With improvements in vaccination rates across the country, states and territories have introduced updated public health orders which set out the requirements and restrictions for businesses, including working from home arrangements.

Working from home in many circumstances, particularly for white collar employees, is a reasonable control measure that can be taken to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others in the workplace to minimise exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

NSW and Victoria

States such as Victoria and New South Wales have had these stay at home and working from home orders in place for the longest period, due to the extent of which Covid-19 has spread.

A survey conducted by the University of Sydney in 2020 found that Victorians had seen the largest change in work arrangements, with 45% of respondents working from home during the pandemic compared to 20% of respondents before the pandemic began. The same survey found that 39% of workers in NSW worked from home during the pandemic, compared to 20% before the pandemic began.

With COVID-19 restrictions in NSW having eased following the new public health orders that came into effect on 11 October 2021 (and subsequent changes as vaccination rates increase), employers have been faced with questions over what they can do in relation to employees working from home. The current public health orders in NSW (as of 21 October 2021) state that employers must require an employee whose place of residence or usual place of work is in a stay-at-home area to work at the employee's place of residence unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so.

Easing restrictions in other states and territories

The ACT has mirrored New South Wales' approach in only allowing essential workers to go about their daily duties during lockdown, having all other employees work from home. However, lockdown restrictions in the ACT are lifting quicker than NSW, and most lines of employment were able to go back to work in person from 1 October 2021.

In South Australia and Western Australia there were limited time periods in 2021 where employees advised to work from home due to a short lockdown. However, employees were able to return to work provided their employer had put in place effective measures to protect the health of its workforce against COVID-19.

Measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace

After extended periods of working from home, employees are gradually returning to work as a result of the easing of restrictions across Australia. Employers should consider and put in place measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Further information on the on the steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace can be found at the following links:

Western Australia: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/worksafe/covid-19-coronavirus

New South Wales: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/safe-workplaces/workers

Victoria: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19

Queensland: https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/resources/campaigns/coronavirus

South Australia: https://www.safework.sa.gov.au/workers/health-and-wellbeing/infectious-diseases/coronavirus-covid-19

Northern Territory: https://worksafe.nt.gov.au/forms-and-resources/news-and-events/news/2020/advice-on-coronavirus-covid-19

Tasmania: https://worksafe.tas.gov.au/topics/Health-and-Safety/safety-alerts/coronavirus/covid-safe-workplaces-framework

Australian Capital Territory: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/s/article/work-health-and-safety-and-covid-19-what-you-need-to-know-tab-overview