Easing of COVID-19 restrictions prompts return to work planning

By Lachlan Boucaut, Eden Sweeney
COVID-19 Employment & Safety

In brief 3 min read

States and territories have recently eased the restrictions on business closures and public gatherings, prompting a wave of return to work planning. However, businesses need to be aware of a variety of limitations that will prevent workforces from completely returning to pre-COVID normality for some time. 

How does it affect you?

  • Businesses need to understand how the changing restrictions affect their return to work plans.
  • They should not return their workforces to the office without appropriately considering logistical issues.
  • Businesses need to constantly monitor the situation, which is especially complicated if they have offices in multiple states and territories, as restrictions differ between them.

NSW – a case study

On 15 May 2020, the NSW Government implemented a new public health order that softened some of the restrictions on businesses and public gatherings, while upholding others.1

The new public health order removed the provision that stated workers could not leave their house to go to work unless they could not work from home. Some businesses have taken this change as their cue to start the return to work process. However, the following restrictions still apply in NSW, and will have a significant impact on return to work plans:

  • Employers must allow an employee to work from home where it is reasonably practicable to do so. Victoria and Queensland have a similar provision.
  • There must be 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises (this does not apply to offices or other similar places of work).
  • Some businesses (those that conduct wedding, funeral, memorial or religious services) have to keep records of customer contact information.

Businesses also need to consider other government advice from bodies such as Safe Work Australia, which recommends that social distancing is maintained in office buildings. This includes implementing the 4 square metre rule and keeping 1.5 metres between people. It specifies that while there is no requirement for 4 square metres to be provided in places such as lifts, physical distancing should still be maintained as much as possible.2 This will create a number of logistical issues for businesses, which will need to consider these limitations before bringing their workforces back to the office.

What's next?

These restrictions are continually updated. Businesses need to constantly monitor the situation and adapt their plans to new advice.


  1. Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 2) 2020 (NSW).