Can an employer make you take a rapid test before you return to work?

Karyn Starmer 18 January 2022 32
Rapid antigen test

Whether an employer can request a rapid antigen test is likely to come down to individual circumstances. Photo: Annie Spratt.

As cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 explode across the country, employers and employees are faced with the dilemma of whether to request or provide rapid antigen testing results as a precaution rather than as a response to a public health order.

ACT Health currently requires anyone at high or moderate risk of getting COVID-19 from exposure to a known case to test and isolate after a PCR or rapid antigen test (RAT). But what if the test is just to make sure someone is COVID free?

Snedden Hall & Gallop director and employment law specialist Emily Shoemark said the situations in which an employer can request a rapid antigen test are likely to come down to individual circumstances, but there are some key considerations to cover most situations.


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Emily said the first thing is to consider what is lawful and reasonable.

“An employer must take into consideration any public health directions and recommendations and must also take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace,” Emily said.

The steps to provide a safe workplace include having a COVID-safe plan, implementing social distancing measures, requiring the wearing of masks when social distancing is not possible, as well as good standards of hygiene and good ventilation.

“A safe workplace is a balancing act between the employer and the employee. Each must play their part in keeping everyone safe,” Emily said.

“The next thing to consider is, if an employer is requesting an employee take a RAT, what is the reason? Is the business going to suffer if an employee comes to work COVID-19 positive?

“Employees retain their right to choose what happens to their body or refuse medical treatment, but with testing, there is a grey area where this lands.”


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Emily said if a job is in a low risk, non-public-facing setting, it is hard for an employer’s request for a RAT to be reasonable, particularly if the tests are hard to get. But if the business is at risk of a catastrophic impact if staff get sick or cannot operate due to a lack of staff, a RAT request becomes more reasonable.

Emily cited the example of an employer in a hospitality business requesting and providing a RAT in order to prevent other staff from getting sick and ensure the business has enough staff to open its doors.

“It is certainly a grey area, but if the employer provides and pays for a test to keep the business running and preserve employees’ shifts or even their jobs if a business is forced to close, that could be seen as a reasonable request. The test of what is reasonable will likely be based on day-to-day circumstances of any particular business.”

Safe Work Australia provides information for employers, small businesses and workers on the COVID-19 vaccines and how to manage risks from COVID-19 in the workplace.

“We are all in control of the safety of our workplace. Based on the Safe Work Australia recommendations, an employer must take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace, and if an employee has any symptoms, they should not come to work. We all share the responsibility to keep everyone safe.”


What's Your Opinion?


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32 Responses to Can an employer make you take a rapid test before you return to work?
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Ken Fowler Ken Fowler 3:08 pm 18 Jan 22

Then the alternative is not to let you come to work!

It’s not grey at all

Cindy Mariemalta Cindy Mariemalta 2:54 pm 17 Jan 22

So long as they provide it

Kylie Bonfili Kylie Bonfili 9:22 pm 15 Jan 22

Will the employer do a test everyday too and show it's negative?

This is beyond ridiculous. Employer needs to trust there employee doesn't have covid.

If they want it then employee has every right to request the same in return

Margaret Gracie Margaret Gracie 9:02 am 15 Jan 22

Request away, no one can find a bloody test, so no one will come to work.

Amy Lam Amy Lam 12:55 am 15 Jan 22

We do weekly the RAT test as we are beauty therapists of the beauty salon

James Forge James Forge 10:11 pm 14 Jan 22

Fine if that employer is providing the test kits

Marty Moss Marty Moss 9:33 pm 14 Jan 22

I have encouraged the team use a RAT before returning to work, and supply them if needed.

Daniel Palmer Daniel Palmer 9:13 pm 14 Jan 22

The rat tests are average at best..

Stephen Ning Stephen Ning 8:03 pm 14 Jan 22

Just provide them as an Employer.

Wait a minute……

Nathan Lofthouse Nathan Lofthouse 5:29 pm 14 Jan 22

Mine does

Dave Wilkinson Dave Wilkinson 5:18 pm 14 Jan 22

If they supply the test. Maybe..cause there's Buckley's chance otherwise

Kelly Tranent Kelly Tranent 4:57 pm 14 Jan 22

It really is pointless considering you can test positive after recovering from covid for up to 3 months after even though you aren't contagious anymore and your viral load is low.

    Onelia Herriot Onelia Herriot 8:56 pm 14 Jan 22

    Kelly Tranent not on RATs. They are not sensitive enough. Only on the PCR.

Greg Hunt Greg Hunt 4:38 pm 14 Jan 22

All good if you or they can actually get one.

Lisa LaMaitre Lisa LaMaitre 4:31 pm 14 Jan 22

Anna Krajacic did you see this?

John Elliott John Elliott 4:24 pm 14 Jan 22

Yes. We don't want our fellow workers to become like Louie The Fly, spreading disease with the greatest of ease!!

Graham Wilson Graham Wilson 4:19 pm 14 Jan 22

If an employer cant provide a RAT & the employee has to purchase - then I’d been seeking reimbursement as a “work expense”

Doug Barton Doug Barton 4:14 pm 14 Jan 22

Request.? Say yes or no then.

Simon Trommestad Simon Trommestad 4:03 pm 14 Jan 22

I tried to get a Rapid Antigen Test for 3 days at multiple pharmacies last week. Then I went to get tested and was told I’d have my results in 48 hours. 160 hours later, I received my negative test result. I isolated for a week for no good reason. The world needs to return to normal and treat sniffles and coughs the way we used to. It’s far too chaotic now.

    John Dale John Dale 4:25 pm 14 Jan 22

    Simon Trommestad except for the people dying so inconveniently……

    Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 4:39 pm 14 Jan 22

    John Dale like when people die from the flu?

    Simon Trommestad Simon Trommestad 5:06 pm 14 Jan 22

    John Dale, people die all the time. Something like 1,700 people died in 2017 from Influenza (in Australia). Were you advocating for extreme measures back then? If not, why not? Have you been brainwashed?

Carin Covid Carin Covid 3:21 pm 14 Jan 22

Yes I’ll take a RAT if I am required to by my employer. However, my employer will have to provide it and good luck to them getting enough for every staff member.

    Natalina Ireland Natalina Ireland 3:32 pm 14 Jan 22

    I agree.. if employer is insisting, then employer should be providing.

    Carin Covid Carin Covid 3:35 pm 14 Jan 22

    Natalina Ireland of course. Most people do not have access to them.

    Scott Abela Scott Abela 4:37 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carin Covid yes but... it depends what the employer intends to do with the information, thats important.. you don't just hand over information because they asked for it.

    Carin Covid Carin Covid 5:17 pm 14 Jan 22

    Scott Abela true but I know why they would want it in my industry. I had to be double vaxxed to work where I do and I know why and accept that.

    Scott Abela Scott Abela 5:18 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carin Covid yep, sounds fine, I'm just saying that I want to know what its being used for first, then I can give my informed consent.

    Carin Covid Carin Covid 6:21 pm 14 Jan 22

    Scott Abela it’s being used to see whether I’m infectious and whether there are 300+ kids in danger of contracting Omicron. I don’t care what is done with the data.

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