Not-for-profit Law
Legal help for community organisations

Managing people through COVID-19

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Is your workplace safe for employees and volunteers during the COVID pandemic? 

Employers have a duty to provide a safe and hazard-free workplace for their staff and volunteers.

On this page you'll find information on:

  • government advice and policy updates on workplace requirements 

  • answers to FAQS on managing volunteers and employees during a pandemic

  • other useful resources to help you manage your staff. 

Government advice and updates

Safe Work Australia 

Safe Work Australia has published National COVID-19 safe workplace principles. The principles operate subject to the measures agreed and implemented by governments through the National Cabinet process.

As government restrictions ease in Australia, organisations are transitioning workers and volunteers back to the workplace.

Victorian Government 

Victorian government online platform to connect volunteers and organisations

The Victorian Government in partnership with Volunteering Victoria has created an online platform that connects volunteers and organisations to support community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In doing so, the Victorian Government has implemented one of the recommendations we made to the inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic by funding the development of a platform that enables volunteers to obtain, keep updated and prove their police and Working with Children checks. Through the We Volunteer portal, volunteers can store this information in one secure online place, using My Pass online credential system, so they can then volunteer across a range of organisations that are part of the We Volunteer platform. 

Through the We Volunteer portal, people looking for volunteer roles can register their skills and search for roles that match their interests. Some of these roles can be performed from home.  Volunteer organisations will also be able to use the portal to recruit volunteers for various projects. For more information visit the Victorian Premier’s website and the We Volunteer portal.

WorkSafe Victoria 

Employers must notify WorkSafe Victoria if an employee receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.  

Since 29 July 2020, Victorian organisations have been required to notify WorkSafe immediately if an employee has a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis. This includes people who are self-employed and contractors who may have attended a worksite during their infectious period. The requirement is in force until 29 July 2022.

For more information on this requirement visit WorkSafe Victoria's website

Australian Department of Health

It has been tricky for organisations to understand what to do if they have volunteers that fall into categories that the government has declared to be at increased risk of a serious COVID-19 infection.

To see the updated categories of people that the Department of Health considers may be at increased risk of a serious COVID-19 infection, refer to the Department of Health website.

Managing the return of volunteers to the workplace 

Our fact sheet (below) on managing the return of volunteers to the workplace considers and answers the following questions: 

  • Can (and should) we ask volunteers to return to the workplace?
  • Do we have any special obligations for handling this type of health information about volunteers?
  • How does our organisation decide whether to ask volunteers to return to the workplace?
  • If we ask a volunteer to stop volunteering with our organisation, could we be in breach of anti-discrimination laws?
  • Can we ask our volunteers for medical clearance before allowing them to return to the workplace?
  • What happens if a volunteer contracts COVID-19 and is not covered by volunteer personal accident insurance? Could we be held liable (legally responsible)?
  • Can we ask our volunteers to sign a waiver to protect the organisation from liability in the event they contract COVID-19?
  • What should we do if a volunteer refuses to follow a COVID-safe plan or follow preventative measures?

Also see our FAQs on returning to the workplace below.

Please contact us if you have a specific query about this.

FAQs on managing permanent and casual employees and volunteers during a crisis

We have answered many other questions on managing permanent and casual employees and volunteers during a crisis below.

Links to other useful resources are published at the bottom of this page.

Managing vaccines FAQs

  • Can our organisation make a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for employees or volunteers?  
  • What are the employment-related legal requirements and considerations for COVID-19 vaccines?
  • What are the key considerations for mandatory vaccines for NSW health-services?

Volunteers FAQs

  • Our service relies on volunteers – can we ask them to continue to volunteer with us or to start returning to the workplace?

  • What happens if a volunteer contracts COVID-19 and they aren't covered by volunteer personal accident insurance? Could we be held liable (legally responsible)?

  • Should we let volunteers work from home?

  • We are getting lots of interest from people who want to volunteer with us. How do we manage this safely? 

  • Should we have a policy that addresses volunteering in a COVID-19 environment?

Work safety FAQs

  • What reasonable precautions can our organisation take to manage the safety of our workers (including volunteers)?

  • If our workers (including volunteers) are working from home, do we need to conduct a safety inspection?

Changing workers’ tasks or shifts FAQs

  • Our income has reduced because of COVID-19 and we are looking at reducing hours of paid staff. Can we ask volunteers to perform the work of our paid staff instead?

  • The demand on our services has increased because of COVID-19. Are we allowed to ask our paid staff to volunteer extra hours to meet service demand?

  • Do we need to give our casual employee their shifts back?

Working from home FAQs

  • Do we need to return employees to the workplace? Can employees remain working at home?

  • How do I make sure we’re meeting our work, health and safety requirements when my employees are working from home?

  • I don't think my employees are actually doing any work from home. How do I deal with performance management in this context

  • Some of our employees need to care for children at home. Are we obliged to make reasonable adjustments to their work?

  • What do I do if employees refuse to return to the workplace?

Organisation liability and insurance FAQs

  • There is an increased risk of our workers contracting COVID-19, could we be held liable if they are infected in the course of their employment?

  • If an employee contracts COVID-19, will this be covered by workers’ compensation?

Managing employee absences and leave entitlements FAQs

  • How do I manage my employees’ absences and leave entitlements at this time?

  • Can employees be made to take personal leave?

  • What if an employee is a carer for someone who is unwell?

  • Can we force employees to use long service leave?

Returning to the workplace FAQs

  • How do we plan our return to work?

  • What work health and safety issues should we think about when planning our return to work?

Other useful resources

Back to the top

Back to the main COVID-19 page

Read our resources on employees and volunteers for more information about your obligations. Please contact us if these don't answer your specific query.
Last Updated: 10 September 2021