COVID-19 and working from home

COVID-19 and working from home

Many workers feel unsure of their rights as a result of COVID-19 coronavirus. There are five things you need to know about working from home:

  • if your employer tells you to work from home because it is safer, this is probably legal
  • your employer must make sure it is healthy and safe for you to work from home
  • your employer can tell you to attend your usual workplace if that is lawful and reasonable
  • if you cannot go to work and cannot work from home you might still be paid, depending on your situation
  • if you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Get help with COVID-19.

Do I have to work from home?

Your employer must follow laws about health and safety, as well as new rules about COVID-19 coronavirus.

Government and health authorities recommend that anyone who can work from home should do this. All employers should be allowing employees to work from home where this is possible.

If your employer asks you to work from home because it is safer for you or the people you work with, this is probably lawful and reasonable. You must do what your employer asks if it is lawful and reasonable.

If a medical professional directs you to self-quarantine or self-isolate, you must not go to work. You must stay home or in the place where you are quarantined. You can ask your employer to let you work from home during the quarantine period. Your employer may agree or disagree, depending on the type of work you do and your circumstances.

The Fair Work Commission is changing many modern awards to:

  • give employees 14 days of unpaid pandemic leave
  • let employees take annual leave at half pay. For example, instead of taking one week’s annual leave at full pay, you could take two weeks’ leave at half pay.  

You can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website to check what your enterprise agreement or modern award says about paid and unpaid leave.

Do I have to go to work?

If it is not possible to do your job from home, your employer may direct you to attend work.

If your employer wants you to go to work, you must go if all the following apply:

  • it is lawful. For example, your workplace is allowed to stay open
  • it is reasonable. This will depend on the type of work you do, and your circumstances. Every workplace is different. What is reasonable in one workplace may not be reasonable in a different workplace.
  • it is safe.

You can refuse to do work that is unsafe.

If you are not sure whether you must attend work, you can get legal advice. See Get help.

How do I make my home safe for work?

Employers must make sure that workplaces are healthy and safe. Employers must take reasonable steps to make sure working from home arrangements are safe for workers.

Workers must also take reasonable care of their own safety when they are working from home.

What is reasonable will depend on your particular circumstances.

What if I cannot work from home?

If your employer tells you to stay at home but you cannot work from home, you might be paid your ordinary pay.

Your employer should keep paying your ordinary pay if:

  • you are healthy and want to keep working
  • it is not reasonable to ask you to use your personal leave, such as sick pay or holiday pay.

If your employer refuses to pay you when they should, you can get help from the Fair Work Ombudsman. You can get legal advice. See Get help with COVID-19.

If you are sick and cannot work, you can use any paid personal leave (sick leave) you have. All permanent full-time and part-time employees get at least 10 days’ paid personal leave each year.

If you are a casual employee, your employer does not usually have to pay you if you are sick and cannot work. In some cases, your employer might give you special paid leave if you have to self-quarantine or you get sick from coronavirus. Ask your employer if special paid leave is available.

More information

Learn where to Get help with COVID-19 coronavirus

Visit our Find legal answers page on Employment and your rights

Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws

Acknowledgement

We acknowledge and thank JobWatch for allowing us to use their COVID-19: Employment rights Q&A to prepare this information.

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