Alternative working arrangements during coronavirus
JobKeeper changes to the Fair Work Act
On 9 April 2020, the Fair Work Act was amended to support the implementation and operation of the JobKeeper scheme in Australian workplaces.
For information about the changes and how they apply, go to JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
We will continue to update our information and encourage you to check our website regularly for updates. You can also sign up for email updates and we’ll email you when more information is available.
During the outbreak of coronavirus, employees' work arrangements may change for several different reasons. This may mean more people working from home and changes to rosters and hours of work.
We encourage employees and employers to work together to find the most beneficial and workable solutions that suit their individual workplaces and staff. We are all facing difficult and unprecedented circumstances, and it’s in everyone’s interests to try to reach productive and cooperative solutions. Employers and employees can explore options that suit their individual needs, including taking different forms of leave (paid and unpaid), working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.
On this page:
When can employees work from home?
Working from home arrangements are usually agreed between an employer and employee. Employers who want to direct employees to work from home should review their obligations under any applicable:
- enterprise agreement
- employment contract, or
- workplace policy.
Employers and employees are encouraged to work together to find the most beneficial and workable solutions that suit their individual workplaces and staff.
Workplace health and safety
When considering work from home arrangements, employers should consider the nature of the work involved and the suitability of the employee’s home. Workplace health and safety laws still apply when an employee is working from home.
For more information read the guidance from Safe Work Australia .
When working from home isn’t possible
For some workplaces, working from home arrangements aren’t possible. Where this is the case and employees need to attend the workplace to work, it’s important that employers consider their workplace health and safety obligations in the workplace during the current pandemic.
The Department of Health provides guidance for employers that covers:
- what coronavirus is and how it spreads
- who is most at risk
- how to minimise its spread in the workplace.
See Department of Health – Coronavirus information for employers .
Enforceable government directions about working from home
Employers should be aware that there might be an enforceable government direction in place that informs whether an employee should work from home.
See List of enforceable government directions during coronavirus.
Hours of work at home
Where employees are required to record their hours of work (for example, in relation to annualised wage arrangements under some awards), this needs to continue when they're working from home. Employers and employees are encouraged to discuss how this should occur.
What if an employee may be experiencing family and domestic violence and is asked to work from home?
For some employees, working from home isn’t always a safe option. There might be alternative arrangements the employer can make.
Under the Fair Work Act, employees dealing with the impact of family and domestic violence can:
- take unpaid family and domestic violence leave
- request flexible working arrangements
- take paid or unpaid sick or carer’s leave, in certain circumstances.
Employers can find information about supporting employees experiencing family and domestic violence workplace in our Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence, contact 1800 RESPECT – the national counselling service for family and domestic violence that provides confidential information, counselling and support.
Can an employer change an employee’s regular roster or hours of work?
Employers may be able to change an employee's regular roster or hours of work. They'll need to consult with their employees about the change to their regular roster or ordinary hours of work under their award or enterprise agreement. In particular, employers have to:
- provide information about the change
- invite employees to give their views about the impact of the change (including any impact in relation to their family or caring responsibilities)
- consider their employees’ views about the impact of the change.
Awards and enterprise agreements may also set out extra rules about changing rosters or ordinary hours of work.
Changes to an employee’s start and finish times (for example, in order to avoid crowds during peak hours) might be possible under the span of hours provisions in an award or enterprise agreement. Some awards and enterprise agreements also allow the span of hours to be varied by agreement.
Reducing a permanent employee’s ordinary hours usually requires the employee’s agreement. See Changing from full-time to part-time or casual employment.
An employer and employee may agree to an ‘individual flexibility arrangement’, which allows them to vary terms in their award or enterprise agreement relating to when work is performed. Individual flexibility arrangements only apply to an individual employee, must be in writing, and are subject to a number of safeguards to ensure the agreement has been genuinely made and the employee is left better off overall.
Can an employer ask their employees to work extra shifts or longer hours?
Employers are able to ask their employees to work extra shifts or longer hours, as long as the request is reasonable.
While many people are working less hours or none at all during the outbreak of coronavirus, some industries are busier than ever. In these circumstances, employers may be asking their employees to work extra shifts or longer hours.
Under the National Employment Standards, a full-time employee can work a maximum of 38 ordinary hours plus reasonable extra hours. Casual and part-time employees can work the lesser of 38 hours, or their ordinary hours of work in a week, plus reasonable extra hours. See our Maximum weekly hours fact sheet.
Whether working the extra hours is reasonable depends on:
- any risk to employee health and safety
- the employee's personal circumstances, including family responsibilities
- the needs of the workplace or enterprise
- whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates or other compensation for (or a level of remuneration that reflects an expectation of ) working additional hours
- how much notice the employer gave their employee
- how much notice the employee gave their employer if they didn't want to work them
- the usual patterns of work in the industry
- the nature of the employee's role and their level of responsibility
- whether the additional hours are in accordance with averaging provisions included in an award or agreement that is applicable to the employee, or an averaging arrangement agreed to by an employer and an award/agreement-free employee
- any other relevant matter.
It's important to check your award, registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policies, as they may have:
- maximum ordinary hours that are more (if reasonable) or less than 38 in a week
- penalties and overtime payments for working above the maximum ordinary hours
- different entitlements for full-time, part-time and casual employees
- guidance on what reasonable extra hours are.
If the extra hours are reasonable, then an employer can ask their employees to work extra shifts or longer hours.
Example: working extra hours
Audrey is a retail assistant working 30 hours part-time at a large grocery store. The store has been especially busy over the last few weeks and her employer has asked her to work an extra 20 hours a week.
Audrey speaks with her employer, letting them know she won't be able to work 20 extra hours because of her family responsibilities. After talking with her employer, they agree that she can work an extra 15 hours. This allows Audrey to help the business out during this busy time and allows her to meet her family responsibilities.