Working From Home – Your Employer’s Responsibilities.
A basic right that all Australians enjoy is the comfort in knowing that when you go to work you’re in a safe environment.
It’s your employer’s obligation to ensure your workplace presents no obvious hazard to your health and provides you with the tools necessary to carry out your duties in the safest possible way.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 hit Australian shores earlier this year, businesses everywhere scrambled to ensure they remained operational and the largest working from home shift was launched with an estimated 2.5 million Aussies now working where they live.
But if you’re one of these workers now plying your trade from home, the question you may be asking yourself is; ‘Am I still covered if I sustain an injury while working from home?’
The simple answer is ‘YES’.
As long as you’re carrying out your work tasks, your employer owes you a duty of care even when you’re working from the comfort of your home.
With physical and psychological injuries on the rise for people working from home and expected to increase even further in the coming months, it’s never been more important to understand exactly what your employer’s responsibilities to you are and whether you would be eligible to make a workers compensation claim.
Employer obligations to you when working from home
There’s a false belief that your employer is only responsible for your safety when you’re specifically on work grounds, such as an office or work site. This is incorrect.
As long you’re ‘working’ or undertaking a task in the course of your employment, your employer has a duty of care to you and if you were injured, you’d likely be covered for workers compensation – and this includes when you’re working from home.
So when working from home, your employer is still required to minimise any hazards or health risks to you, and their responsibilities include:
1. Assessing the suitability of your home environment prior to giving the go-ahead for you to work from home.
You may live in a place that simply isn’t set up or significantly restricts you from meeting the standards necessary in order to properly function when working from home.
For example, the speed of your internet connection may not be up to scratch and this can significantly impact your productivity, force you to work longer hours and go on to take a toll on your mental health. This is why your employer is required to assess your suitability prior in order to avoid a situation like this where your health and safety could be under threat.
2. Conducting a risk assessment of your home office either in person or via video call
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common injury among office workers.
Ensuring you have an ergonomic workstation setup is the best way to combat RSI which is why employers are required to assess your workstation and/or provide you a workstation self-assessment checklist that enables you to examine all aspects/potential hazards relating to your home workstation.
3. Providing clear details on how to report any issues to your safety
Just as if you were working from the office, your employer is required to ensure you know how and have access to the necessary forms in order to officially report an incident or injury while you’re working from home.
For example, you may have access to your company’s intranet where the incident reports are available to download, but you don’t have permission/access to the HR portal in order to upload these forms and make the report official. In this situation your employer hasn’t lived up to its responsibility to you and is required to rectify the situation.
4. Providing specific details on how to perform your duties in a safe manner
For many of the 2.5 million Australians now working from home full-time, the concept is still very foreign. That’s why it’s essential your employer provide you with helpful information on ergonomics and hazards, best practices to stay productive, tips on health and wellbeing, strategies on how to manage stress etc.
5. Access to communication platforms
Your employer has a responsibility to you to provide you with access to the tools necessary to properly perform your duties whilst ensuring your mental health doesn’t suffer in the process. Video conferencing and instant messaging communication platforms helps on both fronts.
These platforms enable you to professionally connect with bosses, colleagues, clients etc and they’re also an effective tool to combat loneliness (which leads to depression and anxiety) by enabling non-physical human interaction.
When can you claim workers compensation if you’re injured while working from home?
Workers compensation is a no-fault insurance scheme, so if you’re injured while working from home you’ll likely be eligible for compensation.
For your claim to be successful, you’ll need to prove two things:
- Your injury arose out of the course of your employment
- Employment was a substantial contributing factor
The best way to explain this is by looking at two common examples of when you are likely to be eligible for workers compensation when working from home and when you’ll likely not be eligible.
A woman has been approved to work from home between the hours of 9am – 5pm and at 1pm takes a lunch break and heads downstairs to the kitchen. On her way down the stairs she falls and suffers a broken leg.
In this scenario, the woman would likely be eligible for compensation as her accident occurred during her assigned hours and given she was simply taking a lunch break in her home, work was a substantial contributing factor. Just because she’s working from home, she’s very much entitled to breaks as a worker in the office would be.
A man works as a financial advisor full-time from home and his job requires him to answer call enquiries between the hours 8:30am to 5pm. The man goes out for bike rides during work hours taking calls wirelessly in the process but is hit by a car and suffers serious knee, back, ribs and facial injuries.
In this scenario, the man’s accident did occur during the course of his employment but work wasn’t a substantial contributing factor as his employment didn’t require him to go on bike rides. Therefore, he would likely not be eligible for workers compensation.
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Increased risk of cyberbullying when working from home
Workplace stress or work-related stress is not uncommon in people who work in an office and sometimes bullying or harassment from colleagues/management significantly contributes to an individual’s stress levels and can lead to a psychological injury (such as anxiety, depression or PTSD).
It’s important to realise that working from home doesn’t eliminate the possibility of you suffering a work-related psychological injury due to bullying and harassment.
Communication platforms can be a great tool to offset loneliness when in isolation, allowing you to have that human interaction, albeit non-physical. But the increased use of these platforms also increases the potential for cyberbullying and harassment.
Common bullying behaviour that easily translates across communication platforms include:
- Humiliation and ridicule
- Spreading rumours and gossip
- Withholding information
- Enforcing unreasonable workloads
It’s an employer’s responsibility to monitor the behaviour on these platforms in order to protect the health and safety of their employees. The potential for cyberbullying to occur on these platforms is also why it’s crucial your employer provides you with details on how to effectively report any issues to your safety.
If you’ve suffered an injury while working from home or you’re unsure about your claim and how to go about it, call Law Partners on 13 15 15 and have a confidential conversation with a specialist workers compensation solicitor today.
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