Workplace Calm or Chaos

In many workplaces, disruption caused by COVID has led to chaos, while others have remained (relatively) calm. Despite the nature of the pandemic, it’s been the quality of communication, policies and procedures that has determined outcomes either positive or negative.

And with the question of mandated workforce vaccinations now on the table, for many employers it’s never been more important to understand how to create calm through clarity, in a rapidly changing work environment.

As Australian fruit processor SPC announces its requirement for staff to be fully vaccinated by November or be barred from entering the worksite, employers (and employees) around the country are watching closely as it unfolds.

Here, I have highlighted three key areas that will be of particular importance to business leaders:

1: Vaccinations

It remains highly unlikely that vaccination will become mandatory for all workers, not least because the Prime Minister has recently reiterated the government’s stance that vaccination in Australia will remain voluntary. There are also employees who have sound medical reasons that exempt them from having the vaccination.

In lieu of this, business leaders will be well advised to implement proactive measures and incentives that encourage voluntary vaccination, tailored to their particular industry and the risks specific to their operations. At the same time, thought will need to be given as to how you will manage those employees who don’t, or can’t get vaccinated, particularly in the context of possible employee infections causing operational shutdowns, risks to other employees and the community.

Clear workplace health and safety policies and procedures relating to illness, personal hygiene, social distancing and COVID testing are imperative. However, policies and procedures that are prone to regular change, as has been the case for circumstances relating to the more infectious Delta variant, need to be accompanied by clear communication to employees.

Unfortunately, even accidental wrong-doing by confused employees will likely result in significant setbacks, costly operational shut downs, adverse PR and potentially fines and legal consequences for the employer for workplace health and safety breaches.

Documenting policies and procedures is time consuming and requires expertise to both address the letter of the law while being adequately user-friendly for effective implementation and clarity on the shop floor.

2: Travel

As we’ve experienced, government mandated lockdowns are imposed swiftly. Exemptions are sometimes granted for critical travelling workers, however quarantine will continue to be a requirement for some time. For business leaders who have not yet done so, providing technology and other facilities that enable workers to fulfil their duties from home should be made as seamless as possible. For those who can’t, workplace health and safety practices will likely need to be elevated to address unique circumstances.

These requirements will need to flow through to HR policies and employment agreements. They’ll need to be amended to take into account situations that include working from home, working altered hours, changes in duties, impacts of childcare or home-schooling on employees, and the possible impact of border closures.

Again, policy and procedural clarity is key to effectively managing your workforce, averting confusion and potential contravention of laws and avoiding unfair practices that can quickly escalate to legal action.

3: Leave

It is very likely that consideration will need to be given to existing employment agreements. This may include amendments for paid or unpaid personal/annual leave and other leave options, which may be governed by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) or a Modern Award.

Work from home requirements, obligations, and responsibilities that may not have been necessary in the past, will also need to be laid out clearly and added as amendments to employment agreements. Unfortunately, and adding to the dilemma, provisions for quarantine leave, stand down or lockdown leave are not currently governed by the Act. However, employers must take care when amending employment contracts, as they cannot force employees to amend or enter into new contracts and any perceived negative action taken against employees if they refuse to sign a new contract could result in an adverse action application in the Fair Work Commission.

The Fair Work Commission does have a great deal of information publicly available at

Next steps
Business leaders always expect their workplaces to change. However in pandemic circumstances, these changes are rapid and when uncertainty is mixed with complexity, calm can turn to chaos in a heart beat.

For both executives and business owners – your next step is to check the date of your current workplace policies and procedures. If they are dated before March 2020, it’s very likely they will not consider the current and evolving circumstances of COVID-19 or its more infectious Delta variant.

Next, consider the implications for your business should you experience a COVID workplace health and safety breach that results in a community outbreak, even a small one.

Should you be interviewed by the various health authorities on such an occasion, will you be able to confidently assure them that your policies, procedures, COVID plan and staff communication are adequate?

If your answer is no, you need to seek advice and implement solutions as soon as possible.

For more information about Workplace Relations and Employment Law, please contact Robert Lamb on  (07) 3007 2080 or email

Executive Strategies is a specialised information hub for executives and senior managers who may have founded their own business or who work for growing private, ASX listed companies or government businesses. Its purpose is to provide access to specialist advisers and information that addresses the often-complex issues affecting their personal prosperity.

The information in this article is intended only to provide a general overview and has not been prepared with a view to any particular situation or set of circumstances. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. While we attempt to ensure the information is current and accurate, we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the information in this blog as it may not be appropriate for your individual circumstances.

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