Information for supermarket workers and other essential workers

A row of shelves in a supermarket.

Does my employer have to take COVID-19 precautions?  

COVID-19 is a safety risk for essential workers who are working during the lockdown. Your employer must ensure that you and others are safe. They must do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to minimise the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

Managing the COVID-19 risk will look different for each workplace. For supermarkets and similar services, it is reasonable to expect your employer to be doing the following:

  • Providing accessible facilities for hand washing and hand sanitising;
  • Doing whatever they can to make sure that physical distancing is happening. They could be using signage and placing floor markings 1.5 metres apart. They could also reduce the numbers of people permitted in the space and provide more space for queuing;
  • Taking extra steps to promote online service instead of face to face service; and
  • Providing masks for workers to use.

Note: these suggestions are based off Safe Work Australia information and the government recommendation to wear masks in public.

Maintaining social distancing from customers

If you think customers are not following physical distancing, speak with your employer about it. They could take further steps to ensure people are distancing, such as monitoring behaviour or marking out the direction of traffic.

If people are finding it hard to distance, there may be too many people in the space. Your employer should consider reducing the number of people permitted in at a time.

What can I do if my employer is not doing the right thing?

If you think your employer is not doing enough to make sure everyone stays safe, there are a few things you can do.

  • If you are a member of a union, get in touch with your union representative or call the union office for help. You can join your union via Australian Unions;
  • Raise the issue with your manager or with the work health and safety representative on your worksite. The work health and safety representative has the power to help sort out the issue. In some cases, they can direct unsafe work to stop. Your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you just because you have raised a health & safety issue;
  • If there is a serious incident, you can call SafeWork SA on 1300 365 255. You can also contact SafeWork about other issues by email: safework@sa.gov.au.

How can I deal with an influx of upset customers or clients?

People might be upset or stressed due to the lockdown, but it is never okay for them to act aggressively towards you as a worker. Strategies for dealing with aggression include:

  • Using calm communication to respond to the behaviour;
  • Refusing to engage with the customer or moving to a separate space. You have the right to stop doing work that is unsafe;
  • Seeking support from other workers and debriefing afterwards; or
  • Asking your manager if there are systems that they could put in place to reduce or better manage customer aggression.

Can I refuse to work during the lockdown?

If you do not feel comfortable working during the lockdown, you will have to negotiate with your employer about taking some time off work.

If you are a casual worker, you have no obligation to work if you choose not to. However, we all know it can be difficult to negotiate as a casual because your employer could stop giving you shifts in the long run.

If you work part-time or full-time with set hours, you need to request leave from your employer to take time off work.

If you are sick, you should not go to work. Get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Your employer should not ask you to work if you are sick.

If you are a vulnerable person (due to having a compromised immune system, for example) the risk to your wellbeing is higher, and so your employer should allow you to take leave to manage the risk to your safety. To negotiate some time away from work, provide your employer with a medical certificate or medical evidence showing that you are a vulnerable person.

How can I deal with the stress and mental health strains of the lockdown?  

As an essential worker, you are likely to be placed under increased pressure during the lockdown. You may be working increased hours, in more stressful situations and dealing with the uncertainty of the situation. It’s important that you take care of yourself through this time.

Some strategies for looking after yourself include:

  • Getting enough sleep and rest;
  • Taking a break from the news and social media;
  • Doing things that make you feel safe and calm;
  • Creating a routine that will help you have a sense of control;
  • Connecting with your co-workers or other social connections via phone or online; and
  • Staying active while complying with restrictions by doing some exercise or stretches at home.

Allow yourself to feel a sense of achievement for the work you are doing. Customer service and other essential services are often underpaid and undervalued. Your work is helping all of us get through a crisis, and for that you should be proud.

There are also a number of mental health support services available. 

  • Ask your employer if there is an ‘Employee Assistance Program (EAP)’ that you can access. EAP is free and confidential mental health support for employees;
  • For access to mental health services, or in a mental health emergency, call the 24 hour Mental Health Triage Service on 13 14 65;
  • There is a SA COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line 1800 632 753 and online chat;
  • Beyond Blue provides a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Service;
  • The Australian Psychological Society provides useful resources about COVID-19 stresses, including this fact sheet for frontline workers; and
  • Other mental health supports can be found here.

Further information

Join your union via Australian Unions.

COVID-19 information for retail, supermarkets and shopping centres. 

Vulnerable workers in retail. 

COVID-19 related mental health impacts. 

Consultation and representation at work on safety issues.

Work-related violence in retail.