COVID-19 and The Work from Home Revolution – Tips for Employers Now and Beyond

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of a traditional workplace has changed with many of us now working remotely or from home. Work arrangements have had to be adapted to allow for this transition.

Working from home arrangements are usually agreed upon between an employer and employee to find a mutually beneficial and workable solution. In this scenario, an employer has the same workplace health and safety obligations to an employee as they would if the employee was attending their usual place of work. Accordingly, employers must take steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees who access these types of arrangements so far as is reasonable.

Firstly, employers should consult with the employee to determine if working from home or remotely, is a viable option, as it may not be reasonably practical in all circumstances. At this stage, it may also be appropriate to determine how long these arrangements will continue as lockdowns end and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

What should employers consider as part of working from home arrangements?

The employer should take into account the following considerations:

  • individual employee’s role
  • workstation set up
  • surrounding environment such as ventilation, lighting and noise
  • home environment, such as partners, children, vulnerable persons and pets
  • communication requirements such as frequency and type, including phone calls, emails, videoconference, and daily or weekly check-ins or meetings
  • individual employee’s mental and emotional wellbeing
  • safe working procedures and training requirements.
  • determining if the worker has any pre-existing injuries
  • management of the work program, workload, and activities, including timeframes, expectations and work schedules, and review of workload

Employee’s responsibilities whilst working from home

The responsibility is not solely placed on the employer; employees also need to consider the following when working from home or remotely:

  • following procedures about how work is performed
  • keeping work equipment in good working order
  • using equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given
  • maintaining a safe work environment such as designated work area, moving furniture to ensure comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards
  • managing their own safety in their home, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms
  • notifying the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards
  • reporting any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home
  • notifying their employer of any incidents which occur in the home.

Where should employers go to seek guidance or direction?

Next, where such work from home or remote working arrangements are contemplated, employers should check if there is any guidance on the topic in their:

  • enterprise agreement
  • award
  • employment agreements
  • workplace policies

Employers and employees should also check any current enforceable government directions and public health orders that impact whether employees can work at the workplace or other locations.

Amendments to employment agreements

Amendments may be required to employment agreements to ensure that long-term and permanent work from home arrangements are adequately addressed.

A common approach to such arrangements is a mobility clause that enables employers to make reasonable changes to an employee’s place of work and possibly requiring them to work from home or any other location within a reasonable distance.

Employers may also want to consider additional sections in their employment agreements such as:

  • The minimum requirement for workplace attendance (e.g. team meeting days, training, etc);
  • What aspects of salaries and benefits need to account for work from home arrangements (if any);
  • Will there be allowances for utilities such as internet and electricity?
  • Will car allowances continue?
  • Flexibility in working hours to account for home and carer needs.

Workplace health and safety implications

Employers should consider whether an employee’s home office set-up is suitable for the type of work they will be doing. If necessary, employers may need to;

  • Consult employees to inspect the worker’s home office environment to ensure it meets minimum health and safety requirements.
  • Provide the employee with the necessary tools or offer them a grant to cover reasonable set-up expenses.
  • Vary their existing policies or employment contracts to ensure WHS procedures and requirements extend to remote work environments.

As long as it continues to meet the needs of those involved, employers and employees can negotiate ways to make their work arrangements more flexible. Flexibility in the workplace allows employers and employees to make arrangements about working conditions that suit them. This can help both employers and employees manage the impacts of the pandemic with the least amount of disruption. It can also lead to improved productivity as employees find a more harmonious work-life balance.

If your business is seeking advice on your legal and contractual responsibilities to your employees, please reach out to our team at Morrows Legal.


Image Source: Shutterstock (1380283811)

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