With COVID-19 making an unwelcomed return, August 2020 saw metropolitan Melbourne entering stage 4 lockdown restrictions, the strictest to date. The Victorian State Government has also placed regional Victoria under Stage 3 restrictions. But what does this mean to small to medium business owners and employers? If you’re struggling to come to terms with these new developments, here’s the lowdown on the new lockdown.
What are the Stage 4 Restriction Changes?
Stage 4 restrictions is a ramping up of lockdown in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. In brief, Stage 4 involves a curfew between 8pm and 5am, and was instigated in August, 2020. This means that all people who live in metropolitan Melbourne must be at home during these hours, with the only excuse for leaving home being permitted work, medical care and/or caregiving.
When people leave home, faces must be covered unless you have a lawful reason for not doing so. Outside of these hours, the four reasons that people can leave home remain, but further limitations are now in place. These four main reasons are:
Shopping for food or other essential items, including items at the pharmacy, bottle shop, petrol, post office or pet store. Other shops will only be available for delivery or click and collect. However, people are only allowed travel up to 5km from their home to do their shopping, and only one person per home is allowed leave per day. Multiple trips are not allowed.
People are allowed out to exercise, but this applies to outdoor exercise, and with only one other person. Again, people aren’t permitted to travel more than 5kms from their homes, and are limited to an hour of outside exercise per day.
Medical care, including taking a pet to the vet or leaving home to accompany someone for essential medical treatment. The 5km limit does not apply in these circumstances.
Permitted work. Under Stage 4 restrictions, only those workplaces permitted to be open are allowed to operate on-site, and they must have a COVIDSafe Plan in place. Several industries have also been identified as high-risk, and must also have a High Risk COVIDSafe Plan to complement their COVIDSafe Plan.
What is the Stage 4 Restrictions Permitted Workers Scheme?
The Permitted Workers Scheme is a list of industries and businesses that are deemed essential, and are, as such, allowed to stay open during Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions. Even though it is expected that all non-essential workers will work from home while Stage 4 restrictions are in place, permitted workers will be allowed out to carry on their work duties if they have a worker permit signed by both the employee and their employer.
This worker permit will enable them to commute to and from work. Breaching the requirements carries a penalty of up to $19,826 for individuals and $99,132 for businesses, or on the spot fines of up to $1,652 for individuals and up to $9,913 for businesses.
Is Your Business ‘Essential’?
The Stage 4 Restrictions means that all workplaces in metropolitan Melbourne are closed unless the workplace is part of a permitted industry. As of August 2020, all Victorians are required to work from home, except in the case of the permitted workers scheme, outlined above.
Although this is an ever-evolving, fluid situation, the Victorian Government has outlined examples of workplaces that are closed for on-site work, open for on-site work with a COVID Safe Plan, and where there are restricted operations or industry specific obligations. This can be found here.
Business Support Fund
To support businesses impacted by these restrictions, the Victorian Government will make available one-off grants to eligible businesses under the Business Support Fund – Expansion program.
$10,000 for employing businesses in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in recognition of spending longer under restrictions
$5,000 for employing businesses in regional local government areas (except Mitchell Shire)
Those who have already received a Business Support Fund – Expansion grant, or have applied for one, will not need to re-apply. Successful applicants will automatically receive this additional allocation.
Applications for the program will be extended until 14 September 2020. For information, visit the Business Victoria website.
Creating a COVID Safe Workplace
If your business is one that can remain open during Stage 4 Restrictions, it is imperative that you operate safely and within guidelines. As of August 2020, you must have a completed COVIDSafe Plan in place to remain open if you are operating in Melbourne proper, while a COVIDSafe Plan is advised for regional Victoria. An effective COVIDSafe Plan must set out:
Your actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your workforce
How you will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace
Your COVIDSafe plan must demonstrate how you will meet all of the requirements set out by the Department of Health and Human Services. Some higher-risk industries or workplaces have additional requirements of employers and employees.
How Employsure Can Help You
Employsure are Australia’s largest Employment Support service, offering 24/7 expert advice on workplace relations. In August 2020, we put together a number of free guides and resource kits to help prepare you and your staff to return to work safely. Alternatively, if your staff will be working from home during Stage 4 restrictions, there’s also helpful guidelines on what you and they need to know in order to operate a safe workplace from home. Remember – just because they may not be onsite, if your staff are working for you then you may still have obligations you need to fulfil as an employer.
As always, if you have any questions regarding Stage 4 restrictions and how it pertains to your business and employees, call our friendly team for free initial advice on 1300 651 415 – and stay COVID safe.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where does stage 4 restrictions apply in Melbourne?
As of August 2020, For all people living in Melbourne city and surrounding suburbs, Stage 4 restrictions now apply. Stage 3 restrictions apply for regional Victoria.
Does my business need to close under Stage 4 restrictions?
My industry/workplace isn’t included on the Stage 4 industries list – how can I find out if I need to close?
- Under these restrictions, businesses in Melbourne can only operate for on-site operations if they are included in the list of Permitted Work premises, published by DHHS. If you’re unsure, you must cease operations and call the Business Victoria hotline on 13 22 15 to clarify your position.
I believe I should be able to open – how can I get an exemption to operate?
If you believe that you should be allowed to continue to operate during the restrictions, then contact the dedicated Industry Coordination Centre that has been set up within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. This Centre will review uncertain cases to determine if you can safely operate.
What obligations do I have as an employer if my business is still operating?
As of August 2020, under Stage 4 workplaces that remain open must:
- Have a COVIDSafe Plan in place that is regularly updated (unless you employee fewer than 5 employees)
- Ensure that any workers that can work from home are able to do so
- Collect records of all workers, subcontractors, customers and clients attending the work premises for 15 minutes or longer (certain exemptions will apply)
- One worker per four square metres of enclosed workspace or in shared areas
- Employers must ensure that workers do not work across multiple sites, unless it is not practicable to limit workers to one site only.
- If it is not practicable to limit a worker to only one work site, or if the worker has multiple employers, then the worker must declare this to their employer(s). The employer(s) must maintain a record of all workers who work across multiple work premises.
- If your worker is unwell, send them home and direct them to be tested. They must stay home until they have their result
- Report any positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) to DHHS, WorkSafe, Health and Safety Representatives, and notify your workforce
- Regularly clean your facilities, shared spaces and provide additional cleaning supplies
- Undertake risk assessments for cleaning and the potential closure of your workplace in certain situations.
What are my employees’ obligations when they come to the workplace?
Under the Stage 4 restrictions, workers must:
- Know your workplace’s COVIDSafe Plan and understand what’s required
- If you can work from home, you must work from home
- If you need to travel to work, you must have a permit
- Check that you are feeling well before starting your shift – you cannot work if you are unwell
- Provide your details to your employer when you start your shift for record keeping purposes
- Only work at one location – you cannot work across multiple worksites
- Notify your employer if you intend to work at a different worksite
- If you are feeling unwell, go home and get tested
- Tell your employer if you test positive to coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Regularly clean equipment and shared spaces.
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