Victoria Legal Aid

COVID-19 and safety at work

Learn about your rights to be safe at work during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Everyone has the right to be safe and work, including during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. There are four things you need to know:

  • employers must make sure their workplace is safe for everyone
  • employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and the health and safety of co-workers while at work
  • employees have the right to refuse to do unsafe work
  • if you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Other support for COVID-19 coronavirus

Can I work from home if I don’t feel safe at work?

You can refuse to do unsafe work. Whether this means you can work from home or not will depend on the type of work you do and your circumstances.

Usually, your employer can direct you to attend work. You must follow your employer’s directions if these are lawful and reasonable. Every workplace is different. What is lawful and reasonable in one workplace may not be lawful and reasonable in a different workplace. If you think your employer’s directions may not be lawful or reasonable or may be making your workplace unsafe, contact JobWatchExternal Link or WorkSafe VictoriaExternal Link .

If you want to work from home because you are not vaccinated, see COVID-19, mandatory vaccines and work.

For more information, see COVID-19 and working from home.

Does my employer have to provide masks, hand sanitiser or other protective equipment in my workplace?

Employers must take all reasonable steps to make sure that the workplace is safe for everyone.

Employers should make sure that employees can:

  • practise social distancing at work, where appropriate
  • wash their hands regularly with soap and water
  • follow all other rules from health authorities.

In some workplaces face coverings or other personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser may be essential to maintain the health and safety of employees. Employers must provide these items to employees when they are essential for maintaining health and safety (for example, in a hospital or other setting where there is a high risk of exposure to infectious diseases).

Do I have to wear a face mask at work?

Your employer may direct you to wear a face mask if that is lawful and reasonable in your situation. For example, if it is essential for maintaining health and safety.

The Victorian government may also make rules and recommendations about wearing face masks. For more information, see Face masks – when to wear a face maskExternal Link .

Can my employer test my temperature?

Your employer may tell you to have a temperature-test at work (for example, with a thermal scanner). This is likely to be a lawful and reasonable direction during the pandemic, so you should do it.

If the test shows that you have a high temperature, your employer can tell you that you must not come to work.

If you are unable to go to work, find out if you can:

  • work from home if you are feeling well enough
  • be paid personal leave (sick leave)
  • be paid extra leave (sometimes called special leave) for people who get sick or who need to self-isolate or quarantine during the pandemic. Only some employers will pay extra leave.

What other health and safety protections do I have at work?

At all times, both employees and employers must follow occupational health and safety laws. These laws continue to apply during the pandemic. This means that:

  • employers have a duty to take reasonable care of all their employees’ health and safety
  • employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own and their co-workers’ health and safety.

Everyone’s workplace is different. What is a reasonable health and safety measure in one workplace may not be reasonable in a different workplace. If you believe your workplace is unsafe for any reason contact JobWatchExternal Link or WorkSafe VictoriaExternal Link .

If a safety incident, such as an accident, happens at your workplace you may be able to report it to WorkSafe VictoriaExternal Link . Their website has a list of the types of incidents that are reportableExternal Link .

Can my employer ask for a medical clearance before I return to work?

Your employer can ask you to get a medical clearance if that is lawful and reasonable in your situation. For example, if a medical clearance is needed to protect you or your co-workers’ health and safety, that is likely to be reasonable.

It might not be reasonable for your employer to ask you to pay for or provide a medical clearance if:

  • you do not need to self-isolate or quarantine
  • you are healthy and able to work.

For more information contact JobWatchExternal Link or the Fair Work OmbudsmanExternal Link .

For information about whether your employer can ask for proof of vaccination, see COVID-19, mandatory vaccines and work.

More information

Learn where to get help with the COVID-19 coronavirus

Read our page on Employment and your rights

Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian workplace lawsExternal Link

Acknowledgement

We acknowledge and thank JobWatchExternal Link for allowing us to use their COVID-19: Employment rights Q&AExternal Link to prepare this information. We also thank JobWatch for reviewing this information and providing updates.

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Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au

Reviewed 15 November 2022

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