The removing of mask mandates and working from home public health recommendations will help get staff back into workplaces, and take the mental stress off employers and employees who have copped abuse from hostile customers while policing government mandates over the past several months.
As of Friday 25 February in NSW, masks are no longer mandatory in most indoor settings, but still encouraged. The direction for employees to work from home switched from a public health recommendation to employer discretion on Friday 18 February. In Victoria, these same changes among others apply as of 11:59pm Friday 25 February. The easing of mask restrictions in Queensland apply as of 6pm Friday 4 March.
Business owners have had to deal with a rise in risk management incidents over recent months since the responsibility fell on them to mandate masks and vaccinations in certain settings, which unintentionally created unsafe workplaces. Recent data compiled from Employsure’s dedicated employer Advice Line has revealed a 30% increase in risk management related calls in the past three months, compared to the same period a year prior.
With the government putting the responsibility on businesses to enforce the mandates or risk a fine, employers have been left to pick up the pieces. Young workers have experienced violence in the firing line of hostile customers, which often resulted in little to no police response.
“Our clients, particularly those in retail and hospitality, have told us they’ve seen an exponential increase in workplace violence in recent months while enforcing Covid rules such as mask wearing,” said Employsure head of health and safety Felix Yeung.
“Workplace violence can be detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. Removing mask mandates will help take the pressure off business owners and their young staff who have been policing the rule over the past several months, often to disgruntled and sometimes aggressive customers.
“Now that our vaccination rates are high, if an individual still wants to wear a mask then by all means they should. However, that is now their responsibility. It shouldn’t be left up to employers to enforce government mandates – not at this point.
“Proof of vaccination may still be required in some settings despite mask mandates easing, so it is important employers know what to do if future threatening situations arise, and that employees know how to follow safe operating procedures.
“Employers should also be proactive and ensure the correct control measures are implemented to minimise the risk of physical and psychological harm in the workplace. Employers must continue to ensure they follow personal hygiene guidelines, and that routine environmental cleaning and disinfecting takes place. Hand sanitiser should continue to be made available to help eliminate or minimise the risk of any possible future transmission.”
Returning to work:
With the direction for employees to work from home or return to the office now at the employer’s discretion in some states, it presents the opportunity for business owners and their staff to openly discuss what works for each other, and what works best for the business. Should employees return to the workplace fulltime or can a flexible working arrangement be met?
While some employers will opt for a fulltime return to the workplace, they run the risk of losing employees who may see it as a backward step, particularly those who have worked effectively from home for the past two years. Why would they stay in that role when they can apply for a job that advertises hybrid work as an option?
“We’ve had many clients express their concern over the direction they should take. It’s a fine line between wanting staff to return to work five days a week, and risk losing them during what people are calling ‘the great resignation’,” said Employsure Business Partner Emma Dawson.
“If flexible work is a realistic option then by all means that should be discussed. If however an employer wants a full return to work but the employee doesn’t want to return five days a week, employers could look at flexible start and finish times, or even ways to compress their hours into fewer days. Adding two extra hours a day from Monday to Thursday for example will allow for the employee to come into work fulltime, while also still receiving a Friday off.
“When it comes down to it, the more staff who return to work the better. Small businesses across the country have been hit hard over the past two years, and a return to work for employees will give these businesses the support they need to rebound. For every worker that can return to the workplace, that’s one more potential coffee sold, one more meal purchased, and one more sale that assists in the economic recovery of Australia,” she concluded.