From 14 December, employers will no longer be obliged to allow employees to work from home where they can practicably do so.
The public health order has been in place in NSW for the duration of the COVID crisis. Under the order, employers were obliged to allow an employee to work at the person’s place of residence where it is reasonably practicable to do so.
But while office workers are encouraged to head back to work, the government expects businesses to have COVID-Safe plans, including staggered staff starting and finishing times to reduce the impact on public transport.
Individuals using public transport are also strongly encouraged to wear a mask.
Also on Wednesday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard hinted that the government could explore fining people for not wearing masks on public transport.
“There is just no way you should be on the public transport without a mask,” Mr Hazzard said.
“At no stage do we want to impose fines on people, but it will become necessary if people do not lift their game in wearing masks on public transport.”
Commenting on NSW's repeal of the public health order, the Australian Business and Lawyers and Advisors (ABLA) said it represents a "significant development" for employers who have been attempting for many months to run normal operations balanced against safety concerns and compliance with public health orders.
"In the case of office workers, many employers have already been having informal discussions about encouraging some form of return to work in order to boost colleague interaction, team culture, productivity and, most importantly, to improve mental health outcomes," Luis Izzo, managing director of ABLA's Sydney Workplace, said.
"The repeal of the public health order allows employers to progress return to work discussions more meaningfully."
ABLA encouraged employers to be careful not to adopt a one-size fits all approach to return to work.
"The most important step from here will be to ensure that any encouragement or directions to return to the workplace provide a mean for considering individual employee circumstances, and adopting different approaches where warranted".
NSW workers prefer semi-remote work
A new report by the NSW Treasury has revealed that NSW workers want a balance of two to three days remote working per week.
The report made a number of interesting findings including:
- Fifty-six per cent of work in NSW can’t be done remotely and needs to be done on-site.
- Half of the workforce can work remotely for at least two days a week.
- Two days remote work per week saves about $860 in travel costs per year.
- WFH saves workers an average of one hour and 17 minutes per day in commute time.
- Most people who could work remotely reported higher productivity.
- Collaboration and social isolation are key challenges for remote workers.