The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, has advised that workers should be permitted to work from home wherever, and whenever, they can. You should also check any relevant advice from your state or territory regarding working from home in response to COVID-19. 

Whether working from home is reasonably practicable will depend on the specifics of the workplace, the facilities available for workers to work remotely and the ability for workers to do their work safely from home.

In deciding whether working from home is appropriate for your workers, in consultation with workers and their representatives, you should consider:
the individual worker's role

  • whether the worker is in a vulnerable person category for contracting the virus (see our information on vulnerable workers)
  • suitability of work activities
  • workflows and expectations
  • workstation set up
  • surrounding environment such as ventilation, lighting and noise
  • home environment, such as partners, children, vulnerable persons and pets
  • communication requirement such as frequency and type
  • mental health and wellbeing of the worker
  • safe working procedures and training requirements, and
  • potential risk of infection on journeys to and from the workplace.

Under the model WHS laws, each employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place in every workplace where the employer engages workers to carry out work or directs or influences workers in carrying out work. 

If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, encouraging or directing workers to work from home may be the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Any existing workplace policies on working from home would apply to arrangements implemented as part of the COVID-19 response. You may need to vary your policies to reflect the broader requirements of the COVID-19 situation such as the ability to work from home while also caring for children. As with all work health and safety matters, you must consult with your workers and any elected Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) on working from home arrangements. 

Whether working at the office or at home, a worker has the right to stop or refuse unsafe work when there is a reasonable concern of exposure to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. In some circumstances, this could include exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Any concerns about health or safety should first be raised with you or the HSR. A worker may also contact a union for advice. If a worker decides to stop work as it is unsafe, they must notify you as soon as possible and be available to carry out alternative work arrangements. See also our information on workers’ rights and the Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian Workplace Laws webpage. 

What must I do when workers are working from home?

The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home. You have duties to ensure the health and safety of your workers, even if they are working from home.

What you can do to minimise risks at a worker's home may be different to what you can do at the usual workplace. However, in consultation with workers and their representatives, you should:

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including what a good workstation set up looks like, why workers should not be sedentary all day and how to avoid this
  • allow workers to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed 
  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, consistent with any workplace policies and procedures, for example requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you 
  • maintain regular communication with workers 
  • provide access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services. Beyondblue has a freely available website or you may have an existing employee assistance program (EAP) you can promote, and
  • appoint a contact person in the business who workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home.

You must also think about, and consult your workers, on how your existing policies and procedures apply when working from home, including:

  • notification of incidents, injuries, hazards and changes in circumstances
  • consultation and review of work health and safety processes, and
  • attendance, timesheets, leave and other entitlements and arrangements.

If necessary, employers may consult workers for an inspection of the worker’s home work environment to ensure it meets health and safety requirements. This can be achieved through virtual means such as photos or video to avoid the need for a physical inspection. In many cases, given the types of risks associated with the activities to be undertaken, an inspection will not be required. Depending on the complexity of the potential risks involved, you may need to engage the services of a health and safety professional to assess the risks to a worker working from home.

What are the WHS risks of working from home?

Working from home may change, increase or create work health or safety risks. You must consult with workers before you implement control measures to address these risks. It is also important to review and monitor whatever arrangements are put in place to ensure that these arrangements do not create any additional risks. 

Some key considerations that may affect the WHS risks of workers working from home or remotely include:

  • pre-existing injuries the worker may have
  • communication frequency and type between the employer and worker
  • management of the work program, workload, activities and working hours
  • surrounding work environment
  • workstation set up, such as desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, mouse and computer
  • work practices and physical activity
  • mental health and wellbeing of the worker, and
  • other responsibilities the worker may have such as facilitating online learning for children or a caring role.

You must do what you reasonably can to manage the risks to a worker who works from home.

However, workers also have health and safety obligations to minimise risks when working from home including:

  • following procedures about how work is performed
  • using equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given and is not damaged or misused 
  • maintaining a safe work environment, such as designated work area, moving furniture to ensure comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards
  • managing their own in-house safety, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms
  • notifying the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards, and
  • reporting any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home.

Mental health risks and working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to mental health.

The WHS duties apply to both physical health and mental health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychological risks. 

Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact a worker’s mental health while working from home include:

  • being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
  • less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
  • changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
  • low job control
  • fatigue
  • poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
  • poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.

Working from home may also impact a worker’s mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling school-aged children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.

Looking after the mental health of workers at home

You must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home.

You must consult with workers and HSRs on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. You must also review how you’re managing the risks to check your policies and processes are effective. 

Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. It is important that you have regular and clear communication with your workers to set realistic and clear instructions on workloads, roles and tasks, to monitor work levels and to check that work can be successfully completed from home without creating any additional safety risks. Adjust any work tasks and ways of working as appropriate. 

Steps you must take to manage risks to your workers’ mental health where reasonably practicable include:

  • providing information about mental health and other support services available to your workers (Beyondblue has set up a freely available mental health support website or you may have an existing employee assistance programs you can refer workers to).
  • maintaining regular communication with your workers and encouraging workers to stay in contact with each other
  • staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with your workers and HSRs as it becomes available
  • offering your workers flexibility, such as with their work hours, where possible
  • making sure workers are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day
  • responding appropriately to signs a worker may be struggling, e.g. changed behaviour
  • informing workers about their entitlements if they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities
  • eliminating or minimising physical risks, and
  • providing workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns and to find workplace information in a central place including HSRs.

For further information the Infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work shows how the risk management process can be applied to psychosocial risks. 

Detailed guidance is available in Safe Work Australia Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.

Who is responsible for ensuring that my workers have a safe workstation set up to work from home?

Under the model WHS laws, you have a duty of care for the health and safety of your workers and others at the workplace. This includes where your worker is working from home. You must consult with workers and take all reasonable steps to ensure their workstations are correctly setup to reduce potential musculoskeletal injuries.

Workers also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them. 

You and you workers share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. 

To ensure your workers’ workstation set up is safe, you should:

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including setting up an ergonomic workstation, why workers should not be sedentary all day, and how to avoid this
  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, for example by requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you
  • provide a health and safety checklist for working from home for workers to use, for example checking for trip hazards in the work space
  • consider organising a workstation assessment by a competent person where practicable, allow workers to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment, and
  • have ongoing discussion with your workers regarding their workstation set up.

Workers must follow reasonable policies or directions set by you. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other reasonable safety policies and directions you give them. As with any other work environment, workers must inform you of any work-related incidents or injuries that occur while working at home and are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to you and their HSR.

What do I need to do about home workstation set ups?

You must eliminate or minimise risks to the health and safety of your workers, so far as is reasonably practicable. While you have less control over a worker’s home, you must still consult with workers and HSRs and take steps to reduce work health and safety risks of workstations as much as possible (with available and suitable solutions)

To minimise the risk of a worker sustaining a musculoskeletal injury while working from home, you could:

  • organise a virtual workstation assessment
  • have ongoing discussion with your workers about their workstation setup
  • provide a health and safety check list when working from home for your workers to use
  • provide a workstation self-assessment checklist and health and safety check list for your workers to follow
  • provide your workers with information on setting up an ergonomic workstation, and
  • allow workers to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment, and
  • monitor to ensure the workstation set up is not creating additional risks and the need for any additional equipment.
  • In undertaking safety checks you should ensure workers have access to first aid based on an assessment of their duties and home work environment.

Further resources:

Am I required to provide my workers with equipment to enable them to work safely from home?

You must identify and manage any risks to workers working from home. Undertaking a risk assessment will assist you to determine what is reasonably required to keep workers safe. It may not be reasonably practicable to conduct a physical inspection of your workers’ home, but there are other ways you can assess the risks, including by requiring workers to complete a workstation and health and safety checklist that you may discuss with them.

You may determine that it is practicable to allow workers to borrow equipment from the office or reimburse reasonable costs. You and your workers must discuss what equipment may be required for the worker to safely carry out their work as early as possible during the workstation set up and continue to monitor their ongoing equipment needs throughout the time they are working from home.

If you are not satisfied that a safe workstation can be created, it may not be reasonably practicable for the worker to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for the worker in the office and flexible work hours to minimise contact between workers. 

What are my obligations to my workers to ensure that they have suitable breaks and work reasonable hours while working from home?

You must ensure workers continue to access their workplace entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and any agreed to flexible work arrangements. You should consider whether any existing workplace policies and procedures need to be revisited in light of the COVID pandemic and increased working from home arrangements.

Information on workers’ entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and flexible work arrangements, is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

I have workers working from home who are also caring for, and educating, their school aged children who are unable to attend school. What are my obligations towards these workers? 

Good communication between you and your workers is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure your workers are aware of any working from home and carer policies that apply to your workplace. Workers may also wish to discuss their entitlements to carers leave and other relevant forms of leave. Further information on leave entitlements is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Workers may wish to share tips on balancing work and caring responsibilities with others. Tool box discussions and team meetings can be a great place to share this information in a friendly environment. This might include tips on how workers have managed to balance their caring arrangements with their partner, where available. 

How can I support my workers who are finding working from home stressful and it is negatively impacting their mental health? 

You must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home. 

Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. You must consult with workers and HSRs on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. You must also review how you’re managing the risks to check your policies and processes are effective. 

There are a range of resources available to workers to support workers’ mental health. These include:

There are also a number of practical steps that can help. These include:

  • ensuring workers have the contact details for the relevant Employee Assistance Program
  • maintaining regular communication 
  • supporting flexible work arrangements, where available, and
  • ensuring workers effectively disengage from work and log off at the end of the day.

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080.

One of my workers has contracted COVID-19 while working from home. What should I do? 

If you have a worker who has contracted COVID-19 you will need to follow the health advice provided by your public health authority. 

You should discuss leave arrangements with your worker and determine if the worker has had contact with any other workers while they were infectious.

You must ensure that the worker does not return to the workplace until they provide evidence that they are no longer contagious and are fit for work. It is possible that a worker with COVID-19 could potentially work from home, if for example, they have no or minor symptoms. This would be subject to the advice from the relevant treating clinician that they are fit to work and discussions with the worker. For example, a doctor may recommend reasonable adjustments, including reduced working hours or changes to a worker’s workload.

When should workers to return to the workplace? 

Before workers return to their usual workplace you must ensure your proposed arrangements are consistent with the latest advice from public health authorities. You will also need to undertake a risk assessment and consult with workers and HSRs before workers return to the usual workplace. 

This risk assessment will need to include consideration of the Government’s current advice on physical distancing and whether your workplace can support all your workers returning at the same time while meeting those requirements. You may consider options for staging a return to the workplace, to ensure that physical distancing requirements are met in accordance with Government advice. 

As part of your risk assessment you must consider vulnerable workers and ensure that they are not put at risk by a direction to return to the workplace. Pending your risk assessment, it may be that vulnerable workers should remain in a working from home arrangement for a longer duration that those workers who are not vulnerable. 

You are also required under the WHS laws to consult with your workers and any HSRs about any direction to return workers to the workplace. 
Finally, you should keep up to date with the latest health and Government advice on COVID-19. 

Can I direct my workers back to the usual workplace?

Whether or not you can reasonably direct workers back to the workplace will depend on a number of factors, including public health requirements and the individual circumstances of the worker working from home.

Workers must follow any reasonable policies or directions you put in place in response to COVID-19. You must consult with workers and HSRs prior to decisions being made to return to the workplace. You must also ensure return to work arrangements adhere to relevant Commonwealth, state or territory government advice (e.g. physical distancing requirements). 

Where circumstances change, for example it is no longer safe for a worker to continue working from home due to a change in the worker’s home situation or the ability of the worker to continue working from home effectively, the worker may after appropriate consultation be directed to return to the workplace. 

Before requiring workers to recommence work at their usual workplace you must, in consultation with workers and HSRs, have a plan to ensure the safe return to work for all workers.

Where can employers get more information on working from home?

Comcare

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Western Australia

Family Violence Resources (not COVID-19 specific)

Depending on the nature of the work involved in your industry, you may only have a limited number of workers, if any, who are able to work from home. However, this advice has been included for your industry as there may be some workers who could undertake their work from home.

Are workers entitled to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, has advised that workers should be permitted to work from home wherever, and whenever, they can. You should also check any relevant advice from your state or territory regarding working from home in response to COVID-19. 

Whether working from home is reasonably practicable will depend on the specifics of the workplace, the facilities available for workers to work remotely and the ability for workers to do their work safely from home. As a small business employer, it may be more challenging for you to accommodate working from home arrangements for your workers. However, there are practical steps you can take to ensure you meet your WHS duties and the government’s directions in response to COVID-19, consistent with the general WHS advice for small business. In deciding whether working from home is appropriate for your workers, in consultation with workers and their representatives (e.g. a Health and Safety Representative - HSR), you should consider:

  • the individual worker's role
  • whether the worker is in a vulnerable person category for contracting the virus (see our information on vulnerable workers)
  • suitability of work activities
  • workflows and expectations
  • workstation set up
  • surrounding environment such as ventilation, lighting and noise
  • home environment, such as partners, children, vulnerable persons and pets
  • communication requirement such as frequency and type
  • mental health and wellbeing of the worker
  • safe working procedures and training requirements, and
  • potential risk of infection on journeys to and from the workplace.

Under the model WHS laws, each employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place in every workplace where the employer engages workers to carry out work or directs or influences workers in carrying out work. 

If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, encouraging or directing workers to work from home may be the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Any existing workplace policies and/or practices on working from home would apply to arrangements implemented as part of the COVID-19 response. You may need to vary your policies and/or practices to reflect the broader requirements of the COVID-19 situation such as the ability to work from home while also caring for children. As with all work health and safety matters, you must consult with your workers and their representatives on working from home arrangements. 

Whether working at the office or at home, a worker has the right to stop or refuse unsafe work when there is a reasonable concern of exposure to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. In some circumstances, this could include exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Any concerns about health or safety should first be raised with you or the worker’s representative. A worker may also contact a union for advice. If a worker decides to stop work as it is unsafe, they must notify you as soon as possible and be available to carry out alternative work arrangements. See also our information on workers’ rights and the Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian Workplace Laws webpage.

What must I do when workers are working from home?

The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home. You have duties to ensure the health and safety of your workers, even if they are working from home.

What you can do to minimise risks at a worker's home may be different to what you can do at the usual workplace. However, in consultation with workers and their representatives, you should:

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including what a good workstation set up looks like, why workers should not be sedentary all day and how to avoid this 
  • allow workers to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed 
  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, consistent with any workplace policies and/or practices, for example requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you 
  • maintain regular communication with workers 
  • provide access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services. Beyondblue has a freely available website or you may have an existing employee assistance program (EAP) you can promote, and
  • appoint a contact person in the business who workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home.

You must also think about, and consult your workers, on how your existing policies and/or practices apply when working from home, including:

  • notification of incidents, injuries, hazards and changes in circumstances
  • consultation and review of work health and safety processes, and
  • attendance, timesheets, leave and other entitlements and arrangements.

If necessary, employers may consult workers for an inspection of the worker’s home work environment to ensure it meets health and safety requirements. This can be achieved through virtual means such as photos or video to avoid the need for a physical inspection. In many cases, given the types of risks associated with the activities to be undertaken, an inspection will not be required. Depending on the complexity of the potential risks involved, you may need to engage the services of a health and safety professional to assess the risks to a worker working from home. 

What are the WHS risks of working from home?

Working from home may change, increase or create work health or safety risks. You must consult with workers before you implement control measures to address these risks. It is also important to review and monitor whatever arrangements are put in place to ensure that these arrangements do not create any additional risks. 

Some key considerations that may affect the WHS risks of workers working from home or remotely include:

  • pre-existing injuries the worker may have
  • communication frequency and type between the employer and worker
  • management of the work program, workload, activities and working hours
  • surrounding work environment
  • workstation set up, such as desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, mouse and computer
  • work practices and physical activity
  • mental health and wellbeing of the worker, and
  • other responsibilities the worker may have such as facilitating online learning for children or a caring role.

You must do what you reasonably can to manage the risks to a worker who works from home.

However, workers also have health and safety obligations to minimise risks when working from home including:

  • following procedures about how work is performed
  • using equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given and ensuring it is not damaged or misused 
  • maintaining a safe work environment, such as designated work area, moving furniture to ensure comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards
  • managing their own in-house safety, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms
  • notifying the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards, and
  • reporting any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home.

Mental health risks and working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to mental health.

The WHS duties apply to both physical and psychological (mental) health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychological risks. 

Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact a worker’s mental health while working from home include:

  • being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
  • less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
  • changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
  • low job control
  • fatigue
  • poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
  • poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.

Working from home may also impact a worker’s mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling school-aged children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.

Looking after the mental health of workers at home

You must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home.

You must consult with workers and their representatives on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. You must also review how you’re managing the risks to check your policies and/or processes are effective. 

Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. It is important that you have regular and clear communication with your workers to set realistic and clear instructions on workloads, roles and tasks, to monitor work levels and to check that work can be successfully completed from home without creating any additional safety risks. Adjust any work tasks and ways of working as appropriate. 

Steps you must take to manage risks to your workers’ mental health where reasonably practicable include:

  • providing information about mental health and other support services available to your workers (Beyondblue has set up a freely available mental health support website or you may have an existing employee assistance programs you can refer workers to).
  • maintaining regular communication with your workers and encouraging workers to stay in contact with each other
  • staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with your workers and their representatives as it becomes available
  • offering your workers flexibility, such as with their work hours, where possible
  • making sure workers are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day
  • responding appropriately to signs a worker may be struggling, e.g. changed behaviour
  • informing workers about their entitlements if they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities
  • eliminating or minimising physical risks, and
  • providing workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns and to find workplace information in a central place including any HSRs.

For further information the Infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work shows how the risk management process can be applied to psychosocial risks. 

Detailed guidance is available in Safe Work Australia Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.

Who is responsible for ensuring that my workers have a safe workstation set up to work from home?

Under the model WHS laws, you have a duty of care for the health and safety of your workers and others at the workplace. This includes where your worker is working from home. You must consult with workers and take all reasonable steps to ensure their workstations are correctly setup to reduce potential musculoskeletal injuries.

Workers also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them. 

You and you workers share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. 

To ensure your workers’ workstation set up is safe, you should:

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including setting up an ergonomic workstation, why workers should not be sedentary all day, and how to avoid this
  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, for example by requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you
  • provide a health and safety checklist for working from home for workers to use, for example checking for trip hazards in the work space
  • consider organising a workstation assessment by a competent person where practicable, allow workers to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment, and
  • have ongoing discussion with your workers regarding their workstation set up.

Workers must follow reasonable policies or directions set by you. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other reasonable safety policies and directions you give them. As with any other work environment, workers must inform you of any work-related incidents or injuries that occur while working at home and are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to you.

What do I need to do about home workstation set ups?

You must eliminate or minimise risks to the health and safety of your workers, so far as is reasonably practicable. While you have less control over a worker’s home, you must still consult with workers and their representatives and take steps to reduce work health and safety risks of workstations as much as possible (with available and suitable solutions).

To minimise the risk of a worker sustaining a musculoskeletal injury while working from home, you could:

  • organise a virtual workstation assessment by asking the worker to send a photo or video of their workstation set up to you
  • have ongoing discussion with your workers about their workstation set up
  • provide a health and safety check list when working from home for your workers to use
  • provide a workstation self-assessment checklist and health and safety check list for your workers to follow
  • provide your workers with information on setting up an ergonomic workstation, and
  • allow workers to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment, and
  • monitor to ensure the workstation set up is not creating additional risks and the need for any additional equipment.

In undertaking safety checks you should ensure workers have access to first aid based on an assessment of their duties and home work environment.
 
Further resources:

Am I required to provide my workers with equipment to enable them to work safely from home? 

You must identify and manage any risks to workers working from home. Undertaking a risk assessment will assist you to determine what is reasonably required to keep workers safe. It may not be reasonably practicable to conduct a physical inspection of your worker’s home, but there are other ways you can assess the risks, including by requiring workers to complete a workstation and health and safety checklist that you may discuss with them.

You may determine that it is practicable to allow workers to borrow equipment from the office or reimburse reasonable costs. You and your workers must discuss what equipment may be required for the worker to safely carry out their work as early as possible during the workstation set up and continue to monitor their ongoing equipment needs throughout the time they are working from home.

If you are not satisfied that a safe workstation can be created, it may not be reasonably practicable for the worker to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for the worker in the office and flexible work hours to minimise contact between workers. 

What are my obligations to my workers to ensure that they have suitable breaks and work reasonable hours while working from home?

You must ensure workers continue to access their workplace entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and any agreed to flexible work arrangements. You should consider whether any existing workplace policies and/or practices need to be revisited in light of the COVID pandemic and increased working from home arrangements.

Information on workers’ entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and flexible work arrangements, is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

I have workers working from home who are also caring for, and educating, their school aged children who are unable to attend school. What are my obligations towards these workers? 

Good communication between you and your workers is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure your workers are aware of any working from home and carer policies and/or practices that apply to your workplace. Workers may also wish to discuss their entitlements to carers leave and other relevant forms of leave. Further information on leave entitlements is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

Workers may wish to share tips on balancing work and caring responsibilities with others. Tool box discussions and team meetings can be a great place to share this information in a friendly environment. This might include tips on how workers have managed to balance their caring arrangements with their partner, where available. 

How can I support my workers who are finding working from home stressful and it is negatively impacting their mental health? 

You must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological (mental) health and safety arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home. 

Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. You must consult with workers and their representatives on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. You must also review how you’re managing the risks to check your policies and/or processes are effective. 

There are a range of resources available to workers to support workers’ mental health. These include:

There are also a number of practical steps that can help. These include:

  • ensuring workers have the contact details for the relevant Employee Assistance Program if you have one in place
  • maintaining regular communication 
  • supporting flexible work arrangements, where available, and
  • ensuring workers effectively disengage from work and log off at the end of the day.

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080.

One of my workers has contracted COVID-19 while working from home. What should I do? 

If you have a worker who has contracted COVID-19 you will need to follow the health advice provided by your public health authority. 

You should discuss leave arrangements with your worker and determine if the worker has had contact with any other workers while they were infectious.

You must ensure that the worker does not return to the workplace until they provide evidence that they are no longer contagious and are fit for work. It is possible that a worker with COVID-19 could potentially work from home, if for example, they have no or minor symptoms. This would be subject to the advice from the relevant treating clinician that they are fit to work and discussions with the worker. For example, a doctor may recommend reasonable adjustments, including reduced working hours or changes to a worker’s workload.

When should workers to return to the workplace? 

Before workers return to their usual workplace you must ensure your proposed arrangements are consistent with the latest advice from public health authorities. You will also need to undertake a risk assessment and consult with workers and their representatives before workers return to the usual workplace. 

This risk assessment will need to include consideration of the Government’s current advice on physical distancing and whether your workplace can support all your workers returning at the same time while meeting those requirements. You may consider options for staging a return to the workplace, to ensure that physical distancing requirements are met in accordance with Government advice. 

As part of your risk assessment you must consider vulnerable workers and ensure that they are not put at risk by a direction to return to the workplace. Pending your risk assessment, it may be that vulnerable workers should remain in a working from home arrangement for a longer duration that those workers who are not vulnerable. 

You are also required under the WHS laws to consult with your workers and any their representatives about any direction to return workers to the workplace. Finally, you should keep up to date with the latest health and Government advice on COVID-19. 

Can I direct my workers back to the usual workplace?

Whether or not you can reasonably direct workers back to the workplace will depend on a number of factors, including public health requirements and the individual circumstances of the worker working from home.

Workers must follow any reasonable policies or directions you put in place in response to COVID-19. You must consult with workers and their representatives prior to decisions being made to return to the workplace. You must also ensure return to work arrangements adhere to relevant Commonwealth, state or territory government advice (e.g. physical distancing requirements). 

Where circumstances change, for example it is no longer safe for a worker to continue working from home due to a change in the worker’s home situation or the ability of the worker to continue working from home effectively, the worker may after appropriate consultation be directed to return to the workplace. 

Before requiring workers to recommence work at their usual workplace you must, in consultation with workers and their representatives, have a plan to ensure the safe return to work for all workers.

Where can employers get more information on working from home?

Comcare

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Western Australia

Family Violence Resources (not COVID-19 specific)

The nature of the work involved in your industry may impact your ability to access working from home arrangements, as well as how these arrangements are set up. If you are unsure how the information below applies to you, talk to your employer or contact your local WHS regulator. Their contact details are available on our website.

The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home.

To support you while working from home your employer, in consultation with you and your representatives should:

  • identify work health and safety risks and appropriate control measures
  • allow you to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed 
  • require you to familiarise yourself and comply with workplace policy and procedures, for example by having a workstation self-assessment checklist that includes how to set up your computer workstation. If you identify any issues or concerns when completing the checklist, you should discuss these with your employer
  • provide you with a health and safety checklist to use to ensure you have a safe work space
  • maintain regular communication with you and your co-workers 
  • provide access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services (Beyondblue has a freely available website, or your employer may provide an employee assistance program (EAP) you can access), and
  • appoint a contact person in the business that you and your co-workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home

Your employer must consult with you, other affected workers and any HSRs on working from home arrangements. 

You also have a duty as a worker to take care of your own health and safety and follow reasonable health and safety policies, procedures and instructions put in place by your employer. This may include:

  • following procedures about how the work is performed
  • following instructions on how to use the equipment provided by the workplace
  • maintaining a safe work environment (for example moving furniture to allow adequate workspace and providing adequate lighting, repairing broken steps)
  • keeping equipment safe, well maintained and in good order
  • looking after your own in-home safety (for example maintaining electrical equipment, keeping a first aid kit and installing and maintaining smoke alarms)

You must also advise your employer of any risks that you are aware of that arise from you home working environment. These risks could be physical risks, like poor lighting, or psychosocial risks, like long working hours, high work demands and reduced support from managers and colleagues. 

Any WHS issues raised with your employer must be resolved in accordance with the WHS issue resolution process in your workplace. Further information about consultation and dispute resolution can be found in the Model Code of Practice: WHS consultation, cooperation and coordination and the Worker Representation and Participation Guide.

Can I work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, has advised that workers should work from home wherever and whenever they can. You should also check the latest advice from official sources in your state or territory regarding working from home in response to COVID-19.

Whether working from home is a reasonably practicable measure at your workplace will depend on the specifics of the work you do, the facilities available for you to work remotely and the ability for you to do your work effectively and safely from home.

Under the model WHS laws, your employer has a duty of care for the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace. This duty extends to identifying and managing the risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus and putting appropriate controls in place.  

If work can be completed at home, and the risks that arise from working remotely can be effectively managed, your employer may determine that encouraging or directing you to work from home is the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

In assessing whether you should be working from home, your employer must take into account that vulnerable people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Vulnerable people include: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions. Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges. 
  • people 70 years and older, and
  • people with compromised immune systems.

As public health conditions change, any working from home arrangement your employer put in place in response to COVID-19 may also vary. 

As with all work health and safety matters, employers must consult with you and any elected HSRs in relation to returning to the normal workplace.  

Mental health risks and working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to psychological health.

The WHS duties apply to both physical and psychological (mental) health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychological risks. 

Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact your mental health while working from home include:

  • being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
  • less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
  • changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
  • low job control
  • fatigue
  • poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
  • poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.

Working from home may also impact your mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.

More information is available about managing mental health risks on the Safe Work Australia website.

How can I take care of my mental health while working from home?

The mental health of workers either directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 is an important consideration. Some people may be struggling to deal with feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, and others may be adjusting to self-isolation or working from home.

While self-isolation and working from home is an important measure that many workers and workplaces are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, these measures can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety, including their psychological health and safety. Where possible, you must follow reasonable instructions from your employer on health and safety matters.

Some strategies that may help you to look after your mental health while working from home include:

  • keeping a routine, such as by having regular start and finish times and taking regular breaks
  • setting boundaries between your work and home life, for example setting aside a work area in part of your house, wearing ‘work clothes’ when you are working, discussing boundaries with the people you live with
  • taking care of your mental and physical health outside of work, such as by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, staying connected to family and friends (in line with physical distancing requirements), spending time outside, reducing your alcohol intake
  • staying connected with your managers and co-workers, for example scheduling regular team meetings via phone, email or videoconferencing, and
  • identifying and minimising distractions in your home.

You should contact your employer if you start feeling stressed or that your mental health is being negatively impacted by your work from home arrangement. Your employer has a duty to ensure your psychological health just like your physical health while you are working so they need to be aware if something is stressing you or you have any concerns. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

Further resources

Who is responsible for ensuring that I have a safe workstation set up when working from home?

Under the model WHS laws, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. This includes working from home arrangements.

Workers also have a duty to take care for their own health and safety, which includes while working from home, and must follow any reasonable policies or directions their employer gives them. 

This means employers and workers both share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. 

Employers should:

  • provide you with information on how to identify and address common risks associated with working from home. Information may include guidance on what is a safe home office environment, what a suitable computer station set up looks like with equipment available, and why keeping active when working from home is important for health and wellbeing
  • provide a workstation self-assessment checklist for you to complete, and
  • consider allowing you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment.

You must follow reasonable policies or directions of your employer. This may include completing workstation checklists and following any other reasonable safety policies and directions given to you by your employer. As with any other work environment, you must inform your employer of any work-related incidents or injuries that occur while working at home and you are encouraged to report health and safety concerns to your employer and HSR.

How do I set up a workstation at home?

When working from home, the model WHS laws still apply. Just as in the office, your workstation must be set up in a way that is safe, comfortable and easy to use. 

A workstation that is set up incorrectly can create poor postures leading to injury and eye strain. The length of time that you sit in these postures also adds to the risk for injury and health problems associated with long periods of sitting.

What you need to do to set up a safe workstation depends on the work you do, your environment and your individual needs. You have a duty to take care for your own health and safety while working from home and must follow any reasonable policies or directions your employer gives you about setting up your home-based workstation. You should also refer to any relevant advice from the WHS regulator in your state or territory.

If you have concerns about the safety of your home workstation set up, talk to your employer or your HSR. Your employer has a duty to manage any health and safety risks that arise out of your workstation set up, as far as is reasonably practicable.

You may find Safe Work Australia’s - How do I set up a workstation at home guide helpful. This resource includes a checklist of tasks and activities to consider when setting up your workstation.

Am I entitled to equipment to enable me to work safely from home? 

To make sure you have a safe workstation set-up, your employer may allow you to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or they may offer to reimburse you reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment. 

You should discuss these options with your employer or consult your workplace policy about working from home. If you require equipment, you should discuss what equipment is needed with your employer to safely carry out your work. 

If your employer is unable to be satisfied that a safe workstation can be created at your home, it may not be reasonably practicable for you to work from home. In these circumstances, alternative arrangements may need to be made. This could include setting up a safe office space for you in the office and/or establishing flexible work hours to minimise contact between you and other workers in the office.

I am working from home and caring for, and educating, my school aged children who are unable to attend school. What can I do to ensure that I balance my work life, with my family life, and ensure that I take breaks and work reasonable hours? 

Good communication between employers and their workers is especially important when workers are working from home. You should ensure that you are aware of any working from home and carers policies that relate to your workplace including, for example, flexible work arrangements. You may also wish to discuss your entitlements to caring and other leave with your employer and flexibility in working hours where possible. Further information on leave entitlements is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website

You may also find Comcare’s information sheet for parents and carers helpful.

I am finding working from home stressful and it is negatively impacting my mental health. What should I do and where can I find support?

Good communication with your employer and colleagues is especially important when you are working from home. You should share any concerns that you have about your working from home arrangement with your employer as they may be able to assist. 

Some organisations engage organisations to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organisation has an EAP it may be appropriate to contact them to discuss your situation. Your workplace EAP may be able to provide you with useful information and strategies to assist you. 

There are a range of resources available to workers to support worker’s mental health. These include:

There are also a number of other practical steps that can help. These include:

  • maintaining daily communication with colleagues
  • staying informed with information from official sources and sharing relevant information with other workers 
  • accessing flexible work arrangements, where available, and
  • effectively disengaging from work and logging off at the end of the day.

It is also open to you to discuss with your employer whether it is an option for you to return to your usual workplace. 

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080.

I have contracted COVID-19 while working from home, what should I do? 

If you have been found to have COVID-19 you must follow the health advice provided by your treating clinician and public health authority. You should also notify your employer of your circumstances as soon as practicable, even if you have been working from home. 

You will need to discuss personal leave arrangements with your employer, if necessary, and may be asked to inform your employer if you have been in contact with any other workers while you were infectious.

You must not return to the workplace until you provide advice that you are fit for work. If you have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic whether you can continue to work from home will be something to discuss with your treating clinician. Your employer will likely require that you provide medical certification to return to work, in accordance with the latest health requirements.

If you have not been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19, and rather you have been in quarantine for the required 14 days (due to contact with a confirmed case, or returning from overseas travel), you should not need to provide evidence that you have tested negative for COVID-19 in order to return to work, following the 14 day quarantine. 

When can I return to the workplace?

When you will be allowed to return the workplace will depend on current Government advice, including about physical distancing requirements at workplaces, and advice from your employer about when it is safe to do so. Your employer may implement measures to ensure a safe transition back to the workplace. This may include measures to maintain appropriate physical distancing, in line with the latest Government advice. 

If your workplace is open to access by workers, and you are having difficulties adjusting to working from home, you should consult with your employer about whether you can undertake work from your workplace. Whether this option is available for your workplace will depend on the physical distancing requirements for your workplace, as well as your workplace’s policy for managing workers to work from home or the office during COVID-19.  

I like working from home, can I keep doing it?

Whether you will need to return to your usual place of work after a period of working from home will depend on a number of factors, including any working from home policies that apply.

As public health conditions change, working from home arrangements made by your employer in response to COVID-19 may change. 

Your employer must consult with you about returning to the workplace and ensure return to work arrangements are consistent with public health requirements. Your employer must also consider the risks to workers when they return to their usual workplace and, in consultation with you and your representatives, how to eliminate and control those risks.

Beyond work health and safety considerations there are a range of flexible working arrangements that employers and workers can explore together that may suit their individual needs and circumstances. More information is available about workplace rights and responsibilities in relation to the COVID-19 virus on the Fair Work Ombudsmen Coronavirus and Australian Workplace Laws webpage. 

Where can workers get more information on working from home?

Comcare

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Western Australia

Family Violence Resources (not COVID-19 specific)

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