Health and safety in the workplace during coronavirus
Employers and employees must follow the rules about health and safety in the workplace during the coronavirus outbreak to help stop it spreading. On this page, find links to resources to help you manage the risks of contracting or spreading coronavirus and answers to frequently asked questions.
On this page:
Health and safety in the workplace
Wearing masks & temperature checks at work
Safe Work Australia has information about when employers can under the model workplace health and safety laws:
- direct workers to wear, or not wear, a mask at work
- conduct temperature checks.
Check what the rules are in your industry on the Safe Work Australia website .
Can an employer direct an employee to use the COVIDSafe app?
The COVIDSafe app helps state and territory health officials to quickly contact people who may have been exposed to coronavirus.
Downloading and using the COVIDSafe app is completely voluntary. Employers can't:
- make current or future employees download or use the app
- make downloading or using the app a condition of employment, or
- make downloading or using the app a condition of the employee entering the workplace or doing their work.
Employers can’t refuse to provide or receive goods or services to or from a person because they’re not using the app.
Employees have workplace rights that protect them from adverse action in these circumstances. For example, employers can’t fire an employee or change their job, because an employee refuses to download or use the app, or refuses to upload data from the app to the National Data Store.
Read more about adverse action on our Protections at work page. Criminal offences could also apply.
When can employers direct employees to stay away from their usual workplace under workplace health and safety laws?
If an employee has coronavirus symptoms , employers should:
- direct the employee to work from home if the job can be done from home, and if the employee is well enough to do the work
- advise the employee to seek urgent medical attention as recommended by the Department of Health .
Safe Work Australia also has information about when an employer can direct employees to stay away from their usual workplace under the model workplace health and safety laws.
What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution?
Employees who want to stay at home as a precaution (but who are not directed to by either their employer or an enforceable government direction) need to come to an arrangement with their employer that best suits their workplace. This may include requesting to work from home (if this is a practical option) or taking some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. Normal leave application processes in the workplace apply. If the employee doesn't enter into an arrangement with their employer or use paid leave, they're not entitled to payment in these circumstances. You can find information on self-quarantine requirements on the Australian Government Department of Health’s website .
Employees are encouraged to discuss their level of risk of contracting coronavirus with their doctor, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate Commonwealth, State or Territory workplace health and safety body.
Employees who don't work because they have a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to their health or safety are not taking industrial action. This is provided they're not failing to comply with a direction to perform other appropriate and safe work.
Example: Employee chooses to self-isolate due to health concerns
Jeff wants to self-isolate as a precaution because he has a weakened immune system. He contacts his employer to discuss his concerns and asks to work from home for the next few weeks.
Jeff's employer is already aware of his condition. They check their working from home policy and conduct a risk assessment to make sure Jeff’s home office will be safe for him to use. They then let Jeff know that they’re happy to let him work from home for the next 2 weeks.
Jeff and his employer agree that after 2 weeks, they'll review the arrangement to make sure it's working and to discuss whether it’s still necessary.
What if an employer wants their employees to stay home as a precaution?
Under workplace health and safety laws, employers must ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace as far as is reasonably practicable. Workers also have responsibilities under those laws.
If an employee is at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because they’ve recently travelled from overseas, or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus), employers should request that they work from home (if this is a practical option - see When can employees work from home?) or not work during the risk period.
Where an employer directs a full-time or part-time employee not to work due to workplace health and safety risks but the employee is ready, willing and able to work, the employee is generally entitled to be paid while the direction applies. However, if an employee cannot work because they're subject to an enforceable government direction requiring them to self-quarantine, the employee isn't ordinarily entitled to be paid (unless they use leave entitlements).
Employers should consider whether their obligations are impacted by any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies, which may be more generous.
Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they cannot be usefully employed because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters.
Standing down employees without pay is not generally available due to a deterioration of business conditions or because an employee has coronavirus. Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay. Employers are not required to make payments to employees for the period of a stand down, but may choose to pay their employees. (See When can employees be stood down without pay?)
Employers need to balance their legal obligations, including those relating to anti-discrimination.
Can employees be directed not to travel?
Employers can direct employees not to undertake work-related travel if this is necessary to meet workplace health and safety obligations or is otherwise a lawful and reasonable direction.
Employers are unlikely to be able to direct an employee not to undertake private travel.