Articles > COVID-19

Getting Workers Back to the Workplace

June 3, 2020   Ezra SarajinskyPhilip Evangelou

Now that Australia is feeling increasingly confident with its approach to managing COVID-19, more businesses are cautiously move towards recommencing their normal operations. More employers will be asking their employees to return to the workplace. How should this process be managed, and what risks should employers be aware of?

1.  Formulate a COVIDSafe Plan

Employer’s will need to create a “COVIDSafe Plan” before inviting employees back to their place of work. This requires employers to review public health orders available to ensure their compliance with them. These are subject to change as the situation evolves, and differ by State. At the current time they include physical distancing, and the 4 square metre rule – the size of the premise must allow for at least 4 square metres of space for each person. For some places, this may require employees to relocate workspaces, or to have team members work in shifts. Your COVIDSafe Plan should also include proper methods for maintaining effective hygiene, cleaning, and monitoring of health.

2. Be Prepared for a Second Wave

It’s possible that the return to work could see an unfortunate increase in the spread of COVID-19. You should have a contingency plan in the event that a member of your team has symptoms or becomes positive for COVID-19.

 3. Special circumstances for certain employees

Employees with disabilities, already existing health risks, living with elderly relatives, or carer’s responsibilities may require additional consideration before being requested to physically return to work. A perception of pressure on the part of the employee could allow for the allegations of discrimination or other forms of adverse action, so tread with care and seek legal advice.

4. Commuting to Work

Commuting to and from work can be a source of concern for many employees, and public transport may be more of a health risk than the actual work place. Staggering work arrival and departure times may be one way to lower crowding on public transport. This staggering may become logistical hassle that outweighs the benefits of having workers on site, and both parties may question whether it is worth coming in to work if it is not completely necessary. This may be left as a matter of employee discretion. 

5. Directing Employees to the Workplace

Not all businesses can function with employers working from home (eg hospitality, construction, healthcare etc). Ultimately employees can be directed by an employer to go to the workplace. The refusal by an employee to follow a reasonable direction could have disciplinary consequences if not followed. 


Each work place should consider whether the employee’s productivity from home will be increased in the workplace, and whether the benefits of face to face meetings with clients and colleagues are needed. Contact us if you need specialist legal advice in this area.

About Ezra Sarajinsky

Ezra SarajinskyEzra is a founder of OpenLegal. Having spent the last decade working with startups, small businesses and corporates, Ezra is evolving a client-centric experience that tightly integrates digital technology with project managed services. His legal focus is employment, corporate and migration law.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.