COVID-19 UPDATE

 

An important update regarding your business, your staff and your insurance during the COVID-19 outbreak

LAST UPDATED: 08/04/2020

 

 

All Guild Insurance customers can rest assured that it is business as usual when it comes to dealing with us. We have implemented our own Business Continuity Plan, and our team is operating within all Government requirements regarding social distancing to help minimise the spread of COVID-19.

While our call centre is experiencing higher than usual demand at this stage, and our Account Managers are supporting customers via phone and video conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings, there are no other changes to our services during this time.

If you wish to speak to your Account Manager, or a Customer Care Consultant, you can do so by calling 1800 810 213.

To assist you with some of the most pressing questions, we have developed the following resources, and will be regularly updating as new information comes to hand.

 


Telehealth or telepractice services

With recent government action further enforcing social distancing measures, along with consequent shutdowns of numerous businesses and practices, we understand that you may have questions around remote consultations, referred to as telehealth or telepractice.

Telehealth or telepractice services refers to the use of telecommunications technology to deliver clinical services at a distance, allowing for consultations to be performed without needing the patient to attend the practitioner's physical location.

We view telehealth as another medium for delivering information as part of your professional duties. As long as the service and advice provided is within your scope of practice, you will still be covered. 

Professionals within the following fields can provide telehealth services and still be covered:

  • Audiologists
  • Acupuncturists/Chinese medicine practitioners
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Diabetes educators
  • Dietitians
  • Ergonomists
  • Exercise physiologists and exercise scientists
  • Natural therapists
  • Nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Osteopaths
  • Pharmacists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Podiatrists
  • Rehabilitation providers
  • Speech pathologists
  • Veterinarians

When engaging in telehealth practices, it's important for practitioners to remember that record keeping protocol should remain the same as with in-person consultations, ensuring that notes are diligently kept for each consultation. 

Further information on the nature of the risks involved in telehealth services is coming soon.

Fitness Professionals – Please Read

With the increasing measures being taken by the Government to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on Australia, we understand the challenges that are facing the fitness industry in particular. 

As of publishing, these measures include two person limits for all public gatherings, including outdoor exercise and boot camps. Despite these challenges, together with Fitness Australia, we’re working hard to ensure that as a fitness professional, you can continue to work on, in line with all government regulations.

These modalities are considered to be within your scope of practice as a fitness professional, so long as government health and safety directives are strictly followed.

As per the recent two-person limits on public gatherings, all outdoor training sessions are now required to be one-on-one and compliant with social distancing measures advised by the government.

This means keeping a minimum two metre distance between yourself (the trainer) and the client while adhering to strict hygiene and health measures such as frequent hand washing and thorough sanitisation.

Please refer to Fitness Australia’s Outdoor Training Guidelines for further information.

As countless Australians begin working out from home, now could be a good time to conduct digital personal training sessions. While this is a great alternative to ensure business continuity, trainers must adhere to government directives while remote training sessions take place.

When shooting personal training sessions indoors, the two-person limit still applies. That means only yourself (the trainer) and the camera operator, OR yourself (the trainer) and the client may be present in the room.

Adherence to social distancing measures such as keeping a minimum two metre distance and maintaining rigorous health and hygiene practices is essential throughout the duration of each session.

Identifying the risks your business may be facing

The impact of COVID-19 on all businesses, including your own, is likely to be material. If you have not already undertaken a risk and impact assessment, you should make this a priority. The breadth of the impact resulting from COVID-19 may be far-reaching – from employee health, to supply chain disruption, to rapidly changing government advice or regulation.

Businesses should seek to understand the scenarios that could most impact them and invest in appropriate control and response measures that reflect the exposure.

Following are some potential actions that you should consider:

You need to ensure that you are taking necessary steps to protect both your employees' and customers’ health and safety.

Familiarise yourself with, and  leverage the government expertise and information available to maintain employees’ physical and mental well-being, and provide guidance to any employees who may be impacted.

Keep employees and customers informed of how COVID-19 may have impacted on the services you provide and how you are handling the situation to ensure their safety.

Government regulations to help manage the spread of COVID-19 are changing rapidly, make sure you monitor government and regulator websites to ensure you stay up to date with regulations. The best place to do so is through the Department of Health

Supply chains may be impacted or change, and you may need to consider inventory management, demand management and logistics. It’s important to realise that these may change on a day-to-day basis.

Review all contracts with key customers and suppliers to understand any liability or alternative solutions in the event of supply shortage.

Determine your own exposure to supply issues by identifying current stocks and buffer inventory and short-term inventory management plans.

The economic outlook as a result of COVID-19 may lead to a global economic recession. This could have a significant impact on your business. You should review cash flow, working capital and inventory forecasts alongside supply and demand predictions.

A good place to start is to review the top five biggest costs contributing to your expenses, and see what, if any alterations can be made to minimise unnecessary spending, or uncover unexpected savings for your business to fully understand how your financial stability may be impacted from changes arising from COVID-19.

You should also review the Australian Government’s recently introduced financial support measures in response to COVID-19 disruption via the Australian Tax Office to see if any of the measures announced apply to your individual circumstances.

 

Managing the disruption faced by your business

Once you have identified the risks that you and your business may be facing it’s important to apply the insights uncovered to your business as quickly as possible, while many of the procedures you implement will be unique to your business, there are a number that can apply to most business.

The following suggestions have been compiled to assist you, as a business owner or operator, to better manage the disruption you may be experiencing in your business:

Keeping your business clean and hygienic is always important for several reasons, however we all know this has become so much more important as we deal with COVID-19.

Some tips for maintaining a hygienic business:

  • Frequently clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as tabletops and doorknobs, especially those shared with others, using detergent solution as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ensure all staff are cleaning their hands regularly using soap and water, particularly before and after eating and after going to the toilet. If your business involves touching customers, hands should be thoroughly cleaned before and after this has occurred.
  • Provide guidance to customers before or on arrival, for example; ask customers to clean their hands when they enter the premises.
  • Have hand sanitiser available, and encourage use by staff and customers.
  • Avoid shaking hands, or other physical contact with colleagues and customers.
  • Discourage the use of money, instead encourage customers to pay using cards to minimise contact.

Further information about maintaining a hygienic business can be found at The Department of Health

Your customers are going to understandably be as concerned about the impacts of COVID-19 as you may be. Your communication with them will go a long way in reassuring them that you’re doing what you should to stay safe and limit the risk of infection.

  • Keep in contact with your customers and be sure you’re updating them on the steps you’re taking to minimise your and their risk.
  • Send an email to all customers informing them of the steps you’re taking and what you’re doing to continue offering a service to them, albeit a potentially modified service.
  • Remind your customers of the symptoms of COVID-19, ensuring you take this information from reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation and the Australian Federal Government.This could be done in emails to customers but also place signage around your business.
  • Place signage around the business reminding everyone of the need to wash their hands and use sanitiser you’ve provided. While we’re all aware of the risks of COVID-19, we also need continual reminding as behaviour changes don’t come easily.
  • Encourage your customers to contact you if they have concerns about experiencing symptoms so you can talk to them about whether or not they should be attending your business and if there’s another option for you to provide a service to them in a more safe manner.
  • Have a clear cancellation policy and process, keeping in mind you may wish to change this from your usual policy.You may wish to allow a shorter than usual cancellation time for customers to still be entitled to a refund, as a way of discouraging people from attending your business when they shouldn’t.

There are a few factors which are affecting the ability for individuals and businesses to access the supplies they need, particularly trade restrictions and panic buying. It’s vital that you’re are fully aware of what products you need to run your business, what you currently have in supply and where you’re going to source your products when you need more.

To assist with managing your stock, keep an inventory of what you need and what you have and review this more often than you usually would. You need to keep on top of this, especially if there are supplies you can’t run your business without.

You should check with your suppliers if they’re experiencing any backlogs on essential items. While we are not encouraging hoarding of supplies in any way, if you’re aware there is a one or two month wait on an essential item, you’ll need to order it before your supplies are too low. Also, it would be advisable to consider getting in touch with other suppliers, not just your usual, to be sure you can get hold of what you need, when you need them.

Unfortunately, the challenges we’re all facing with COVID-19 are changing daily, in some states it is even more frequently than that. This means the plans we all have in place today will possibly change quite soon. Therefore, it’s important you’re keeping up to date with advice being given. It’s also important you’ve thought about and planned for the situation to escalate. Unfortunately, we all need to be prepared for things to worsen before they get better. Therefore, you need to think about what strategies you can put in place should it become more challenging to run your business. Are there other ways to offer your business to customers, such as via Telehealth services, or online video?  Are there ways for you to reduce costs with some of what you do?

The following webpage has useful information to assist businesses manage the impact of COVID-19:

https://www.business.gov.au/Risk-management/Emergency-management/Coronavirus-information-and-support-for-business/Continuing-your-business

If you’re having concerns about cash flow, paying fixed costs such as rent, wages, utilities and loan repayments, the earlier you act the easier it can be to negotiate temporary payment terms with your lenders, creditors and suppliers.

We strongly recommend getting in contact with your bank or financial institution as soon as possible to discuss your situation. Most have dedicated business hardship contact lines.

The Australian Taxation Office can help you with your tax and super obligations if you're experiencing difficulties. For tailored support, contact the ATO Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 or visit the website for more information.

 

Managing the impact on your staff

Your people are, in many cases, the driving force behind your business. We understand how important their wellbeing is to you, and the pressures the current situation is placing on businesses around the country. To help you gain a general overview of what you should be considering from a workplace relations point of view, we’ve partnered with Meridian Lawyers to provide the following general information.

The following FAQ’s have been prepared to assist our customers with some of the more common workplace relations questions being asked about COVID 19. The following is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. You should seek specific legal advice for your business (having regard to workplace policies, procedures, the industry, employment contracts, industrial instruments and other factors) before acting on any of the content.

From 11.59pm on Sunday 15 March 2020, all people arriving from overseas (whether Australian citizens or visitors) are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Guides relating to self-isolation are available from the Department of Health.

A full-time or part-time employee who is absent from work because they are sick (or to care for a member of their immediate family or household who is sick) may access their paid sick (personal) leave. A person who is self-isolating, but not yet sick themselves is not entitled to access their sick leave entitlement. They may access their annual leave entitlement. If they do not have enough accrued annual leave, you may agree with them that they can take (and be paid) annual leave in advance. Long service leave may be an option for employees who qualify.

If it is possible for an employee in isolation to perform work (even if it is not all of the usual duties, or altered / new duties – for example reviewing policies or drafting materials), then they should be paid. It may be that a combination of paid work (for the work that can be done offsite) and leave (paid or unpaid) is required for the isolation period. 

Casual employees who are not able to attend work are not entitled to be paid, but adverse action should not be taken against them (i.e. a decision not to offer more shifts in the future) because they have had to self-isolate.

Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are the same as those for colds and other viruses. The WHO website lists the most common symptoms as fever, tiredness and a dry cough.

If an employee presents with symptoms and has not been tested to exclude COVID-19, then there is a risk that they have the virus. Employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of all workplace participants (that includes employees, volunteers, clients, enrolled students, visitors and contractors) and it may be appropriate to require a person who may have COVID-19 not to attend work. Employers may also remind employees that they too have an obligation to take reasonable care not to adversely affect the health and safety of others.

If the employee is of the view that they are fit for work, but the employer makes the decision to send them home, then in most cases they are entitled to be paid. It may be possible to direct the employee to perform work at home (if it is safe and appropriate for them to do so). If it is not possible for the employee to perform work from home they should still be paid.

An employer can require the employee to obtain a medical clearance so that they can return to work.  It may be difficult for an employee to obtain the test (given the strain on medical resources) and it may take a number of days to get the results. An employee with who is diagnosed with COVID-19 can then access accrued sick (personal) leave. If the employee does not have enough sick leave to cover the period of the illness they may apply for annual leave. An employer cannot unreasonably refuse an employee’s request for annual leave.

A government / regulatory authority direction to close down the premises / industry to manage the COVID-19 pandemic would likely enable the use of the stand-down provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009.

The Act provides that (where the matter is not covered in an employment contract or enterprise agreement) an employee may be temporarily stood down without pay during a period where the employee cannot be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.

If there is a clause in the employee’s contract or enterprise agreement that deals with standing down employees, then those provisions should be followed and apply instead of the provisions in the Act.

An employee will continue to accrue leave during the period of the stand-down (as though they had worked). An employee so entitled, may take paid leave in the stand-down period. 

A person who has been ‘in contact’ with a person who has COVID-19 must self-quarantine. ‘In contact’ with means greater than 5 minutes face-to-face contact in any setting with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the period extending from 24 hours before the onset of symptoms in the confirmed case; or sharing a closed space for 2 hours or more with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the period extending from 24 hours of the onset of symptoms in the confirmed case.

The employer may direct employees who have been ‘in contact’ to work from home or take leave (see earlier questions). The employer will need to decide whether the visitor presented a risk to others at the workplace and take appropriate steps. Those steps may include closing the premises down for a period to undertake additional cleaning.

If the business (i.e. a childcare centre) is required to report the matter to a regulatory authority and the authority / department or government directs the business to close down, then it is likely that the stand-down provisions in the Act will apply and employees can be directed not to attend work without pay (unless they request to access an entitlement they have to paid leave).

The position is not as clear if closing the premises and sending staff home for a period is the decision of the employer (prudently taken to protect the health and safety of others). In those circumstances, and particularly if the close down is for a short (one to two-day period), best practice would be to pay the employees for that period, but it is possible that the stand down provisions in the Act may apply.

An employee may take personal leave to care for an immediate family member or household member who is sick or injured or to assist in an emergency. Care should be taken not to take adverse action against an employee because of the need to provide care in these circumstances, even when the need to provide care extends beyond the period of any leave entitlement.

Discussing the issue with your employees is a good first step. Some employees may agree to reduce hours on a temporary or permanent basis. Employees may be willing to take annual or long service leave or even extended unpaid leave (by agreement) for a period to allow you to see if business improves.

If the downturn continues, or the definite decision is taken that not all the positions are needed and to reduce staff numbers, then you may make some employees redundant. The employer will need to follow the usual redundancy procedures, including consulting with the affected employees and considering whether there are any options for redeployment within the business or any associated entities. The employees may be entitled to redundancy payments (there is an exemption for most employers with less than 15 employees, including employees of associated entities in the head count). If more than 15 employees are being made redundant, notice must also be given to the  Department of Human Services.

 

Understanding your Insurance policy

At times like this, understanding your insurance policy before a specific incident is essential. Understanding what you are covered for is just as important as understanding what you’re not covered for. While your insurance arrangements with Guild are specific to your individual circumstances and profession, following is some general information to bear in mind during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, most Business Insurance policies, including Guild’s contain an exclusion that means Business Interruption cover for loss of income does not extend to losses arising following the declaration of specific human infectious diseases listed in Commonwealth legislation including COVID-19.

If your business is a dental, chiropractic, podiatry or osteopathy clinic, please call 1800 810 213 to discuss your individual circumstances in greater detail.

Insurance would be unaffordable if it sought to cover all possible losses. Insurers must decide what losses can be covered. Most of the insurance industry provides loss of income cover that is restricted to certain communicable diseases only (generally those resulting in a localised outbreak at the business premises) and not others (those being quarantinable diseases). This is because modelling has shown that funds held by the insurance industry could not pay for claims arising from a widespread pandemic. In other words, a global pandemic would bankrupt the Australian insurance industry.

Guild Insurance seeks to balance our commitment of only making promises that we can keep against striving to provide the level of cover that you need and expect from us. We understand that many of our customers will expect this cover to be in place. Unfortunately, we (and the rest of the industry) don’t have the funds to provide the cover to most businesses. This is a significant social issue that is being dealt with via government financial support.

The specific human infectious diseases for which loss of income is not covered by your policy are listed in Commonwealth legislation. Originally these were deemed quarantinable diseases under the Quarantine Act 1908 (Cth) which was later replaced with listed human diseases under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth).

While the Department of Health maintains a list of over 50 ‘Listed Diseases’ there are eight key diseases that are listed under the Biosecurity Act 2015, including:

  • Human influenza with pandemic potential
  • Plague
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome
  • Smallpox
  • Viral haemorrhagic fevers
  • Yellow Fever
  • Human coronavirus with pandemic potential

As human coronavirus with pandemic potential is listed here under the Biosecurity Act 2015, it is excluded from your cover.

No, this exclusion has been in place for a number of years now, nothing has changed due to recent events.

No, this exclusion is very common in insurance. While there may be some exceptions, most business insurance policies do not respond to the outbreak of an infectious disease that is outside the immediate area, especially interstate or overseas, and therefore not directly impacting the insured property, or business.

Cover is generally available. Healthcare, Childcare and Veterinarian professionals need to have complied with all relevant published professional and/or government protocols and standards for the treatment of patients in order that cover is available.

If you wish to discuss your insurance cover with us please contact your Account Manager or a Customer Care Consultant on 1800 810 213.

Insurance costs are a significant business expense and there are several options available to ease its impact on your cashflow:

  • You can pay your premium in twelve equal monthly instalments rather than in one annual lump sum. With this option you pay no more than the annual premium equivalent. 
  • Professional Indemnity and Public & Products Liability premiums are influenced by your annual business turnover or the hours you work for practitioner policies. You may reduce your premium if your turnover or hours worked reduce materially.
  • Similarly, if you have workers compensation cover with us, then your premium may reduce if your annual wages also reduce.

Please do not hesitate to contact your Account Manager, or a Customer Care Specialist by calling 1800 810 213 if you would like to discuss any of the above options.