From 30 November 2020, 25% of employees in medium to large office-based organisations may return to the offices subject to COVID-Safe rules and industry-specific restrictions. For smaller office-based organisations with less than 40 employees, ten employees may return to office spaces subject to COVID-Safe rules and industry-specific restrictions. This is a welcome change for many of Victoria’s employees and employers alike. Employers must now ensure that a host of new rules and obligation are enforced to ensure a COVID-Safe return to office-based workspaces.
All employers are required to have a valid COVID-Safe Plan which takes into account the six COVID-Safe principles and industry-specific guidelines put forward by the Victorian State Government. This COVID-Safe plan embodies all the relevant workplace protocols for COVID-Safe conduct in the workplace, as well as an action plan in light of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace. All employers are responsible for enforcing these protocols and actions in their respective workplaces.
In general, employers are responsible for ensuring they are compliant with the six COVID-Safe principles, which are:
In many instances, the industry-specific requirements proposed by the Victorian Government reflect the ethos of the six COVID-Safe principles. Employees should make themselves aware of the specific requirements their employers must comply with. For example, in the Professional, Scientific, Financial and Administrative Services Industry, employees should take note of two particular requirements: that their employers must permit them (if requested by the employee) to work from home if they can work from home, and that if the office is regarded as a high capacity office, the employer ensures staggered arrival times, break times and departure times.
Employers have a responsibility to send employees home if they are unwell and ask them to be tested. These employees must also remain at home until a negative result is obtained. In the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace, employers are required to inform the Department of Health and Human Services and undergo a risk assessment to determine whether the workplace can remain open.
As Victoria moves towards a COVID-Normal working life, employees should note that their employers are required and obliged to ensure a COVID-Safe work environment for them. Concerned employees may make a complaint regarding potential breaches of COVID-Safe protocol to WorkSafe on 1800 136 089. Employees may also seek to contact their industry regulator or peak bodies if they believe industry-specific support is required, as it relates to a particular instance of non-compliance by employers. Non-complying employers may face fines of up to $100,000 for non-compliance with Victoria’s COVID rules.