Returning to the workplace – interactive employer tool

Returning to work infographic

This tool can help you get your business back up and running during coronavirus. It's for small businesses across a range of industries including retail, hospitality and office-based work. Larger businesses will find the information here useful too.

Use the tool to get information and links that will help you plan to reopen, scale up, manage working arrangements and keep up-to-date with workplace laws during the pandemic.

This tool is easy to use:

  1. Select the stage that your workplace is at (for example, reopening, scaling up or adapting).
  2. Select the topic you need information about.

Because of the impact of coronavirus, there have been some temporary changes to workplace laws. Find out whether these changes, such as unpaid pandemic leave, affect your workplace.

Check current changes to workplace laws

image of book in green circle

Check for any changes to your applicable award – find out if your award has been temporarily changed because of coronavirus at Changes to workplace laws during coronavirus. This could include unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave flexibility in the award.

Make sure you communicate any important updates to your employees. Communicating early and effectively can help ease everyone back to work and resolve any issues before they arise at the workplace.

Subscribe for updates on future changes

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Keep up to date about changes that may affect you, including:

  • changes to awards
  • changes to the Fair Work Act
  • industry updates.

Get the latest information by subscribing to our email updates.

Before you reopen, you should create a COVIDSafe plan and discuss that plan with your employees. Start thinking about how your employees can safely transition back to the workplace.

Health and safety in the workplace

image of shop front

COVID‑19 will be with us for some time, so it’s important that your business has a plan – and continues to plan – to keep your workplace healthy, safe and virus‑free.

Before you reopen, you should create a COVIDSafe plan that details what changes you’ll make to ensure your workplace is healthy and safe for trading. In some states and industries, this is a legal requirement.

Use the Safe Work Australia – Small business COVID-19 planning tool external-icon.png to create your COVIDSafe plan.

For more information, see:

COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace

icon of a vaccination bottle

Make sure you understand your obligations and responsibilities for COVID-19 vaccinations when you plan your reopening.

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations

Visit our COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace section for information and guidance about COVID-19 vaccinations and Australia’s workplace laws.

We encourage employers and employees to work together to find solutions that suit their individual needs and workplaces. A collaborative approach in the workplace that includes discussing, planning and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations can help deliver the best results for workers and businesses.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Employers may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated where:

Employers may be required to direct employees to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law. Employers should also consider how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply.

You should get your own legal advice if you’re considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in your workplace.

Workplace issues

Learn how you can help resolve any workplace issues about COVID-19 vaccinations and find where to go for the right help at COVID-19 vaccinations: resolving workplace issues.

Talk to your employees about your COVIDSafe plan

two people with speech bubbles

Once you’ve prepared your COVIDSafe plan, talk to your employees about it. You should:

  • discuss changes you’ve made to ensure your workplace is safe
  • give your employees a point of contact to discuss any concerns they have
  • encourage them to ask questions
  • let your employees know who to contact for updates and information.

It may be useful to organise a specific supervisor or manager to take responsibility for coordinating the return to work process and be the main point of contact for employees. This can help create a smoother transition and ensure that employees get consistent information.

Talking to your employees about reopening is best practice. It can also be a requirement under an award, an agreement, an employment contract or a workplace policy that applies to your business.

Consider alternative work arrangements

image of 2 people separated by line

Many employees' work arrangements have changed because of COVID-19. These changes include more people working from home, changes to rosters, hours of work or duties. We encourage employees and employers to work together to find the best solution for both their workplaces and staff.

Some states and territories continue to have rules in place about people working from home. Check Australia.gov.au external-icon.png to keep up to date.

For more information about planning for flexibility in the workplace, including flexible working options, see Alternative work arrangements.

There have been some temporary changes to workplace laws because of the impacts of coronavirus. Consider whether these changes affect your workplace and for how long. Make sure you communicate any important changes to your employees.

Understand award changes and unpaid pandemic leave

image of book

Some awards have also been temporarily varied to add increased flexibility because of coronavirus. These changes may impact employee entitlements like duties at work and types of leave.

See if your award has been varied and when the temporary provisions started and when they are due to end at Changes to workplace laws during coronavirus.

Unpaid pandemic leave and changes to annual leave also apply under some awards. Check your award at Unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave changes to awards.

Subscribe for updates

image of mail

Keep up to date on changes that affect you, including:

  • changes to awards, including any extension to flexibility provisions
  • changes to the Fair Work Act
  • industry updates.

Get the latest information by subscribing to our email updates.

It’s important that your employment records are up to date. This ensures that you’re meeting your record-keeping obligations and that you have accurate information about your employees’ leave and other entitlements.

Keep a record of changes

image of hand, cross, dollar symbol

Keeping the appropriate records is required for any business, large or small. This helps to ensure that employees are paid their correct wages and entitlements.

If you stood down an employee under the Fair Work Act, your records should show that for the period they were stood down:

  • their leave entitlements accrued based on their normal hours of work (as though they hadn’t been stood down)
  • there is no break in service (for example, for the purpose of calculating notice or redundancy entitlements).

Check the rules about stand downs at Stand downs.

Other changes to any workplace arrangements, such as hours of work or pay, also need to be recorded and kept as part of your records. For more information, see our Record-keeping page. 

Meet record-keeping obligations

 box with records

You can find detailed information, including templates, about your time and wage record-keeping obligations, at Pay slips and record-keeping.

Keep records about the return to work, including records of:

  • notifications to return to work or end a stand down
  • agreed alternative working arrangements
  • agreements made under an award, agreement or employment contract (for example, agreements about returning on fewer hours, working from home or working staggered shifts).

As restrictions begin to ease, your business may be ready to restart activities that you had to stop during periods of shutdown. (For example, if a café may be moving back to dine in after only operating a take-away only service for some time.) In this section, find out how you can safely scale up your operations when restrictions begin to ease and return your business to pre-shut down levels.

Use tools to make your workplace safe

image of tools

Use the following tools to get your workplace ready:

COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace

icon of a vaccination bottle

Make sure you understand your obligations and responsibilities for COVID-19 vaccinations when you plan your reopening.

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations

Visit our COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace section for information and guidance about COVID-19 vaccinations and Australia’s workplace laws.

We encourage employers and employees to work together to find solutions that suit their individual needs and workplaces. A collaborative approach in the workplace that includes discussing, planning and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations can help deliver the best results for workers and businesses.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Employers may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated where:

Employers may be required to direct employees to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law. Employers should also consider how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply.

You should get your own legal advice if you’re considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in your workplace.

Workplace issues

Learn how you can help resolve any workplace issues about COVID-19 vaccinations and find where to go for the right help at COVID-19 vaccinations: resolving workplace issues.

Review your COVIDSafe plan

image of folder with papers inside

As more employees return to your workplace, and as government restrictions are eased or reimposed, you should review your business’s COVIDSafe plan.

You’ll need to identify emerging or new risks and amend your plan, so it is always up to date. It’s best to:

  • talk to your employees about any risks to their health and safety and how these will be managed
  • give your employees a point of contact to discuss their concerns
  • encourage them to ask questions.

If you need further guidance on your COVIDSafe plan, use the Safe Work Australia – Small business COVID-19 planning tool external-icon.png.

Make arrangements to transition your workplace as you scale up

 people sitting around a table with speech bubbles

As you scale up, think about how to prepare your employees to return to work and the workplace. Try to reach an agreement by understanding each employee’s situation and planning how they can best return.

This includes considering things like:

  • an employee’s caring responsibilities (for example, a parent with school-aged children)
  • an employee’s concerns (for example, physical health and mental wellness)
  • health and safety equipment (for example, masks and hand sanitiser)
  • organisational requirements (for example, employee rotations in the workplace).

Remember to communicate with your employees early and clearly to help your transition back to the workplace run smoothly. Even when restrictions have eased, people may still be nervous about returning to work. We encourage you to talk to your employees about their concerns.

Employees may have concerns about the health and safety of the workplace or questions about COVID-19 vaccinations. Find out more about your obligations at: 

It may be useful to organise a specific supervisor or manager to take responsibility for coordinating the return to work process and be the main point of contact for employees. This can help create a smoother transition and ensure that employees get consistent information.

For help and tips on talking to your employees, take our Workplace flexibility – online course. It's free and can be completed in under 40 minutes.

Mental health services

icon of a head with a + sign inside

Free online resources can help support business owners’ and employees’ mental health during this challenging time.

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue external-icon.png have a dedicated COVID-19 website including information to help small business owners and managers support their employees, and manage their own mental health.

Head to Health

Head to Health external-icon.png by the Australian Government offers free online mental health resources from trusted mental health service providers. This includes digital tools and information on COVID-19 mental health issues, such as coping in lockdowns and dealing with isolation.

Lifeline

Lifeline external-icon.png provides support to anyone experiencing a personal crisis. You can call them free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere in Australia on 131 114.

Safe Work Australia

Access Safe Work Australia guidance for managing mental health in the workplace external-icon.png

Understanding the rules and your obligations when hiring new employees will help you to get things right and focus on other business considerations.

Hire new employees

 magnifying glass hovering over paper

If you’ve hired employees before, make sure you’re up to date with the latest workplace laws. See Hiring employees.

If you’re new to hiring someone, you can use the business.gov.au – Hiring employees checklist external-icon.png to make sure you get things right from the start. The checklist will help you meet Australian laws in areas such as:

  • minimum pay rates
  • employee entitlements
  • tax and super.

There’s also advice on record-keeping, business planning and other employer obligations.

As more employees return to your workplace, it’s important to review your COVIDSafe plan to keep your workplace safe and free of coronavirus.

Use tools to help keep your workplace safe

image of tools

You are legally required to ensure a safe work environment for your employees. Employees and other workers also have responsibilities for their own and others’ health and safety.

The health and safety of everyone in the workplace should be the first priority when managing the return to the workplace.

Develop and review your COVIDSafe plan with the Safe Work Australia – Small business COVID-19 planning tool external-icon.png. This is an online tool for businesses to help plan to keep their employees, customers and the community safe as they reopen.

For more information, visit:

COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace

icon of a vaccination bottle

Make sure you understand your obligations and responsibilities for COVID-19 vaccinations when you plan your reopening.

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations

Visit our COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace section for information and guidance about COVID-19 vaccinations and Australia’s workplace laws.

We encourage employers and employees to work together to find solutions that suit their individual needs and workplaces. A collaborative approach in the workplace that includes discussing, planning and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations can help deliver the best results for workers and businesses.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Employers may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated where:

Employers may be required to direct employees to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law. Employers should also consider how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply.

You should get your own legal advice if you’re considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in your workplace.

Workplace issues

Learn how you can help resolve any workplace issues about COVID-19 vaccinations and find where to go for the right help at COVID-19 vaccinations: resolving workplace issues.

Prepare for the transition

image of 2 people separated by line

When preparing and reviewing your COVIDSafe plan to transition more employees back to the workplace, you need to make sure the workplace is safe for all workers.

Your plan needs to consider:

For further guidance, go to Planning the return to work.

Keep your workplace safe from COVID-19

image of folder with papers inside

There will be things you’ll need to think about to help keep your workplace, employees, customers and visitors safe.

Follow the rules about workplace health and safety and ensure employees stay home if they are unwell. Issues that might arise include:

Make sure you communicate and consult on changes with your employees. By discussing these changes and inviting any feedback, you’re more likely to have the rules adopted and promoted in your workplace.

Remember that you may be required to consult with workers and health and safety representatives on health and safety matters relating to coronavirus, including control measures in the workplace. You may also need to report any positive cases of COVID-19 in your workplace. To learn more, contact your state or territory Workplace health and safety regulator.

For more health advice and resources, please see the Department of Health’s website external-icon.png.

Consider flexible workplace arrangements

work from home

In addition to workplace health and safety issues, think about any flexible workplace arrangements that might help mitigate the impact of coronavirus. These can include:

  • flexible working arrangements, such as a mixed workplace/work from home model, where possible
  • rotating employees based on physical distancing and operational requirements, such as staggering working days or hours
  • scheduling breaks or shift changes to avoid crowding at exits and in lifts and break rooms.

Learn more about these options at Managing the return to work and the workplace.

As restrictions ease or are modified, you need to keep updated on government advice and information to make sure your workplace can remain open and operational. This could include following physical distancing requirements, limits on customer numbers, or hygiene and cleaning considerations.

Stay updated on changes in your state or territory

image of letter

For the latest updates on coronavirus, go to:

You can also keep up to date with workplace changes that may affect you by signing up for our email updates, including:

  • changes to awards
  • changes to the Fair Work Act
  • industry updates.

Get the latest information by subscribing to our email updates.

Factor in changes to restrictions

tick and a cross in circle

As restrictions change, consider what changes you need to make for your business and your employees. Options include:

Regular communication with your employees is essential. Making sure your employees are aware of workplace restrictions, and the impact these may have on their employment, can help manage the transitions to different work arrangements. 

For more guidance on improving communication in the workplace, you can take our free short online course for employers on Managing employees.

Develop a COVIDSafe plan

image of open folder in red circle

If you’re yet to develop a COVIDSafe plan, use the tools below to get started:

If you’ve made flexible working arrangements with your employees, you need to regularly review them to make sure they still suit the employee and the workplace.

Review flexible working arrangements

image of clock, person in front of computer, calendar under a roof

Flexible working arrangements will benefit your employees but may also help improve employees’ satisfaction and productivity. These arrangements should be reviewed regularly.

Remember that workplace health and safety obligations and any legal requirements continue to apply to employers when their employees are working from home.

For more guidance on flexibility in the workplace, you can:

If you’ve made an individual flexibility agreement under an award or agreement, there will be rules you need to follow to ensure it’s still fit for purpose. Check what applies at Individual flexibility arrangements.

Adapt flexible work options

image of computer and person with headphones

If you do add or change flexible working arrangements in your workplace, it’s best practice to:

  • keep records
  • follow up on action items
  • regularly review the arrangements every few weeks or months (whatever is applicable to your workplace).

For information on setting up and managing flexible work options at your workplace, see Flexibility in the workplace.

You can also complete our tailored online learning course designed for employers on Workplace flexibility .

If you have employees working from home, you still have workplace health and safety obligations and record-keeping requirements.

Manage work from home arrangements

desk and chair under roof 

Setting up arrangements 

Allowing and supporting employees to work from home for some or part of the week (either temporarily or permanently) may help the transition and promote work/life balance. 

Working from home arrangements are usually agreed between an employer and employee to meet both their needs. Employers and employees should work together to find the best solution for both the workplace and staff.

Go to Alternative work arrangements for information about how to make working from home arrangements. 

Health and safety

Workplace health and safety laws still apply when an employee is working from home.

Many states and territories continue to have rules in place about people working from home if they can. To check what applies for your state or territory, and to keep up to date, see Australia.gov.au external-icon.png.

Record-keeping

There are records that employers need to keep about their employees and their working arrangements, including hours of work in some circumstances. This still applies when employees work from home.

Some things to think about:

  • Hours should be recorded in a way that meets your record-keeping obligations. Find timesheet and other rostering templates on our Templates page.
  • Employees need to get pay slips every time they’re paid. See Pay slips and record-keeping for information and templates. 

Review working from home arrangements

magnifying glass over paper

As enforceable government directions change, and restrictions are modified or eased, you may need to review, extend or change working from home arrangements. Work with your employees to find the best solutions for them and the workplace.

Read more about setting up working from home arrangements, including health and safety, at Alternative work arrangements

Talk to your employees

two heads with speech bubble

Consulting and talking with employees has significant benefits and can help workplaces cope better with change. Consultation includes asking for and considering your employees’ views when making decisions. If you consult with your employees early and work with them to find solutions, it can lead to better decision-making, increase morale, better business performance, improved employee engagement and performance and it can help reduce the risks of non-compliance. 

See our Consultation and cooperation in the workplace best practice guide for information and suggestions.

You may be required to consult with your employees under your award, agreement, employment contract or a workplace policy in some circumstances. Even where it isn’t required, it can be a good idea to check in regularly with your employees. Remember to:

  • keep records
  • follow up on action items
  • regularly review the working from home arrangements – for example, on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

If you’re having trouble agreeing on a working from home arrangement, read our advice on Resolving workplace issues during coronavirus.

Understanding the rules for lifting stand downs and transitioning workers back to the workplace will help you meet your obligations.

End any stand downs

image of person

When you’re ready to reopen, you may need to end any stand down directions you gave your employees.

It’s best practice to consult before ending a stand down. In some cases, an award, agreement, employment contract or workplace policy will require it. Make sure you check these before ending a stand down.

Even if you don’t have to consult, you should talk to employees ahead of ending a stand down. Your staff may be nervous about returning to the workplace. Communicating with your employees early and in writing, sharing your COVIDSafe plan and giving them an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns, can help reassure them that it’s safe to return.

As part of the return, you may need to explore alternative working arrangements such as work from home arrangements, particularly while physical distancing rules apply. You can find out more on our Alternative work arrangements.

For more information on ending stand downs, see Stand downs.

Find out more about directions to return to work at Directions to return to work and the workplace.

COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace

icon of a vaccination bottle

Make sure you understand your obligations and responsibilities for COVID-19 vaccinations when you plan your reopening.

Guidance on COVID-19 vaccinations

Visit our COVID-19 vaccinations and the workplace section for information and guidance about COVID-19 vaccinations and Australia’s workplace laws.

We encourage employers and employees to work together to find solutions that suit their individual needs and workplaces. A collaborative approach in the workplace that includes discussing, planning and facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations can help deliver the best results for workers and businesses.

Requiring employees to be vaccinated

Employers may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated where:

Employers may be required to direct employees to get vaccinated to comply with obligations under a work health and safety law. Employers should also consider how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply.

You should get your own legal advice if you’re considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory in your workplace.

Workplace issues

Learn how you can help resolve any workplace issues about COVID-19 vaccinations and find where to go for the right help at COVID-19 vaccinations: resolving workplace issues.

Address reluctance to return to the workplace

image of person with head in hands

Some states and territories may continue to have rules in place affecting workplaces and industries, including rules about people working from home. Make sure you follow any rules in your state or territory. Check Australia.gov.au external-icon.png to keep up to date. 

Even when restrictions have eased, people may still be nervous about returning to work. We encourage you to talk to your employees about their concerns. For help and tips on talking to your employees, take our Difficult conversations in the workplace – online course. It’s free and can be completed in under 40 minutes.

Employees may have concerns about the health and safety of the workplace or questions about COVID-19 vaccinations. Find out more about your obligations at:  

In some circumstances, employees may be able to refuse to return to work because of a reasonable concern about their health and safety, or another legitimate reason. Find out more about returning to the workplace and resolving related issues at Directions to return to work and the workplace.

For help on how to work through any issues, read about Resolving workplace issues during coronavirus.

Mental health services

icon of a head with a + sign inside

Free online resources can help support business owners’ and employees’ mental health during this challenging time.

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue external-icon.png have a dedicated COVID-19 website including information to help small business owners and managers support their employees, and manage their own mental health.

Head to Health

Head to Health external-icon.png by the Australian Government offers free online mental health resources from trusted mental health service providers. This includes digital tools and information on COVID-19 mental health issues, such as coping in lockdowns and dealing with isolation.

Lifeline

Lifeline external-icon.png provides support to anyone experiencing a personal crisis. You can call them free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere in Australia on 131 114.

Safe Work Australia

Access Safe Work Australia guidance for managing mental health in the workplace external-icon.png

Speak with your employees

two heads with speech bubble

We encourage employers and employees to work together to manage the return to the workplace. 

Consultation includes asking for and considering your employees’ views when making decisions. If you consult with your employees early and work with them to find solutions, it may help make the transition back to the workplace easier and more effective. 

Effective consultation can lead to better decision-making, increased morale, better business performance, improved employee engagement and performance and it can help reduce the risks of non-compliance.

Employees may have concerns about the health and safety of the workplace or questions about COVID-19 vaccinations. Find out more at:

Talking about this guidance with employees may help ease any concerns and help ensure a smooth return to the workplace. 

It may be useful to organise a specific supervisor or manager to take responsibility for coordinating the return to work process and be the main point of contact for employees. This can help create a smoother transition and ensure that employees get consistent information. 

For more guidance on improving communication in the workplace, you can:

When your workplace reopens, you may want to consider changing your employees’ working hours or adjusting their duties to better suit changes in the workplace.

Speak with your employees

2 people with speech bubbles

You should communicate early, regularly and in writing with your employees. As well as often being a requirement, consultation and cooperation can have significant benefits and can help workplaces cope better with change. These benefits can include:

  • increased morale and productivity
  • reduced staff turnover
  • reduced risk of non-compliance. 

Check your award or any agreement, employment contract or workplace policy for specific requirements about when you need to consult and if there are rules you need to follow (for example, if changing duties or patterns of work).

It may be useful to organise a specific supervisor or manager take responsibility for coordinating the return to work process and be the main point of contact for employees. This can help create a smoother transition and ensure that employees get consistent information. 

For more information and help to find out what applies to you, go to:

For help resolving any issues, or if you’re having trouble agreeing on a change, read about Resolving workplace issues during coronavirus.

Change hours, duties or work location

calendar with pen and money symbol with a cross

If you want to change an employee’s regular roster, duties, hours of work or work location, you’ll need to follow any rules in any applicable award or agreement, and any workplace policy or employment contract.

In most cases, you’ll need to consult with employees about the proposed change.

If you can’t reach an agreement, and there’s nothing inconsistent in the applicable award or agreement, and any workplace policy or employment contract, you could direct employees to work from a different location. The direction needs to be legal and reasonable in all the circumstances.

Flexible working arrangements can benefit both you and your employees and help to ensure your business and workplace are COVIDSafe.

Consider flexible working arrangements

image of clock, person in front of computer, calendar under a roof

You have a few options when it comes to flexible working arrangements for your workplace or business. They can be easy to implement and tailored to meet your needs and your employees needs.

Options include:

  • staggering employees’ start and finish times
  • rotating working from home to allow for more space in the workplace to facilitate physical distancing
  • allowing employees to work from home for part of the week (either temporarily or permanently) to enable an easier transition and promote work/life balance
  • scheduling breaks or shift changes to avoid crowding at exits and in lifts and break rooms.

Changes to an employee's working arrangements need to be made in line with your award or agreement and any workplace policy or employment contract. You should also consider any enforceable government directions in your state or territory that might apply and health advice for your state or territory. For more information, visit List of government enforceable directions during coronavirus.

Before you make any changes to an employee's working arrangements, consult with them and make sure you record any changes in writing. You should record the consultation with the employee in writing too.

For information about flexible working arrangements and temporary changes to awards, and resources to help you, go to Alternative work arrangements.

You can also complete our free tailored online learning course designed for employers on Workplace flexibility .

Make flexible working arrangements

magnifying glass over paper

There are a few different ways to implement flexible working arrangements in your workplace. Which ones you can use depends on your industry and situation.

You and your employees can use any rules in your award or agreement to agree on flexible working arrangements.

Some employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements under the National Employment Standards. Employers and employees can also agree to change how certain terms in an award or agreement apply to them. See Flexible working arrangements and Individual flexibility arrangements (IFAs).

For information on setting up and managing flexible work options at your workplace, see Flexibility in the workplace.

For information on setting up and managing flexible work options at your workplace, see Flexibility in the workplace.

This tool provides general information and assistance about workplace rights and responsibilities when reopening, scaling up and adapting your workplace during coronavirus. If you need more assistance about workplace rights and responsibilities, Contact us. If you need other government information and assistance, go to Other government information and assistance.