When workplaces shut quickly because of a lockdown

Published 22 March 2021 | Updated 20 April 2022

While the COVID-19 vaccination rollout happens across Australia, temporary lockdowns of certain areas, industries or workplaces may continue.

Find out what options are available if your workplace shuts quickly because of a temporary lockdown.

Check your restrictions

Get up to date information about which restrictions apply in your state or territory from the list below:

Checking what rules and provisions apply in each state or territory will help employers and employees plan for what changes they need to make during a lockdown. 

Back to top

Stand downs and enforceable government directions

Stand downs

Employers may be able to stand employees down without pay during a sudden workplace closure that is outside the employer’s control. For example, they may be able to stand down employees when:

  • the business has closed because of an enforceable government direction (which means the employee can't be usefully employed, even from another location)
  • there's a stoppage of work due to lack of supply for which the employer can't be held responsible.

Employers should first discuss and communicate with employees about a stand down. They should also discuss other workplace options available to employees. These can include:

Our Before standing down employees: employer checklist helps employers make sure they’ve considered all options before standing down an employee. 

Enforceable government directions

An employer doesn't have to pay an employee when either the federal or a state or territory government or officer makes an enforceable government direction that prevents an employee from working.

In these instances, the employer doesn't have to pay the employee unless the employee takes paid leave. Whether or not the enforceable government direction prevents an employee from working will depend on the facts in each case.

Find out more about enforceable government directions and stand downs during coronavirus at Stand downs.

Back to top

Working from home

Some employers may need to introduce working from home arrangements during temporary lockdowns. Employers and employees should consider their specific circumstances before coming to an agreement about working from home.

They should consider whether any previous work from home arrangements can be reinstated for the period of the lockdown. Employers should check if there are any rules about working from home in their applicable:

  • award
  • enterprise agreement
  • employment contracts
  • workplace policies.

Record-keeping obligations continue to apply when employees are working from home. Get guidance on keeping records at Record-keeping.

Find advice for implementing working from home arrangements at your workplace at Alternative work arrangements.

Back to top

Going to work

During a lockdown, some workers may still be able to attend their workplace. For example, this may be because their workplace provides an essential service, such as manufacturing, freight or healthcare.

The rules that apply depend on several factors including:

  • whether the business is allowed to operate
  • the kind of work being performed and whether it can be done from home, or
  • whether an employee has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Your employer can’t require you to attend work if it’s not allowed under an enforceable government direction. Find out more about rights and responsibilities for vaccination at COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations.

Check the rules about whether you can attend your workplace:

Learn more about enforceable government directions at Orders and directions during coronavirus.

Workers who are permitted to attend the workplace may still have concerns about their safety. For workplaces that are allowed to operate, there are a range of restrictions or control measures that apply to keep staff and customers safe. Find out more at Health and safety in the workplace.

Understand what workplace rights apply when going to work at Going to work during coronavirus. Employers can find more information at Directions to return to work and the workplace.

Back to top

Taking care of a child

If an employee can’t return to the workplace because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare centre has closed, they should come to an arrangement with their employer.

This could include requesting to work from home or taking some form of leave. Examples of leave include annual leave or long service leave. Find more information about taking carer’s leave due to coronavirus at Sick and carer’s leave. Normal leave application processes still apply.

See Alternative work arrangements for what other arrangements might be possible.

Employees also have the option to request flexible work arrangements in certain circumstances. Understand what entitlements apply at Flexible working arrangements.

Back to top

Taking leave

Employers should discuss with employees what leave options are available if their workplace must close at sudden notice. Options may include:

During any kind of lockdown, the usual rules for taking or accruing leave continue to apply. 

Learn more about leave options during coronavirus at Pay, leave and stand downs.

Back to top

Changes in working hours and duties

Changes to employees’ working conditions may be needed to help manage the impacts of a sudden workplace closure. Employers will first need to consider what alternative arrangements may be suitable for their workplace. Available options include:

  • changing hours or rosters of work
  • asking employees to work extra shifts or longer hours
  • changes to an employee’s duties.

Before they introduce these changes, employers should consider what rules might apply under the Fair Work Act and under any award, enterprise agreement or employment contract. 

More information:

Back to top

Border closures: pay and leave options

Some Australian state and territory borders may temporarily close during sudden outbreaks of coronavirus.

While a border closure is in place, some residents of affected states or territories may not be able to attend work as usual.

Importantly, if an employee can’t attend work because of an enforceable government direction, including where this limits travel (or crossing state borders), they should contact their employer immediately to discuss leave or flexible working options.

For all employers and employees:

Back to top

Financial support

Financial support available includes:

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is available to eligible workers who don’t have appropriate leave entitlements and can’t earn an income because they:

  • have to self-isolate or quarantine due to a positive coronavirus case, or
  • are caring for someone with coronavirus.

Learn more about the payment and check eligibility requirements at Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment external-icon.png on the Services Australia website.

COVID-19 hardship payments

Some Australian states and territories are also providing hardship payments to certain workers during the pandemic. Eligible workers include those who don’t have access to certain paid leave entitlements and can’t work because they are waiting for coronavirus test results. Go to:

Support for employers

If your business has been affected by a lockdown, you may be eligible for financial help from your state or territory government.

Check what's available in your state or territory at Business.gov.au – State and territory information, grants and assistance external-icon.png.

Back to top

Mental health support

When sudden workplace closures happen, employers and employees may need mental health support during these challenging times.

Beyond Blue has a dedicated coronavirus website external-icon.png and a 24-hour phone counselling service to help Australians during coronavirus. The 24-hour counselling hotline has trained mental health professionals who provide free, one-on-one confidential sessions. You can call the hotline on 1800 512 348.

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.

The Australian Government Head to Health external-icon.png service 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.

Back to top