Working from home
Working from home maybe an option for employers with office-based workers to help maintain social distancing and reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus (COVID-19) at the workplace.
Consultation between the employer and worker is required. Things to discuss during the consultation include:
- is working from home an appropriate arrangement for the type of work the worker is required to do;
- the suitability of the location where the worker will be working in their home;
- the type of equipment required to work from home;
- communication methods and requirements with co-workers and managers; and
- work expectations, performance and scheduling, including setting boundaries to maintain a work life balance.
An agreement should be in place prior to working at home arrangements taking place.
Employers and workers still have obligations under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 during working from home arrangements.
Work health and safety obligations
Employers have a primary duty of care and must do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers, including workers on work from home arrangements.
Workers have a duty of care to:
- take reasonable care for their own health and safety, and for the health and safety of others, while working at home;
- follow reasonable directions given by their employer including:
- following the agreed work procedures;
- following instructions on using equipment provided by the employer;
- use the relevant safety equipment provided by the employer;
- maintain equipment provided so they remain in good working order;
- maintain a safe working environment; and
- report work-related incidents to your employer.
Maintain a safe working environment
If possible, workers should setup a dedicated work area in their home to reduce distractions. A dedicated work area can assist with the separation of work and home life. Workers have a duty to maintain a safe working environment, this includes:
- appropriate lighting for the task performed, without glare or reflection;
- appropriate ventilation and temperature control;
- no excessive noise affecting the work area;
- appropriate work area setup (i.e. ergonomic workstation setup); and
- a work area that is clear of slip and trip hazards.
Workers who are setting up a workstation for office-based work should:
- have an comfortable and adjustable chair that is appropriate for the task being undertaken;
- a desk or table where you can sit upright and the surface is at your elbow height, with enough leg room so you can stretch;
- the keyboard and mouse should be at the same level; and
- the top of the monitor should be set at eye level or slightly lower.
Working from a laptop for long periods is not advisable. If there is no laptop docking station and external monitor available, raise the laptop so the top of the screen is at eye level or slightly lower and use an external keyboard and mouse.
Workers should take regular breaks every 30 minutes and stretch.
Workers who are manufacturing and/or assembling items in a work from home arrangement should:
- have all electrical tools or equipment used for work, tested and tagged, if possible use electrical equipment provided by your workplace;
- if using personal tools or equipment, make sure they are suitable for the task;
- prevent children from accessing the work area;
- make sure any manual handling tasks (lifting, pushing or carrying) are within your physical limits and use trolleys or other equipment to move heavier and bulkier items; and
- make sure there is appropriate storage of materials, tools and equipment (i.e. the use of shelving or similar).
The COVID-19 situation has created a heighten level of anxiety in the community. Employers and workers should understand that the same level of productivity might not be achievable with a work from home arrangement compared to the normal working environment.
Employers and workers should consider the following:
- having a dedicated work area can assist with the separation of work and home life;
- establish a routine and boundaries with family and friends around work hours;
- consider flexible start and finish times so workers can manage their family responsibilities at home (i.e. it would be difficult for both parents to work normal business hours at home if they have young children); and
- schedule team meetings or regular contact with co-workers to avoid isolation.
Beyond Blue has published information on Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak.
If employers have any questions regarding their current workers compensation insurance policy, in relation to their workers working from home, they should contact their broker/insurer to discuss.