What policies should my employer have in place according to Victoria’s COVID rules?

What policies should my employer have in place according to Victoria’s COVID rules?

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. 

Employers’ Responsibility: 

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:

  1. Ensure physical distancing
    Ensuring 1.5-meter physical distancing is observed and physical distancing signage is displayed. Allowing employees to work from home where practicable, and ensuring that the one person per four square meter rule is maintained. 
  2. Wear a face mask
    Masks are to be worn indoors and outdoors where 1.5-meter physical distancing can’t be maintained (subject to valid exemptions such as medical exemptions).
  3. Practise good hygiene
    Regularly disinfecting high contact areas (e.g. doorknobs and printers), promoting regular washing and disinfecting of hands, and providing disinfect and soap at the workplace. Regular cleaning of office facilities is also an expectation. 
  4. Keep records and act quickly
    Recording all arrivals at the workplace for contact tracing and ensuring the business is closed at the first sign of a suspected or confirmed case, notifying authorities immediately. Businesses are asked to support workers to get tested and stay home even if they only have mild symptoms.
  5. Avoid interactions in enclosed spaces
    Ensuring that lunchrooms, meeting rooms and customer registration/reception areas are avoided if practicable. Employers are required to direct employees to conduct these activities in open roof areas where possible. 
  6. Create workforce bubbles
    Ensuring that employees work in ‘workforce bubbles’ to avoid any overlap of staff between shifts, and when possible ensuring that staff do not work across multiple worksites.

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. 

Raising Concerns as an Employee: 

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. 

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