The Federal Government has been very clear that working from home wherever possible is strongly encouraged. With such a resounding recommendation and clear guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer, employers will want to make sure that they are only insisting on workers being physically present in the workplace if there is a specific reason for it.
The more workers in a workplace, the greater the risk of workplace infection. If a worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 in the workplace or while catching public transport to or from work, they will be entitled to statutory benefits under the various “no-fault” statutory schemes around the country. The worker's compensation regimes differ between states but, generally speaking, workers will also be entitled to recover statutory benefits under the State’s various “no-fault” schemes if there is a connection between their work and any injury they sustain even if that injury is in their own homes.
Employers also face potential liability for common law damages for negligence if it fails to exercise reasonable care for the safety of workers both in the workplace and if the workers are working from home. The premium penalties for employers against whom a common law claim for damages is made are generally significant.
In order to minimise the risk of injuries to workers and reduce the financial impacts of workers compensation claims, employers should consider:
1. Having in place working from home policy.
This may be important for client confidentiality and commercially sensitive information leaving the office as well as providing guidance to workers as to when they must or can work from home. Workers who are unwell should be not only encouraged but specifically required to work from home to avoid exposing any risk of infection to other workers;
2. Being reasonable in expectations of staff.
Employers are stressed during this period of uncertainty. It is important to recognise that transitioning to work from home may be stressful for staff and, at least during the transition stage, productivity may be lower while staff adjust to using technology in new ways. Expecting productivity to continue uninterrupted is more likely to lead to claims for workplace stress;
3. Having a checklist for staff to ensure proper ergonomics in their home work station;
you can access tools about what is expected and required via the Safe Work Australia government website.
4. Checking in on staff by phone or video link.
To ensure their mental and physical health and making sure that the new arrangements are working.
Although the concept of working from home is not new, the conditions in which we are experiencing now certainly are. Knowing what your responsibilities are as an employer is vital to ensure the safety of your business and your staff.
Kate Avery is a principal lawyer at Kare Lawyers in Brisbane and a Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialist in Personal Injuries Law.
You can find Kate on Linkedin