In recent times, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been rapid changes to the way we work. Australia, and indeed the world has experienced a massive increase in the number of people working from home. This begs the question, what responsibilities do employers have for an employee who works from home?
Flexible working arrangements
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have been directed to work from home by your employer. However, normally the ability to work from home is a privilege which can be requested only in specific circumstances. The employer has the responsibility of assessing this request.
At any point during employment, an employee may request flexible working arrangements. The request must be resolved within 21 days of the employer receiving it and it can only be refused on limited grounds. If the employee can show that they:
- are the primary caregiver of a child who is school aged or younger
- are a carer
- have a disability
- are aged 55+
- are experiencing domestic violence, or
- provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who is a victim of domestic violence.
Casual employees cannot make a request for flexible working arrangements unless they meet special criteria. To make a request, they would need to show that they worked regular hours for at least 12 months and that this regular work will continue. An employer may ask staff to sign a working from home policy. This agreement will outline the employee’s rights and responsibilities, as well as the employer’s duties.
Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees even when working from home. Generally, the employer is only responsible for the duration of time that the employee is working. Therefore, the employer will not be at fault if an injury occurs outside of work hours. A recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision resulted in a successful compensation claim. In that case, the claimant fell down a flight of stairs in their home. The Tribunal also ruled that tasks completed in connection to employment, such as making a coffee, or using the restroom can be considered ‘work’. For example, an employer may still be responsible for injuries that occur when an employee is on a tea break.
Employers will always find it hard to make sure that a remote working location is safe. Including safety guidelines into the work from home policy is a good first step. Alternatively, a separate Work Health and Safety (WHS) policy can be drafted. It is highly recommended that a safety checklist is also developed and given to any employees who will be working from home. Staff should also be provided with safety training exercises. Keeping in touch with employees to remind them of WHS standards and to gather feedback is also a good idea. Lastly, employers should continue to provide employee assistance programs so that staff can reach out if they need to.
Resources required for work
Employers have the responsibility of providing employees with resources to complete required work. It would be unfair to expect an employee to have to go and buy a new computer for example, to complete their tasks at home. A working from home policy can indicate what kinds of resources an employer will provide for necessary work to be completed. If there are additional costs that have not been agreed upon, employees may be eligible for tax deductions.
If you are an employer and plan to shift staff to a working from home model, consider drafting a WHS policy and a working from home policy. This will allow you to clearly outline your expectations and responsibilities.
Employees should familiarise themselves with safety guidelines to minimise risk to their health and wellbeing. Remember, an employer is only responsible for your safety during work hours. Inform your employer if you have any safety concerns. Ensure you also know what resources and tools will be provided to you for work purposes. A written agreement is the easiest way to confirm this.
Lastly, know that there is always help on hand if you need it. You can get in touch with an employment law specialist here.