COVID-19 Update

Face Masks in Victoria: What are the Employer’s Responsibilities?

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The Victorian Government has recently recommended that adults living in areas under Stage restricted areas wear face masks when in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

There will be no enforcement on the use of face masks. As such, employers will not necessarily be fined if an employee does not wear one. Nevertheless, employers should take note of their general obligations to maintain a safe working environment under applicable workplace health and safety laws.

Do employers need to provide face masks to employees?

Employers should review operations and identify and introduce changes to minimise the spread of and possible exposure to COVID-19. It is commonly considered appropriate for face masks to be worn in a hospital or other environment where there is a high risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

If an employer decides that a face mask is appropriate to maintain the health and safety of employees, it is then their responsibility to provide the masks or pay for them. Employers must also provide appropriate training and instruction on how to properly put on, wear, adjust, remove and dispose of the mask.[1] If an employee is provided training and instruction about using a mask, they must comply with that training and those instructions.

Can employers direct an employee to wear a face mask?

According to Safe Work Australia, an employer can direct an employee to wear a face mask if, in consultation with the employee, the employer considers it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

It is important to note that wearing a face mask may result in new work health and safety risks, such as performing good hand hygiene when disposing of a face mask, and so on. As such, employers should consider how to minimise the risks associated with wearing face masks in the workplace; for example, ensuring appropriate handwashing facilities and disposal facilities are accessible and appropriately used at the workplace.

Can an employer direct an employee not to wear a face mask?

If an employee wants to wear a face mask, it is important that employers discuss with that employee why they want to wear a face mask at work. It should be acknowledged that some employees may feel more comfortable and willing to come into the workplace if they are wearing a mask.

Employers should also inform employees of the measures in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Whether an employee can direct an employee not to wear a face mask needs to be determined on a case by case basis.

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