WORKING FROM HOME – the new workplace frontier

Working from home means that both employers and employees have rights and obligations that should be considered and not overlooked. 

Working from home might sound like a walk in the park, however it is not as easy as it sounds or looks. Working from home also creates its own Work, Health and Safety risks for both the employer and the employee. The workers’ compensation laws still apply wherever you are working.

Working Remotely 

Considerations that an employer should consider if they have staff working remotely include:

Assessment of any pre-existing injuries that your staff may have.

The amount of communication, frequency and type of communication that you have with your employee(s).

The management of a work program, workload and other activities together with the length of time you work.

The surrounding work environment.

Workstation setup, this could include your desk, appropriate chair, monitors, keyboard, mouse, and computers.

Safe work practices and physical activity.

The mental health and wellbeing of your staff.

The other responsibilities that your staff may have including facilitating childcare or a role as a career. 

Manage Risks

Ideally there should be a “working from home policy” together with a “COVID-19 policy”. Ignoring these pre-conditions could lead to compensation claims and a lack of understanding as to what is expected by everyone.

As an employer you must do what is reasonably necessary to manage the risks of an employee who works from home. 

Employees also have health and safety obligations to minimise their own risks when working from home. This could include:

Following office procedures and policies and how work is performed.

Use the equipment provided by your workplace or your own as per instructions.

Maintaining a safe work environment, including a designated work area, moving furniture to ensure a comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces, or removing trip hazards.

Managing your own inhouse safety, this includes electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms.

Notifying the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards.

Reporting any changes that may affect your health and safety when working from home. This also includes mental health risks.

Psychological hazards that may impact on a worker’s mental health, include:

Being isolated from managers, colleges, and support networks.

Less support, from colleges about their work and decisions that need to be made.

Changes in work demand.

Low job control.

Not having clear boundaries between home life and work life. 

Fatigue.

Poor environmental conditions, for example ergonomically unsound workstation or high noise levels.

Poor organisational change management. 

What We Did

Initially at Paton Hooke Lawyers we had an A and a B team. We implemented this together with a working from home policy and a COVID-19 policy. Once we were all allowed to come back to the office everybody was so happy to see each other. Funnily enough the work production increased as you do not realise what you miss until it is gone, which includes all of those corridor conferences and informal meetings that assist the workflow and problem solving in an office. 

Employers must not forget that they have a duty of care for the health and safety of their staff at work and at any other workplace. This includes whether your staff are working from home and/or remotely. It is important to consult with your employees and take all reasonable steps to ensure that their work areas at home are correctly setup to reduce any potential physical and/or mental injuries. 

Employees also have a duty of care to care for their own health and safety, this includes following any reasonable policies or direction their employer gives them and making common sense decisions about your workplace environment. 

A good working from home policy would include the right of an employer to attend your home to access the workplace suitability. Many employees may not really like to have their employer come to their home, so this can be problematic. 

There is also the cost of setting up the work-station for staff or arranging for equipment to be borrowed or bought from work, where required. 

Regular meetings should be held with staff to keep them in the loop at least once a week to make everybody feel as though they are still in touch with their colleagues. 

It is difficult as the line is blurred between what is work and what is your personal life, especially when there are interruptions from other family members in your workspace and trying to juggle your priorities. 

Domestic Issues

There have been cases that involve domestic violence or depression whilst working at home. However, in these cases the employer was found not to be liable because they had proper policies in place and took action when the issues of domestic violence, depression and mental illness were made known to them. This included the employer providing counselling, support and understanding. 

When we are not working from home our domestic life and the issues and challenges can sometimes be left at the front doorstep.

If any of this article has raised any concerns the Lawyers at Paton Hooke Lawyers and Conveyancers would be more than happy to help you work through these challenging times. 

James Paton

Paton Hooke Lawyers and Conveyancers

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