COVID-19 and safety at work

COVID-19 and safety at work

Everyone has the right to be safe and work, including during the COVID-19 coronavirus. 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 Get help with COVID-19.

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 particular circumstances. 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 it is not possible to do your job from home, your employer may 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 JobWatch or WorkSafe Victoria.

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. The Australian Government has ruled that people must practise social distancing.

Employers should make sure that employees can:

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

In some workplaces face masks 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?

You must do what your employer says if it is lawful and reasonable. If wearing a face mask will make you safer, it is probably legal for your employer to tell you to wear one. Whether it is reasonable depends on the type of work you do and your situation. It is not the same for all workplaces. What is reasonable might also depend on whether your employer provides you with a face mask or expects you to get your own.

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 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 JobWatch or WorkSafe Victoria.

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

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:

For more information contact JobWatch or the Fair Work Ombudsman.

More information

Learn where to get help with the 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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