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Returning to the workplace
The public health order requiring employers to allow employees to work from home (where reasonably practicable) has been repealed.
As employees return to the office, workplaces are encouraged to have COVID-19 Safety Plans in place.
Employers are encouraged to stagger staff starting and finishing times to reduce the impact on public transport.
Follow the latest guidance for wearing a face mask.
What your employer should do
If you are working from home, your employer should:
- provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including what a good work station set up looks like
- require you to familiarise yourself and comply with good ergonomic practices, for example by providing a self-assessment checklist (PDF, 120.86 KB)
- maintain daily communication with you and your co-workers
- provide continued access to an employee assistance program (EAP), and
- appoint a contact person in the business that you and your co-workers can talk to about any concerns.
Your employer must consult with you, other workers at your workplace, and elected Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) on working from home arrangements.
What you should do
You have a duty to take care of your own health and safety and follow health and safety policies, procedures and instructions put in place by your employer. This may include:
- following procedures about how the work is performed
- following instructions on how to use the equipment provided by the workplace
- maintaining a safe work environment (for example, moving furniture to allow adequate workspace and providing adequate lighting, repairing broken steps)
- keeping your equipment safe, well maintained and in good order
- looking after your own in-home safety (for example, maintaining electrical equipment, keeping a first aid kit and installing and maintaining smoke alarms).
You must also advise your employer of any risks that you are aware of that arise from you home working environment. These risks could be physical risks, like poor lighting, or psychosocial risks, like reduced support from managers and colleagues.
Whether working from home is a reasonably practicable measure at your workplace will depend on the specifics of the work you do, the facilities available for you to work remotely and the ability for you to do your work effectively and safely from home.
Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of employees and others at your workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place.
If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, your employer may determine that encouraging or directing you to work from home is the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
In assessing whether you should be working from home, your employer must take into account that vulnerable people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19. Vulnerable people include:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical condition
- people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions (with the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ to be refined as more evidence emerge)
- people 70 years and older
- people with compromised immune systems.
As public health conditions change, any working from home arrangements your employer put in place solely in response to COVID-19 may also vary. For example, if your employer can minimise your risk of exposure to the virus at your usual place of work, the employer may direct you to return.
As with all work health and safety matters, employers must consult with you and any elected Health and Safety Representatives on working from home arrangements.
If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the health advice provided by the local public health authority and notify your employer as soon as practicable, even if you have been working from home.
You will need to discuss personal leave arrangements with your employer and may be asked to inform your employer if you have been in contact with any other employees while you were infectious.
You must not return to work (at the workplace) until you provide advice that you are fit for work.
If you have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, talk to your treating clinician about whether to continue to work from home. Your employer will likely require that you provide medical certification to return to work, in accordance with the latest health requirements.
If you have not been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19 (for example, because you are in quarantine for 14 days due to contact with a confirmed case or returning from overseas travel), you should not need to provide evidence that you have tested negative for COVID-19 in order to return to work.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians.
While working from home is helping to slow the spread of COVID-19, it can create additional risks to mental health.
What your employer should do
Your employer has a duty to ensure your psychological health, just like your physical health, while you’re working. They need to be aware if something is stressing you or you have any concerns.
What you should do
Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety, including their psychological health and safety. Where possible, you must follow reasonable instructions from your employer on health and safety matters.
You should contact your employer if you start feeling stressed or if your mental health is being negatively impacted by your work from home arrangement.
You may also contact your workplace employee assistance program (EAP) to discuss your situation.
Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress.
Some psychosocial hazards that may impact your mental health when working from home include:
- changed family demands (for example, looking after school-aged children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence)
- being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
- less support from supervisors or managers
- changes to work demand (for example, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some employees and reduced workloads for others)
- low job control
- non ergonomic workstation and poor environmental conditions (such as high noise levels)
- poor organisational change management (for example, employees may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work).
To look after your mental health while working from home:
- keep a routine, have regular start and finish times and take regular breaks
- set boundaries between your work and home life and:
- set aside a work area in part of your house
- wear ‘work clothes’ when you are working
- discuss boundaries with the people you live with
- identify and minimise distractions in your home
- maintain daily communication with your manager and colleagues and consider scheduling regular team meetings via phone, email or video
- stay informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with other employees
- access flexible work arrangements, where available
- disengage from work and log off at the end of the day
- take care of your mental and physical health outside of work and:
- get enough sleep
- eat well
- exercise regularly
- stay connected to family and friends
- spend time outside
- reduce your alcohol intake.
Good communication between employers and their employees is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure that you are aware of any working from home and carers policies that relate to your workplace. You may also wish to discuss your entitlements to caring and other leave with your employer.
Read information on leave entitlements on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
You may wish to share tips on balancing work and caring responsibilities with other employees in your workplace. Chat tools and team meetings can be a great place to share this information in a friendly environment. You may also find Comcare’s information sheet for parents and carers helpful.
What your employer should do
Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their employees and others at the workplace. This includes working from home arrangements.
Employees also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them.
This means employers and employees both share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up.
- provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including:
- what a good work station set up looks like
- why employees should not be sedentary all day
- how to avoid this
- require employees to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices (for example, requiring workers to complete a self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you)
- provide tools and support for a workstation assessment
- create a safety check list for employees to follow
- provide employees with information on setting up an ergonomic workstation
- allow employees to borrow equipment (such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses) from the office or reimburse reasonable costs for purchasing equipment.
What you should do
Employees must follow reasonable policies or directions of their employer. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other safety policies and directions given to them by their employer.
As with any other work environment, employees must inform their employer of any notifiable incidents that occur while working at home and are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to their employer and Health and Safety Representative.
When working from home, the model WHS laws still apply. Just as in the office, your workstation must be set up in a way that is safe, comfortable and easy to use. A workstation that is set up incorrectly can create a risk of injury, including poor posture, back problems and eye strain.
What you need to do to set up a safe workstation depends on the work you do, your environment and your individual needs. You have a duty to take care for your own health and safety while working from home and must follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer gives you about setting up your workstation. You should also refer to any relevant advice from the WHS regulator.
When setting up your workstation at home, consider:
- your chair
- you should use an adjustable desk chair, where possible
- your chair should provide lower back support
- the height of your chair should allow your feet to be flat on the floor or on a foot rest, with your knees level with or lower than your hips
- when sitting your shoulders and arms should be relaxed.
- the work surface
- your work surface should be flat and large enough to fit all the items you require
- it should be at a height that allows sufficient leg room (if your desk or table is too high, raise your chair height and use a foot rest)
- your computer screen/s
- the top of your screen should be at eye level — you should not need to arch your neck or dip your chin while looking at the screen
- your screen should be approximately one arm length away from you.
- your keyboard and mouse
- if using a laptop, you should use a separate keyboard and mouse, if possible
- your keyboard should be directly in front of you and you should have your wrists straight and your forearms parallel to the floor (if not, consider using a forearm support)
- your mouse should comfortably fit in your hand and be positioned beside the keyboard
- you should have adequate lighting — consider how the lighting changes throughout the day and any glare on your computer screen
- access to your workstation
- walkways to and from your workstation should be clear and free from trip hazards, such as spills and cords
- electrical hazards
- you should ensure electrical equipment is safe to use, as well as that cords and plugs are not damaged and do not overload power points.
Remember, you have a duty to take care for your own health and safety while working from home.
If you have concerns about the safety of your home workstation set up, you should talk to your HSR and employer. Your Health and Safety Representative and employer will be able to assist you in managing any health and safety risks that arise out of your workstation set up.
To make sure you have a safe workstation set-up, your employer may:
- allow employees to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office
- offer to reimburse you reasonable costs for purchasing required equipment.
You should discuss these options with your employer or consult your workplace policy about working from home. If you require equipment, you should discuss what equipment is needed with your employer to safely carry out your work.
If your employer is unable to be satisfied that a safe workstation can be created at your home, it may not be reasonably practicable for you to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for you in the office and/or establishing flexible work hours to minimise contact between you and other employees in the office.
When you will be allowed to return the workplace will depend on:
- current government advice, including physical distancing requirements at workplaces
- advice from your employer about when it is safe to do so.
Your employer may implement measures to ensure a safe transition back to the workplace. This may include measures to maintain appropriate physical distancing, in line with the latest government advice.
Whether you will need to return to your usual place of work after a period of working from home will depend on a number of factors, including any working from home policies that applied prior to the COVID-19 response.
As public health conditions change, any working from home arrangement your employer put in place solely in response to COVID-19 may vary.
Your employer must consult with you about any directions to return to the workplace and also ensure return to work arrangements adhere to relevant public health requirements (for example, physical distancing or vulnerable employees).
Beyond work, health and safety considerations there are a range of flexible working arrangements that employers and employees can explore together that may suit their individual needs and circumstances.
Working from home resources
Mental health resources
Family violence resources
If you find yourself working from home unexpectedly, you may not have access to the same type of office furniture and equipment you would do in an office.
This workplace health and safety checklist (PDF, 120.86 KB) outlines what to consider when setting up a computer-based workstation at home.