COVID-19: dealing with the reluctant returner

Transitioning workers from JobKeeper-enabled leave to regular employment, or working-from-home back to the office, can pose challenges.

But employers have levers and tools to help manage those staff reluctant to resume work.


While you may feel confident you have taken all the necessary precautions, and the working environment is as safe as you can reasonably make it, your employees may still be anxious.

It helps to let staff know what you're doing to keep them safe and keep these updates responsive to any changes in the situation or changes in government advice.

It might even be worth creating a central source of information like an intranet page or a notice board to help staff stay updated.

Be alert to safety anxieties and respond. The earlier you get involved with a staff member’s concerns, the more likely you are to get an efficient resolution.

If you have mental health support services available to employees, share that with your staff.

It may be that rather than staff working from home, you can flex their hours for staggered start times to avoid peak hours and public transport.


Determining which workers are best placed to continue working from home and which need to physically be at a workplace can be a challenge for employers.

Establishing how productive employees are while working from home is a key factor in making this decision. Monitoring the performance of employees remotely can be done in several ways, including:

  • daily check-ins with managers or supervisor to set tasks for the day
  • more frequent monitoring of KPI’s e.g. monthly or fortnightly;
  • clear communication about roadblocks to productivity while working at home, and solutions to avoid these; and
  • regular virtual team meetings and additional support.

CCIWA Senior Employee Relations Adviser Erin Verzandvoort says it is important to focus on each individual’s role and circumstances when determining which workers need to return to the office.

“In the first instance, focus should be given to the role itself", she says.

"An employer determines how much of a role can be done at home and what parts of the role need to be done in-office or the field."

Verzandvoort says that the employer should prioritise bringing on-site roles, like client-facing or field-based jobs, back to the office first.

“Following this assessment, employers need to consider an employee’s personal circumstance, such as their caring responsibilities, or if they are at high risk of complications from COVID-19," she says.


Whether it be those coming back from JobKeeper or workers transitioning from their homes to office environments, there are several considerations employers need to make when directing employees to return.

Businesses need to determine whether the direction for an employee to return to work is both lawful and reasonable.

This can be done by assessing the particular industrial instruments that apply to an employee in their specific circumstances.

This could include an award or agreement, the contract of employment, internal policy or procedure or any other instrument that may outline terms and conditions of employment.

Disciplinary action may be necessary if an employer has communicated to a worker that they must return and the employee has not provided a valid reason as to why they are not following a direction.

Verzandvoort says there are many complexities relating to industrial instruments and businesses may need to contact CCIWA’s employment team for advice.

Transitioning workers from JobKeeper-enabled leave to regular employment, or working-from-home back to the office, can pose challenges.

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