Managing the return to work & the workplace

Published 12 June 2020 | Updated 4 September 2020

To return to work safely, it’s important that employers manage the transition back to the workplace and adapt to their new operating environment.

This page has information about managing the return to work and the workplace, including health and safety considerations, alternative working arrangement options and information about lifting stand downs.

Health and safety in the workplace

Creating a safe work environment is a legal requirement for employers. Employees and other workers also need to take care of their own and others’ safety.

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

Employees shouldn’t go to work if they have coronavirus symptoms and should notify their employer as soon as possible.

If an employee has symptoms external-icon.png of coronavirus, employers should:

  • direct the employee not to work, or to work from home if the job can be done safely from home and the employee is well enough to work
  • ask the employee to get urgent medical advice as recommended by the Department of Health external-icon.png.

There are limited circumstances in which employers can require their employees to be tested for coronavirus before returning to work.

Employees who completed a required quarantine period (for example, after travelling or because of close contact with a confirmed case) but didn’t develop symptoms, shouldn’t be asked to get tested for coronavirus before returning to the workplace.

Employees also can’t be dismissed or injured in their employment because they have a responsibility under a workplace health and safety law to quarantine or self-isolate. Go to Protections at work to learn more.

More information:

For information about pay and leave entitlements when an employee is sick or has to stay away from the workplace for health reasons, see Pay and leave during coronavirus.

More information:

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Alternative working arrangements

Most states and territories continue to have rules about people working from home, if they can. See Changes to restrictions for up to date information about the restrictions in your state or territory. Employers should continue exploring alternative working arrangements in their workplace, particularly while social distancing rules apply.

Some of the ways this can happen include:

  • staggering employees’ start and finish times
  • rotating working from home (if possible) to allow for more space in the workplace
  • scheduling breaks or shift changes to avoid crowding at exits, lifts and break rooms
  • for employers and employees covered by the JobKeeper scheme:
    • giving employees a JobKeeper enabling direction about the location of work to enable rotating working from home arrangements
    • replacing a JobKeeper enabling stand down direction with a new one that has a smaller reduction in the employee’s usual hours or days of work
    • making an agreement to work different days or times to enable staggered start and finish times.

Employers and employees can also use any rules in an applicable award, agreement or employment contract to agree on or make changes to their:

  • hours of work or duties
  • type of employment (for example changing from full-time to part-time).

More information:

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Lifting stand downs

As businesses start operating again, many employers will need to lift the stand down directions they’ve given their employees.

Employers should stay up to date on any enforceable government directions in the relevant state or territory about when employees have to work from home or another location.

When an employer is lifting a stand down, it's best practice to communicate early with affected employees in writing. Consultation and cooperation between employers and employees has significant benefits and can help workplaces cope better with change. See our Consultation and cooperation in the workplace best practice guide.

Consultation when lifting a stand down may also be a requirement under an applicable award or agreement, employment contract or workplace policy. All awards and enterprise agreements contain consultation provisions, which could apply in these circumstances.

An employee can’t refuse an employer’s direction to perform work if the direction is reasonable.

For more information about directing employees in the JobKeeper scheme to return to the workplace or perform work, go to Directions to return to work and the workplace.

JobKeeper payments, rights and obligations still apply if employees are back in the workplace.

For more information see:

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Record-keeping

All employers need to keep certain records about their employees and their working arrangements, including hours of work and leave. Employers should make sure their records are up to date to enable a smooth transition back to the workplace.

Employers should make sure they have accurate records of service and leave for any time that employees weren’t working.

If an employee was stood down or given a JobKeeper enabling stand down direction, records should reflect that for the period they were stood down:

  • leave entitlements accrue based on their normal hours of work (as though they hadn’t been stood down)
  • service counts (for example, for the National Employment Standards).

If an employee’s hours were temporarily reduced under an award flexibility schedule, leave entitlements accrue based on the employee’s normal hours of work before the reduction started.

Employers should also keep records about the return to work, such as:

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

It’s best practice to consult regularly with employees and keep records of those discussions.

More information, templates and guides are available at the following links:

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Myth-busting videos

Watch our short videos busting some common myths about returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic, including myths about JobKeeper and other workplace issues. Watch now on YouTube.

  • Part 1 external-icon.png – myths about leave and stand downs, annual leave and JobKeeper and notice and stand downs.
  • Part 2 external-icon.png – work and the JobKeeper payment, employee duties back at the workplace and JobKeeper and reduced hours.

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