Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Worker Refuse to Work?
A worker has this right to cease work if there is a reasonable concern that they would be exposed to a serious risk to their health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard.
If a worker ceases work, they must inform you as soon as they can. They must also then be available to carry out suitable alternative work, such as working from home.
Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) can direct a worker in their work group to cease unsafe work. HSRs can do this if they:
- have a reasonable concern that a worker would be exposed to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard, and
- have already consulted and attempted to resolve the issue, unless the risk is so serious and immediate or imminent that it is not reasonable to consult first
HSRs must inform the workplace of any direction that has been given to cease unsafe work. HSRs can only direct that unsafe work cease if they have completed their initial training under the model WHS laws.
If a worker refuses to come to work when you think they should, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for advice.
Can an Employer Direct an Employee to Stay Away from a Workplace?
You should require workers to stay away from the workplace if they are unwell and not fit for work. Encourage them to seek medical advice as appropriate.
Under the model WHS laws, you can require workers to comply with a direction to remain away from their usual place of work if its reasonable for you to require them to do so. This can be to stay at home, or work from somewhere else.
However, you also need to consider the worker’s entitlements under workplace instruments, such as an enterprise agreement or award. For help, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
What Facilities and Supplies do Employers Need to Provide?
You must also provide a work environment that is without risk to health and safety. This includes:
- providing access to facilities for good hygiene such as adequate supply of soap, water and toilet paper, and
- making sure these are kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
If those supplies are not available, under the model WHS laws, you will not be required to provide them. For example, if there are no supplies of masks in Australia, an employer cannot be required to provide a mask. In those circumstances, consider what alternative measures or approaches can be taken to eliminate or minimise risk.
Can a Worker be Directed to Wear a Mask?
Workers can be directed to wear a P2 or N95 mask if the employer, in consultation with workers, considers it is a necessary control measure to minimise the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Masks can be an effective control measure for workplaces such as hospitals, medical centres or aged care facilities where workers have frequent, close contact with sick or vulnerable people and might be exposed to respiratory substances (e.g. through coughs or sneezes). These workers are specially trained in how to fit, use and dispose appropriately of masks to ensure so that they are safe to use.
The Australian Government Department of Health advises that most other people will not benefit from wearing a mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.
Employers should be aware that wearing a mask may give rise to new WHS risks. Workers required to wear a mask will need to be trained in how to wear, remove and dispose of masks, including performing good hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) before fitting the mask and after taking it off. Masks also need to be maintained or replaced where necessary and stocked correctly.
Masks on their own will not control the COVID-19 virus. As with all other PPE, masks must be used in conjunction with other control measures such as physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart.
Can an Employer Conduct Temperature Checks on Workers or Others?
An employer may want to monitor the health of its workers (e.g. through administering temperature checks) as a preventative measure in managing a COVID-19 outbreak in their workplace. There may be times where this is lawful and reasonable, for example, where workers live together in accommodation such as FIFO or agricultural workers.
Remember it is possible that a person may be asymptomatic or be on medication that reduces their temperature, therefore should not just rely on temperature checks as a control measure. An employer should also require workers to tell them if they are feeling unwell, including if they have a fever, and require them to go home when they do.
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