Minimising the spread of COVID-19
On 16 March 2020 the Victorian government declared a State of Emergency in Victoria, to help minimise the spread of COVID-19. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia is growing and the medical advice is changing rapidly.
In some circumstances, employers may consider recommending to employees that they work from home instead of attending their usual place of work. For example, some office-based employees may be able to do their work from home.
This may help minimise the risk of individual employees' exposure to COVID-19 through reduced public transport travel, as well as reducing the risk of transmission occurring at the workplace through face to face contact.
Note: This guidance is about working from home as a precautionary measure. For information about required self-isolation due to overseas travel or coming into contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus see the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website.
Who has duties?
Employers have a duty to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide a working environment for their employees that is safe and without risks to health.
This includes identifying and controlling risks to health or safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.
It also includes controlling new risks that may be introduced when an employee works from a location other than their normal workplace, such as their home office.
Employers must consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs), so far as is reasonably practicable, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them. This includes consulting on decisions about working from a location other than the usual workplace.
These duties extend to any independent contractor engaged by an employer and the employees of independent contractors.
Employees must take reasonable care for their own health and safety, and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions in the workplace.
Employees must also cooperate with their employer's actions to make the workplace safe, for example, by following any information, instruction or training provided.
Working from home
Whether working from home is a reasonably practicable measure will depend on the specifics of the workplace, the facilities available for employees to work remotely and the ability for employees to do their work safely from home.
When making decisions about whether employees should work from home, employers should:
- consult with employees and HSRs about whether working from home is an appropriate arrangement, including at an individual employee level
- keep up-to-date with information about COVID-19 risks and appropriate control measures
- seek advice specific to their circumstances, including from employee and employer organisations, legal providers and official advice issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) (link below).
During consultation, employees should consider whether they will be able to carry out their normal work at home with appropriate risk control measures in place.
Health and safety issues to consider when setting up a home office, include:
- whether working from a different location will introduce additional risks, such as risks associated with hazardous manual handling
- the suitability of work activities
- the suitability of the workstation set up
- the environment, for example lighting and noise
- communication requirements
- mental and emotional wellbeing
- any training in safe working procedures that may be required
In some circumstances, working from home may not be reasonably practicable. For example, if a suitable workstation cannot be set up, or employees are not able to carry out their normal work tasks remotely. Other controls, such as implementing other forms of social distancing or delaying non-essential tasks may need to be considered.
- Home office environment
- Workstation set up
- Keeping in touch
- Mental and emotional wellbeing
Officewise: A guide to health and safety in the office handbook
Exposure to coronavirus in workplaces
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) information from DHHSExternal link
Preparing for a pandemic: a guide for employers
Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling
WorkWell ToolkitExternal link