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Face coverings in the workplace

Information on face coverings for business owners and employers

On this page

  • General advice about face coverings in the workplace
  • Employer responsibilities
  • Exceptions from wearing face coverings
  • Business Access to Masks Service

General advice about face coverings in the workplace

If you live within metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria or Mitchell Shire you must wear a face covering whenever you leave home, unless you have a lawful reason for not doing so.

A face covering needs to cover both your nose and mouth.

By covering your face, you’re keeping local businesses open, and keeping local people in work.

Even with a face covering, you should keep 1.5 metres distance between you and others.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has up to date information for face coverings.

What are my responsibilities as an employer of staff in Victoria?

At workplaces located within metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria or Mitchell Shire, you and your staff must wear a face covering at work, and to and from work, unless you have a lawful reason for not doing so.

A face covering needs to cover both your nose and mouth.

For employers, this means ensuring employees wear a face covering while at work, unless an exception applies.

Where the work or task requires the use of specific types of face coverings in the workplace, these must be provided by the employer. Where an employee seeks to provide and use their own face covering at work, an employer must ensure that it is meeting its obligations under the OHS Act.

Employers should encourage their employees to bring their own face covering where possible, however there is an obligation for employers to provide a face covering if an employee does not have one.

Employers have a responsibility to identify whether there is a risk to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) at their workplace, as well as areas where employees are unable to stay 1.5 metres apart.

Employers and employees have legal duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. See WorkSafe Victoria and Safe Work Australia for information about minimising health risks in your workplace.

What does wearing a face covering mean?

A face mask or face shield is the recommended face covering. A face mask includes any paper or textile covering designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to protect the wearer. It does not have to be medical grade and you can make your own.

A face shield means any film made from plastic or other transparent material designed or made to be worn like a visor, covering from the wearer’s forehead to below the chin area and wrapping around the sides of the wearer’s face, to provide the wearer protection.

There are instructions on how to make a mask on the Department of Health and Human Services website - how to make your own mask (PDF).

If a face mask is not available other forms of face covering may be used such as a scarf or bandana.

Why do I have to wear a face covering?

Wearing a face covering helps keep you and others safe. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spread from close contact with a person with the virus. Face coverings are helpful to stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) and is contagious, but feels well.

The best way to protect other people against coronavirus (COVID-19) is staying home when you feel unwell, keeping 1.5 metres apart, wash your hands often, and cough or sneeze into your elbow or tissue. Face coverings add an additional protective physical barrier to protect you and your loved ones.

Lawful excuses or exceptions for not wearing a face covering

A face covering is not required in the following circumstances:

  • A person who is affected by a relevant medical condition - including problems with their breathing, a serious skin condition on the face, a disability or a mental health condition. This also includes persons who are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to that person’s health and safety related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.
  • Persons whose professions require clear enunciation or visibility of their mouth. This includes teaching or live broadcasting.
  • When the individual is doing any exercise or physical activity where they are out of breath or puffing; examples include jogging or running but not walking. You must have a face covering on you and wear it when you finish exercising.
  • When directed by police to remove the face covering to ascertain identity.
  • The person is travelling in a vehicle by themselves or with other members of their household.
  • When consuming food, drink, medication or when smoking/vaping.
  • When undergoing dental treatment or other medical care to the extent that the procedure requires that no face covering may be worn.
  • When entering or inside a financial institution, like a bank.
  • During emergencies.

You must carry a face covering with you when leaving home for one of the four reasons, even if you don’t need to wear it while undertaking your current activity, for example you can take your face covering off to eat.

If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a face covering at all times you don’t need to carry it with you.

As an employer, where can I buy face masks?

Cloth and single-use masks are available from wholesale and retail outlets including chemists, workwear and safety equipment providers, office suppliers and hardware stores.

Re-useable cloth masks are being manufactured by a range of Victorian companies.

Several Victorian manufacturers are producing single-use face masks, including Care Essentials in Geelong and MedCon in Shepparton.

A list of manufacturers is available on our Medical PPE supplier directories page.

Businesses requiring face masks that cannot source them from retailers or wholesalers are advised to contact the Business Victoria hotline on 13 22 15 for support.

What if my business has been unable to source face masks for the workplace?

There is currently ample supply of masks in Victoria for businesses and community members to access through retail and wholesale channels.

But if your business has not been able to source face masks for use in the workplace through normal retail and wholesale channels help is at hand through the Business Access to Masks Service.

The Business Access to Masks Service is a new initiative between the Victorian Government, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).

Fact Sheet - Sourcing face masks for your business (DOCX 78.07 KB)DOCX icon

How does the Business Access to Masks Service work?

If you have an urgent requirement for face masks and cannot source them from your regular suppliers, you may be able to purchase from a limited supply of masks the Victorian Government has set aside for industry to purchase.

The Victorian Government has partnered with Ai Group and VCCI to distribute these masks to businesses struggling to find supply. To enquire about the Business Access to Masks Service please call the Business Victoria hotline on 13 22 15.

Your Business Victoria representative will refer you to one of these organisations to purchase masks from the Victorian Government’s supply. Eligibility criteria and purchasing limits apply.

Can I take off my face covering if I find it uncomfortable whilst working?

It is important that you wear your face covering when at work, but some people may require short breaks from wearing their face covering. When you do so, ensure you are not near other people, and follow this advice when removing your face covering:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch the front of the mask or your face.
  • Carefully remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or untying the ties. For masks with a pair of ties, unfasten the bottom one first, then the top one.
  • If your mask has filters, remove them and throw them away. Fold the mask and put it directly into the laundry or into a disposable or washable bag for laundering. Single use surgical masks should be disposed of responsibly.
  • Clean your hands again.

Only a short break should be required.

As an employee, where can I buy face masks?

Cloth and single-use masks are available from wholesale and retail outlets including chemists, workwear and safety equipment providers, office suppliers and hardware stores. If you prefer to support Victorian mask manufacturers, a directory of local makers is available on the our website. You can also follow these directions to make your own cloth masks.

Do I need to wear a face covering at my place of work or my desk even if I am 1.5 metres away from others?

Yes, if you live in metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria or Mitchell Shire you must wear a face covering when you leave your home for one of the four reasons, which includes working, unless an exception applies. If you work in an enclosed office on your own, you don’t have to wear a mask while at your desk. If someone enters your space and when you leave it, you need to wear a mask.

From Sunday 2 August at 11.59pm, this also applies across regional Victoria.

Do I need to wear a face covering at home if I work from home and it is currently considered my workplace?

If you are working from home, you do not need to wear a face covering, unless you are caring for someone at home who has coronavirus (COVID-19).

Do employees in a call centre have to wear a face covering when they are speaking on the telephone?

Yes. Due to the number of people who work closely together in call centres, these workplaces represent a risk for transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Do construction workers have to wear a face covering?

Yes. Construction workers will have to wear a face covering unless they meet any of the criteria for exception such as a medical condition or if wearing a face covering creates a risk to the person related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.

Do baristas in coffee shops have to wear a face covering?

Yes. Baristas will have to wear a face covering unless they meet any of the criteria for lawful excuses such as a medical condition.

Do supermarket employees on the checkout have to wear a face covering?

Yes. Supermarket employees will have to wear a face covering unless they meet any of the criteria for lawful excuses such as a medical condition.