The information contained in this article is current as at 20 August 2020. To view information on the latest coronavirus updates, please visit our COVID-19 Updates, Webinars and Resources page or alternatively contact us on (03) 9560 2922 for further information on any recent changes.
For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced and increased a range of psychological issues, including feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety, as they are unable to rely on their usual support networks, including the ability to visit friends and family. As many businesses have now shifted to a working from home and online environment, the already fine line between professional and personal life has proven even more difficult to draw.
Employers should be aware of these added pressures which many or all of their employees now face and the benefits of ensuring a mentally healthy workplace. It is important to note that employer obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (‘the Act’) still apply even though the workplace has now shifted to an at-home, online environment.
These obligations require employers to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health.
Under the Act, employers must:
- Identify psychosocial hazards,
- Assess the risk of physical and psychological harm associated with the hazard, and
- Implement measures to eliminate or reduce the risks,so far as reasonably practicable.
Identifying and assessing psychosocial risks from COVID-19
It is important for employers to recognise that each individual’s circumstances are different. Whilst one employee may be feeling anxious about their future role within the business, another may be under stress due to an increased workload or as a result of having to home school their children. Further, inadequate support and lack of guidance at work can also result in an increased risk to a person’s psychological health.
Psychosocial hazards in the workplace therefore include an employee’s perception that the demand of their work or the environment of their work exceeds their ability to cope. Undertaking a risk assessment along with input from employees is vitally important in identifying psychological risks and hazards. Once employees have been consulted and a clear understanding of the risks have been identified, developing a clear plan to address these concerns and to reduce the exposure to harm, along with regularly reviewing such plans, is recommended.
Implementing measures: Tips for employers
A positive, supportive and inclusive workplace is a vital step to ensuring employees feel connected and supported. Employers or managers who demonstrate calm and trustworthy leadership can help ensure employees feel informed and less apprehensive about their future employment.
We also suggest the following:
- Consulting employees on any risk to their psychological health,
- Communicating information transparently and honestly to employees, including decisions made and the risks and impacts on the business and its employees,
- Staying informed with official information and regularly sharing this information,
- Acknowledging concerns and understanding that these may be different for every employee,
- Informing workers about their rights under Work Health & Safety laws, including the right to stop working under certain circumstances and the right not to be discriminated against or disadvantaged for raising work health and safety concerns,
- Organising online team catch-ups which involve non-work related activities, and
- Sharing wellbeing services, such as:
- Comcare – Coronavirus: mental health and wellbeing guidance and resources
- Australian Psychological Society – Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety
- Headspace – How to cope with stress related to coronavirus (COVID-19), and
- Beyond Blue – Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support
Regular, meaningful communication with employees is essential for supporting them through this time. Ensuring a mentally healthy workspace that supports the wellbeing of employees is crucial to the success of any business.
For more information
For further information regarding your obligations as an employer, please contact our employment law team on 1300 205 506 or alternatively fill in the contact form below. For further COVID-19 resources, visit our Updates, Webinars and Resources page.
The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.
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For further information contact
Samuel is a Senior Associate at Sharrock Pitman Legal.
He deals with areas of Commercial Law, Employment Law and Charities & Not-for-Profit Law. For further information, contact Samuel on his direct line (03) 8561 3316.