Information for employers and employees about working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-) pandemic.
Restrictions apply in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria
Depending on your industry your workplace may:
- be required to be closed for onsite work
- remain open for onsite work with a completed COVID Safe Plan or High Risk COVID Safe Plan
- be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations.
These restrictions may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with any changes for your industry.
Coronavirus Victoria: Guidance for sectors
How are my OHS obligations impacted by the restrictions?
There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHS Regulations) as a result of the restrictions. Preparation of a COVID Safe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work, however having a COVID Safe Plan and complying with Chief Health Officer Directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations. You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate as well as ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.
Working from home may help minimise the risk of individual employees' exposure to coronavirus (COVID-) 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 coronavirus (COVID-).
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 coronavirus (COVID-) risks and appropriate control measures
- seek advice specific to their circumstances, including from employee and employer organizations, 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 nonessential tasks may need to be considered.
Home office environment
Where possible, an employee should have a dedicated space they can set up to perform their work duties, which has sufficient space for emergency entry and exit, and is able to be set up to reduce distractions.
This should include:
- adequate lighting for the task to be performed, without glare or reflection
- good ventilation and temperature control
- no excessive noise
- clear walkways free of trip hazards such as electrical cords
Workstation set up
A home workstation should include the core components of an office workstation: a table or desk, a supportive chair, an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Sufficient clear space needs to be available to ensure employees can work with a full range of
movement and move without strain or injury.
A workstation for office-based work at home should include:
- a comfortable and adjustable chair that is appropriate to the task being undertaken
- a desk or table at a comfortable height, with good access for legs and no obstacles underneath, and a flat, smooth and non-reflective surface
- a keyboard placed at a distance that allows the employee to relax their shoulders with their elbows close to their body
- a mouse that rests at the same height as the keyboard and moves easily on the surface of the table
- a monitor with the top of the screen sitting at or slightly below eye level, positioned to avoid glare and with a viewing distance of mm to mm
When they are working, an employee's wrists should be straight and their sitting posture should be upright or slightly reclined with the lower back supported. Where employees do not have an appropriate workstation at home, employers may consider providing the necessary equipment. For example, by making equipment from the workplace available or negotiating an agreed budget for financial reimbursement to employees who purchase equipment.
Employees should take regular breaks and stretch while they are working. As a guide, they should change position every minutes.
Keeping in touch
It is important to maintain contact with employees who are working from home or in isolation. Employers should ensure clear and regular communication is established, to:
- set realistic and clear instructions on workload, roles and tasks allocation and timelines check in with staff to ensure they are able to access the systems and technology required to do their job
- monitor work levels
- check that work can be successfully completed from home and adjust work tasks as necessary
- keep employees informed of organisational and work team activities, updates, training and opportunities
Mental and emotional wellbeing
Working from home can be a challenge, particularly when it is a temporary or new arrangement. Each employee has a different home life, and employers should, where possible, offer flexibility in how work is completed. For example, by discussing and agreeing on work hours that allow the employee to meet their responsibilities at home as well as meeting their work requirements.
A lack of social contact, particularly over an extended period, may lead to anxiety, lack of motivation and loss of involvement in decision-making within the organisation. Employers should consider ways to keep employees connected and mentally healthy, for example, by:
- regularly checking in to make sure employees feel supported and are coping with working from home, for example by setting up daily phone or video conference meetings
- creating opportunities for team communications, for example by using online tools or apps to establish team-wide chat groups
being available, accessible and willing to listen when employees need to contact them from home
- providing employees with appropriate control and flexibility over how they do their work
- providing practical tools to support positive mental health, such as access to an employee
- assistance program
- encouraging employees to stay physically active, eat well and regularly go outside
- making sure employees are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day
Work Safe's Work Well toolkit is an online tool that provides practical resources, tailored tools and information about how to maintain good mental health in workplaces.
Office wise: A guide to health and safety in the office handbook
Exposure to coronavirus in workplaces
DHHS: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Preparing for a pandemic: a guide for employers
Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling
Work Well Toolkit