice operations, while continuing to uphold health and safety standards.

As public health orders can change from time to time, both employers and employees must consider and comply with any relevant directives issued by state or territory authorities, including requirements for testing, isolation, and quarantine.

Best Practice for Employers and Employees:

Employers have a legal obligation under work health and safety (WHS) laws to provide a safe work environment for their workers. This includes implementing measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Furthermore, employers must respect the privacy and confidentiality of employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are required to isolate. Information about an employee's health status should only be disclosed on a need-to-know basis and in compliance with privacy laws.

While practices are required to uphold WHS standards, employees contribute to this. Employees should comply with any health and safety policies and procedures implemented by the practice to help maintain the safety of other workers and patients. Where an employee is unable to attend work due to COVID-19-related reasons, they should notify the practice as soon as possible and provide relevant documentation, such as a medical certificate or COVID-19 test result, where required. Employees should always follow the advice of healthcare professionals regarding the management of their illness and when it is safe to return to work. All workers within a practice setting have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to protect their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of their colleagues and patients. Where an employee is unsure of the most appropriate step given their condition, they should speak with their manager.

Overall, navigating COVID-19 in Australian dental practices requires a collaborative effort between employers and employees to ensure compliance with infection control protocols and legal obligations. By considering the best practice recommendations outlined in this article, dental practices can effectively manage the risks associated with COVID-19 while safeguarding the well-being of their staff and patients.

For more information or support, please call the ADA HR Advisory Service on 1300 232 462.