Up Again Australia: People

Employment

1. What options do employers have and/or what are you seeing in terms of re-opening the workplace e.g. phased returns, rotating shifts, staggered working hours, etc.?

Workplaces may offer different staffing solutions when it comes to businesses reopening in the coming months.

The government has recommended that everyone maintains a 1.5 metre distance from one another and, where possible a space of 4 square metres per person.

Safe Work Australia has published guidance and resources for various industries.

Every employer should:

  • allow workers to work from home, where possible;
  • encourage physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 1.5m between people;
  • encourage all workers to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or hand sanitiser;
  • be aware of how to spot COVID-19 symptoms and make sure workers don’t come to work if unwell;
  • make sure the workplace is regularly cleaned and disinfected; and
  • have signs and posters in the workplace reminding workers of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures necessary to stop its spread.

Suggestions for maintaining physical distancing include:

  • staggering start and finish times;
  • separating workers into different day/week shifts in the workplace;
  • ensuring each worker has their own tools and equipment and reducing the need to share tools and equipment;
  • delaying tasks requiring two people to work together closely or using mechanical aids (e.g. lifting tasks); and
  • using technology to communicate.

2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?

There is no specified form or procedure for notice. But employers must communicate with their workers and provide them with adequate information and training on safe working practices in the context of COVID-19.

3. Is an employer obliged to consult with employees/representatives about the return to work process?

Generally, there is no consultation requirement. But employers may be required under safety laws to consult on safe work practices or may have consultation requirements under industrial awards or agreements.

4. Are there any requirements or recommendations for employees to wear or employers to provide masks or other protective equipment in the workplace?

PPE such as masks, gloves, eye protection and screens may be required in some industries (e.g. healthcare or policing) or in performing some tasks (e.g. facing the public in a retail setting). Some types of masks, eye protection and gowns are restricted to healthcare only.

PPE may form part of the risk-control measures that an employer implements.

5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?

There is no specified date when business travel can resume. A ban was imposed by the Australian government on Australians travelling overseas on 24 March 2020 under the Biosecurity Act 2015. At this stage, in Australia, there are restrictions on most travel, including business travel between states and, in some states, within the state. In most cases, a person wanting to travel must fall within one of the exemptions, and mandatory 14-day quarantine periods are likely to apply.

6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?

  • staggering start and finish times;
  • separating workers into different day/week shifts in the workplace;
  • ensuring each worker has their own tools and equipment and reducing the need to share tools and equipment;
  • delaying tasks requiring two people to work together closely or using mechanical aids (e.g. lifting tasks); and
  • using technology to communicate.

Schools in most states are resuming. Employers and employees should maintain an open channel of communication to assist facilitating individual circumstances.