Returning to the workplace - interactive employer tool

Returning to work infographic

Helping you get your business back up and running during coronavirus. It’s easy to use:

  • Select the stage that your workplace is at (for example, reopening, scaling up or adapting)
  • Select the topic you want to know more about.

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

Check current changes to workplace laws

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Make sure you check:

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 (such as JobKeeper)
  • 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.

Create a COVIDSafe plan

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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 National COVID-19 Coordination Commission – Online planning tool external-icon.png to create your plan.

For more information, see:

Talk to your employees about your COVIDSafe plan

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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.

Talking to your employees about reopening is not only best practice, it can also be a requirement under an award, an agreement, an employment contract or a workplace policy that applies to your employees.

Plan to transition employees back to the workplace

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You can start planning to transition employees back to the workplace. Be aware of and stay up to date with any restrictions or employer obligations impacting your workplace or industry. For example, there may be restrictions on the number of employees you can have in your workplace at any one time.

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 working arrangements during coronavirus.

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 JobKeeper changes to the Fair Work Act

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The Fair Work Act has been temporarily amended to support the operation of the JobKeeper scheme. The changes give employers who qualify (qualifying employees), or previously participated in the JobKeeper scheme (legacy employers), the ability to give directions (called ‘JobKeeper enabling directions’) and make agreements with their employees.

Find out more about JobKeeper and what applies to you:

Qualifying employers – for employers who are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme

Legacy employers – for certain employers who were participating in the scheme before 28 September 2020

Understand award changes, paid and unpaid pandemic leave, and agreement flexibility

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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 Temporary changes to workplace laws during coronavirus.

Paid and unpaid pandemic leave and changes to annual leave also apply under a number of awards. Check your award at:

If you have an agreement, you might be able to vary it to enable extra flexibility. For more information, go to Fair Work Commission website – COVID-19 and enterprise agreements external-icon.png.

Subscribe for updates

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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 (such as JobKeeper)
  • 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.

Participating in JobKeeper – check your JobKeeper records

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Whether you’re a qualifying employer participating in the JobKeeper scheme or a legacy employer who previously participated, you are required to keep records. Get information and resources for record-keeping obligations on our Record-keeping page.

If you gave an employee a JobKeeper enabling direction, make sure you keep:

  • the written notification to the employee about the JobKeeper enabling direction
  • a copy of the JobKeeper enabling direction once it’s been issued
  • a record of your consultation about the direction with the employee (and their representative, if applicable).

If you made an agreement with an employee about changing their days or times of work or location, make sure you keep a copy of the agreement.

Learn more about the rules and how you can make sure you meet your obligations:

Qualifying employers – for employers who are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme

Legacy employers – for certain employers who were participating in the scheme before 28 September 2020

For more information on your record-keeping obligations at this time, see Managing the return to work and the workplace.

Not participating in JobKeeper – other records

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If you stood down an employee outside of JobKeeper, 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 during coronavirus.

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

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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).

Find out what you can do to safely bring back or hire new employees as restrictions change and your business can expand.

Use tools to make your workplace safe

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Use the following tools to get your workplace ready:

Review your COVIDSafe plan

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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.

Make arrangements to transition your workplace as you scale up

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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 any transition back to the workplace run smoothly.

For help and tips on talking to your employees, take our Workplace flexibility – online course.

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

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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 – Employing your first person 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

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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 National COVID-19 Coordination Commission – Online 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:

Prepare for the transition

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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:

  • the enforceable government directions in your state or territory that affect your business or industry
  • health advice (including required physical distancing)
  • COVID-19 Safe Work Australia Principles external-icon.png.

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

 

Keep your workplace safe from coronavirus

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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. See:

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

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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

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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 (such as JobKeeper)
  • industry updates.

Get the latest information by subscribing to our email updates.

Factor in changes to restrictions

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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

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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 work arrangements

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Flexible work 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, take our free short online course for employers on Workplace flexibility.

Get more guidance on flexibility in the workplace:

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

If you previously participated or are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme, make sure you check your obligations by reading the information on our website. Go to JobKeeper scheme – overview.

Adapt flexible work options

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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.

For help managing workplace changes made under JobKeeper, go to:

Qualifying employers – for employers who are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme

Legacy employers – for certain employers who were participating in the scheme before 28 September 2020

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

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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. This also applies under the JobKeeper scheme. See Pay slips and record-keeping for information and templates.

If you are participating in JobKeeper or did previously, you are required to create and keep certain records in some circumstances, such as when changing an employee’s duties or work location. Check what the rules are at JobKeeper scheme – overview.

Review working from home arrangements

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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: 

Talk to your employees

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Consulting and talking with employees has significant benefits and can help workplaces cope better with change. 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

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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 working arrangements during coronavirus page.

For more information on ending stand downs, see:

Participating in JobKeeper

Stand downs under the Fair Work Act

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

Address reluctance to return to the workplace

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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.

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 what you can do to work through any issues, read about Resolving workplace issues during coronavirus.

Talk to your employees

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

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.

Talk to your employees

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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. Check your award or any agreement, employment contract or workplace policy for specific requirements.

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

Different rules may apply for employers under the JobKeeper scheme. You can learn what they are at:

Qualifying employers – for employers who are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme

Legacy employers  for certain employers who were participating in the scheme before 28 September 2020

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

Participating in JobKeeper – changes to hours, duties or work location

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If you’re participating in the JobKeeper scheme, you may be able to direct an employee who you’re receiving JobKeeper payments for to:

  • perform different duties
  • work at a different location, or
  • work reduced hours.

You need to follow specific rules and comply with your employer obligations.

For more information, see: 

Qualifying employers 

Legacy employers 

Not participating in JobKeeper – changes to hours, duties or work location

calendar with pen and money symbol with a cross

If you’re not participating in the JobKeeper scheme and 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.

Some awards have been changed to increase flexibility during coronavirus, and to allow employers and employees to agree on changes to duties. You can check if your award has changed at Temporary changes to workplace laws during coronavirus.

To help work out what might apply, visit Changes in working hours and duties.

Different rules may apply for legacy employers. You can learn what they are at JobKeeper enabling directions and agreements for legacy employers.

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

Consider flexible work 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
  • scheduling breaks or shift changes to avoid crowding at exits and in lifts and break rooms.

Changes to your employees working arrangements need to be made in line with your award or agreement and any workplace policy or employment contract. Before you make any changes to your employees' 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 working arrangements during coronavirus.

For information relevant for JobKeeper, including JobKeeper enabling directions and changing your workplace arrangements, go to:

Qualifying employers – for employers who are still participating in the JobKeeper scheme

Legacy employers – for certain employers who were participating in the scheme before 28 September 2020

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

Make flexible work arrangements

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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.
  • Under new award flexibility provisions in some awards you can change your employees’ duties, hours and location of work. Find out more at Temporary changes to workplace laws.
  • If you’re participating in the JobKeeper scheme (qualifying employer), or previously participated (legacy employer), you can make changes to employees’ working arrangements, such as their location of work or duties, in some circumstances. Learn more at JobKeeper – an overview.
  • 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.

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.