Employers' Duty of Care During the Pandemic
Updated: Jan 8
As an employer, you have a duty of care for the health and safety of your employees and visitors at your workplace.
Photograph by Anna Shvets
Although there are workplace health and safety (WHS) guidelines in place, these are being challenged following the increasing number of employees working from home (WFH) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The model WHS laws were created by Safe Work Australia in 2011, requiring employers to take care of the welfare of their workers, contractors, volunteers and clients or customers in the workplace. Such laws have been implemented in New South Wales, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and the Commonwealth, and hence are legally binding in these states.
The model laws stipulate that employers must:
Provide and maintain a work environment that is without health and safety risk;
Provide adequate and accessible facilities for workers’ welfare, ensuring that they can carry out work;
Monitor workers’ health and conditions of the workplace to prevent illness or injury.
It has been reported that WFH raises a new set of risks for workers, many of which are psychological or household related such as family violence.
There has been no legislative changes to WHS regulations, but Safe Work Australia did release a Statement of Regulatory Intent encouraging employers to be prepared and protect workers from the risk of COVID-19 as far as reasonable practicable. Measures you should undertake include:
Ensuring the work of your organisation as well as the work environment does not put workers and other persons (e.g. customers, clients and visitors) at risk of contracting COVID-19;
Providing workers with relevant information and/or training to prevent exposure to COVID-19 during work; and
Consulting with workers regarding health and safety matters in relation to COVID-19.