Working from Home – Checklist for Employers

 In Employment Law, News

Due to the social distancing requirements of the COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic employers have been forced to direct their employees to work remotely, in most cases from their home.

It is critical that employers are aware of their obligations to their employees when they are working from home.

Work Health and Safety Obligations

Employers owe the same work healthy and safety obligations to employees who are working from home as they do to those employees in the workplace. Employers’ obligations extend to general WHS standards and protections, as well as to liability for workplace injuries and workers compensation claims.

Therefore, employers should set out requirements for working from home in a policy or procedure, and should ensure employees comply with the requirements before allowing them to work from home, most importantly that employees have an adequate, dedicated workspace.

Depending on the nature of the work, employers should consider in particular the risk of any injuries and the effect that the employee’s proposed workspace could have on their posture. For example, for a typical office type job, the employer should consider the following:

  • Computer – screen at comfortable reading distance, no glare, mouse and keyboard within comfortable reach;
  • Desk – adequate space for work, adequate leg room, no need to twist or strain;
  • Chair – stable, adjustable, padded, adequate lumbar support;
  • Electrical – appliances inspected/tested, cords secured;
  • Environment – adequate lighting, adequate heating and cooling, adequate ventilation;
  • General WHS – smoke detector, clear exits, basic first aid kit, no tripping hazards or slippery surfaces, handrails on stairs; and
  • Other – all manual handling tasks risk assessed, employee will have child/distraction-free capacity to perform work.

The best practice is for employers to require employees to submit a photo of their workspace and a checklist confirming that the work area is compliant with the basic standards as noted above.

Security, privacy and confidentiality

Employers should ensure that having employees working from home does not compromise the security, privacy or confidentiality obligation of the business.

This is particularly so given the almost complete reliance on digital communication. For instance, scanning confidential documents onto a home computer which is accessible to family or housemates, is likely to be a breach of the employer’s legal obligations.

Employers should get advice from an IT specialist to ensure their systems are secure.

Insurance

Employers should ensure that employees have adequate public liability insurance for their home to protect them in circumstances where a third party may be injured during working hours.

Assistance employers should provide

Working from home can be a big adjustment for employees. There are some basic recommendations that employers can provide to their employees to make the adjustment easier and to maintain motivation and efficiency:

  • Employees should be encouraged to maintain a regular routine. They should set and keep to standard work hours, and make sure they have appropriate breaks throughout the day. There should be at least one pre-arranged communication to employees during the day to plan a timeframe for their work.
  • Employers should direct employees to remove and reduce possible distractions. Given the current circumstances, for most jobs, it would be appropriate for employers to allow a bit of flexibility in relation to potential distractions, such as children.
  • Employers should ensure procedures to facilitate their employees communicating with each other. This could be by email, telephone or an application like Zoom or Facetime. For some people, working at home means they will be alone for a large part or all of the day, which ultimately can lead to feelings of isolation. This could certainly be exacerbated by the uncertainty and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Employers should encourage employees to reach out for assistance from the workplace if they feel they need it or, if appropriate, for professional support.

Johnston Withers: Experience You Can Trust

Johnston Withers’ employment lawyers have experience in providing advice to employers in relation to and workplace policies and procedures and industrial relations. If you’d like advice or direction from a lawyer, please contact us on (08) 8231 1110, or get in touch online.

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