Employees working from home and your safety obligations as an employer

As an employer, you have a duty of care to all employees who work for you – regardless of where that work is undertaken.

Since the COVID pandemic working from home  has been a blessing for most knowledge workers – no commuting to and from work, flexibility in your workday and it was the first legitimate way to strike a work-life balance.

And even employers acknowledge productivity levels had not declined, if anything, productivity increased.

However, if we go back to my opening line – working from home also poses a significant challenge for employers.

As an employer you still have a duty of care to your employees (working from home), however, how do you exercise your legal safety obligations when you don’t control the employee’s home space?

If you have given your employees to work from home on a regular basis, then the obligation is on you, the employer, to ensure their homework environment is safe.

One of the ways to do this is to conduct a full and detailed health and safety check including risk assessment of their home working space.

However, snap, and extended lockdowns forced knowledge workers to immediately work from home (if possible), giving no time for any such home office safety audits.

Who is responsible for what?

If as an employer, you allow your employees to work from home, then you (employer) are responsible (duty) to provide a safe working environment which is without risk to an employee’s health and safety.

And while the whole home or apartment cannot be considered as the workplace, the specific or designated area of work where the employee conducts their employment duties is considered as a workplace.

So, what are your (employer) obligations for employees who you allow to work from home?

3 key Health & Safety obligations for employers that allow working from home

  1. Provide guidance in setting up a safe home office environment

This would include how to set up a workstation that support proper ergonomics, comfort and safety, including potential trip/fall hazards, safe lifting techniques, and the like.

Additionally, how to avoid being sedentary all day long by offering simple stretching, moving and mobility exercises.

If you are not physically able to audit the employees home workspace, then think about setting up simple work-assessment checklist.

  1. Regular communication

Setting up a regular communications program with your employees allows you to check in with them to ensure all is well and if any assistance is needed.

This is not your chance to micro-manage, rather, you are wanting to create a communication pattern similar to what would have been if they were physically in the office.

  1. Mental health and wellbeing

While working from home has many benefits for the employee, a common theme emerging from lockdowns was that many employees felt the effects of fatigue, burnout, social isolation and anxiety about their work performance.

While not all business has an Employee Assistance Program available for the employees, a simple gesture such as asking, ‘How are you doing? Do you need any help? What’s happening with you?’

This may be all that’s needed and could be part of your regular communications with your employees.

As working from home becomes a more widely accepted practice, especially for knowledge-based employees, remember, the employer is still liable for the employees’ health and wellbeing.

The notion that it’s not my responsibility if something happens to the employee while working from home will simply not stand up in the face of your duty of care obligations.

If you have any concerns about your employees working from home or if you’d like assistance with conducting home workplace safety audits, contact  Safety Services Australia on  +61 29634 5912 or info@safetyservices.net.au.