Now that lock-down restrictions are starting to lift around the country, many companies will be considering re-opening, or returning to their usual workplace arrangements prior to the pandemic. For example, on 1 June 2020 many businesses in the hospitality industry in Victoria reopened their doors to ‘dine-in’ patrons. Businesses that operate in office environments will be starting to consider when and how to bring their workers back from remote working arrangements.
Whilst the return to ‘normal’ life might seem relatively straight-forward, it isn’t! The landscape surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and employment is constantly changing, with court decisions being handed down, legislative changes and new government directives to be aware of.
First and foremost, despite the ease of restrictions in Victoria as at 1 June 2020, Premier Daniel Andrews recently announced a new directive requiring people who are currently working remotely to continue working remotely. If employees attend the workplace, without a valid reason (i.e. they are performing tasks that could be done remotely), both employees and employers could face some hefty fines. Rather than be an ‘advisory’, this is now an order by the Chief Health Officer under the Health & Wellbeing Act, which carries penalties for breaches. As Mr. Andrews explained, if an office that currently had 80% of their staff working from home, ignored the new order and had everyone come back on Monday 1 June, they would be in breach of the public health orders and would face significant penalties (potentially fines of up to $100,000).
Accordingly, whilst our lock-down laws are easing, it is important as an employer and a business to remain abreast of all the advice and directives that are in force at any given time.
Despite the above, it is expected that if things continue to move forward in a positive way, the Government will continue to ease restrictions and workers will slowly begin to re-enter the workforce across all facets. Therefore, it is paramount to start preparing now for how that will look for your business and what practices you will need to have in place to ensure a safe and successful return to business and return to work for employees.
We found the COVID-19 Business Restart Checklist, provided by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, quite helpful in outlining many of the criteria that will need to be addressed before re-opening your business and having employees return to work. These criteria cover matters of workplace health & safety, as well as general management and training requirements or considerations.
If you require further assistance with utilising a checklist such as this, to ensure it is properly tailored to your own business needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Francine Clancy, Senior Associate