Danielle Stone - HR Professional
The outbreak of COVID-19 and the varying levels of restrictions has meant that many of employers have had to move people to work from home at very short notice. It is important to remember that employers have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring a safe work environment, wherever that work is carried out. This includes employees working from home. With more and more employees being asked to work from home particularly in Victoria with Stage 4 restrictions, we felt it was timely to remind employers of their legal obligations.
Workcover at Home
Some of our clients have been surprised to learn that their employees are covered by Workcover even while they are working from home. Given you can direct employees to work at different locations or sites, it makes sense that working from home is covered by the insurance scheme as your employees are still delivering for your business. The significant increase in television advertising by the “no win, no fee” legal firms who specialise in workplace injuries leads us to speculate that there has been a significant increase in Workcover claims arising from employees working from home. But you aren’t responsible for someone tripping over their own cat….. or are you?
Keeping your team Safe at Home
Workplace injuries occurring in the home due to work from home directives are largely avoidable. Here are some tips on how to create a safe working environment for your employees and what you can do to minimise any risks to your business:
Some of our clients have decided to have technology, such as Teams running all day, therefore creating a “virtual office”. They have found this has boosted moral significantly as their employees can converse throughout the day just like they would at work and an added bonus is that it has helped improve productivity and has reduced the chance of a bogus Workcover claim being submitted. This is not an opportunity to spy on your employees and should be used to enhance or improve the work from home experience and not to micro manage a team that is already operating under stressful conditions.
Find a Solution
We have also found that some employees simply do not have the ideal home workspaces to use. They are unsafe and pose a significant risk to both the employee and the employer. In this case, employers should not let employees work in that space and look at alternative arrangements such as use of the annual leave entitlements. This obviously has implications for the business as well as the employee so should be a last resort position. If the fix is as simple as say, providing an ergonomic chair, then do so. The impact of not being able to work on the mental and financial well being of the individual employee may be highly detrimental. Providing them with the tools to work safely is likely to have a more positive impact for your business as well as you have a safe, engaged, supported employee who continues to contribute.
It's more than just tripping hazards
While we have spoken mostly about the physical environment and keeping employees safe, leaders should also pay attention to a range of other potentially harmful behaviours such as the way teams and managers/employees interact electronically or live. When you are physically present in a room you can observe someone taking offence or feeling harassed – this is harder to pinpoint when all staff are working remotely. Remember, the subconscious absorbs and understands a significant amount of information from the nuances of speech patterns and body language. Many a personal and professional relationship has been destroyed through misunderstanding the tone within an email or a flippant comment in a group video chat. So, make sure you have mechanisms to check in with people, and ensure they are working in a mentally safe environment as well – and don’t forget to remind employees that all policies still govern employment – from bullying and harassment to discrimination to code of conduct.
Workcover claims have risen significantly since the pandemic began and it is important that employers are able to demonstrate they have done everything in their power to meet their legal obligations whether their employees are working from the office / site or factory or from home. Your number one priority as an employer is the health and safety of all employees and this takes priority over all other obligations. If you need guidance as to your responsibilities and how best to keep your team healthy and safe, call HR Staff n’ Stuff and we can discuss your individual needs.
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!