What do employers need to consider when enacting a work from home policy?

Coronavirus is forcing more employers to allow staff to work from home.  Many employers don’t have a work from home policy (“WFH Policy”) and are asking us to help write one.  Here are some of the things you need to consider when drafting a WFH Policy.

Why do I need a Work From Home Policy?

Employers have a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in their workplace. This means that in the current crisis, employers must provide and communicate information about health risks, provide instructions to minimise risks and formulate contingency plans, provide adequate hygiene facilities and in some cases, restrict travel and instil self-isolation protocols. For many businesses this can be achieved through the implementation of a WFH Policy.

What do I need to consider when implementing a WFH Policy?

Where employees are worried about coming into work for fear of being infected with coronavirus, enacting a WFH Policy is a beneficial compromise. If a WFH Policy is implemented, it is important to note that the duty to ensure the health and safety of employees also extends to their alternate location of work. This can be tricky as it is not very practical for an employer to assess the homes of each of their employees.

Typically, the most common injuries that arise from working in a home environment are the gradual stresses and strains caused by the frequent and prolonged use of inadequate equipment to support posture and manual labour. Further incidents arise when an employee trips or falls over cluttered walk-ways and up staircases, all of which, can be hard to monitor and control. The good thing is that if the employee is working from home, in most cases the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance will cover that employee.

One possible solution to oversee the safety of an employee’s workplace is to conduct a Skype call with them so they can show their employer their work environment. When doing this, some things to consider are listed below.

Checklist and Considerations

  • Has a safety assessment been made of the work area before the worker starts?
    • Has the environment been regularly checked?
  • Have the Employers trained their employees on how to conduct their work safely?
  • Is there an adequate supply of proper office furniture to loan where required?
  • Is there an effective method of communication between the employer and employee?
  • Are the following safe and adequate?
    • Floor surface – level, no tripping hazards
    • Power points and electrical cords – stowed and not overloaded
    • Temperature/humidity – controllable
    • Lighting
    • Position and design of the furniture
    • Ventilation
    • Noise disturbances
  • Is the computer based work station ergonomic?
    • Is the work area segregated?
  • Are the following safety measures in place?
    • Smoke detectors
    • Emergency exits – fire evacuation pan
    • Fire extinguisher or blanket nearby
    • First Aid kit
    • Security to prevent unauthorised entry
    • Secure digital environment- anti-viral software up to date
    • Emergency contact numbers known
  • Overall, Consider
    • Electrical safety, cyber safety, psychological risks, musculoskeletal risks and environmental hazards
    • All rooms of the house including the Bathroom, Kitchen, Laundry and Bedroom

Can I force an employee to work from home?

For people who prefer to travel to work, until the government mandates complete social isolation, employees can refuse to work from home. However, every business has to make a clear assessment of the risks within their individual workplace for exposure to coronavirus and must comply with government directions.  Employees must abide with all reasonable requests from employers including work from home requests which allow the business to conform to any government directions.

Isolation and Implications on Mental Health

Often working from home can be more productive than going in to work, but sometimes it can be less productive, whether there are disturbances or not. With the prospects of a nation-wide lock-down in the forefront of our minds, looking after each other’s mental well-being is crucial.

Working from home for long periods of time can be quite lonely and stressful. Not all employees have the benefit of a family to lean on at home which means they can spiral into depression and anxiety very quickly, particularly if the job is stressful and demanding.

Research has indicated that by being constantly accessible by technology at home, work and non-work boundaries are blurred. This leads to workers being over worked and stressed. Other studies have found that many workers were more likely to feel like an outsider, left out, mistreated, anxious and lacking trust.  Furthermore, the lack of human interaction leads to a tendency to focus on tasks rather than relationships. This can be difficult where work requires the maintenance of client relationships.

To manage this:

  • Boundaries at work need to be set;
  • Bench marks and expectations need to be clear;
  • Communication needs to be easy, clear and constant;
  • Support networks need to be created and encouraged; and
  • Words of encouragement need to be used where possible.

We can help you

Contact us to speak with our commercial litigation team regarding work from home policies, or consider our Business Response Package at a reduced fee for your business during COVID-19, which include a WFH Policy template.

Authors: Barry Klopper and Lauren Hooper.

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