Working from Home in the COVID-19 era - What are the 'Domestic Duties' of the Employer?
This was originally published by Colin Biggers & Paisley.
Megan Kavanagh, Greg McCann and Natalie Stoll
Central to the government's strategy to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the strict enforcement of social distancing and self-quarantine measures.
With exposure to COVID-19 categorised as a workplace hazard and as a compensable workplace injury for the purpose of Work health and safety and Workers' Compensation legislation (we understand that claims have already been made in New South Wales and Victoria), employers have rapidly moved their workforces out of workplaces, in compliance with government directions, to manage the risk of infection.
This strategy, and the proactive response from Australia's business community, seems to be paying dividends as COVID-19 infection rates are easing according to the latest data. However the cost of these measures to Australian business is also quite clear.
What is less obvious are the extensive (and expensive) measures Australian business have taken to support their workforces to continue to work. According to recent data, for 80% of Australian businesses it is business as usual (if not somewhat less usual).
While many businesses already accommodate work from home arrangements, for others the pandemic has triggered an urgent need to establish, formalise or finesse work from home policies and practice.
The purpose of this article is to highlight:
the legal obligations of employers to people who are working from home;
- strategies to assist employers implement safe systems for working from home; and
- the benefits and practical challenges of working from home.
Transitioning from Office to Home
Working from home is not possible or practicable for all workers. Forward facing, direct contact client roles are unlikely transferrable to a home office.
However, with the emergence of flexible technology platforms, most office based occupations which support industries including health care, community and aged care, retail, trades, transport and logistics, mining, construction and property, may, with planning and support, be transferred from the workplace to the home office.
Where workplaces have moved within days to implement safe and effective work from home arrangements, they may not have had much opportunity to consider the 'how' of implementing work from home arrangements in compliance industrial, safety and other obligations.
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