What should I consider before letting employees work from home?
With the rise in flexible working arrangements, working from home arrangements are starting to become more common in the workplace. However, your obligations as an employer still exist whether your employees are working from the workplace or from home. We have compiled some common concerns/issues that should be addressed in your considerations. To keep things straightforward, the below article is also written with employees in mind; the situation with contractors and freelancers/the gig economy is slightly different and is beyond the scope of this article.
Will my insurance policies respond?
If your employee is injured in the course of performing work for you, even from home, this would still generally be considered as a Workers' Compensation claim. Your Workers' Compensation policy may not cover interstate/overseas workers under certain situations, please seek further advice from your insurance adviser if this is the case.
Public & Products Liability
The policy should respond as usual regardless of whether the employee is working from home or from the workplace. Do keep in mind any Territorial Limits on your policy.
If your employee is using business property from home, check with your insurance adviser to ensure that the property is adequately covered. If your employee is using their own personal property, generally it would not be covered under your insurance policy (unless under specific conditions such as being used solely for work). Your employee's own domestic insurance policy also may not cover their personal items being used to earn an income, but this depends on the policy.
Insurers often require information on IT systems/protection in place before issuing cover. If there are any working from home arrangements, this may also affect the insurers' consideration of the risk. If an employee is using their own personal laptop for work, it may not be covered under the policy (e.g. laptop affected by ransomware and contents had to be replaced).
Workplace Safety/WHS issues
An employer has a duty of care to ensure that the work environment the worker is in is safe, and that their systems of work don't cause a hazard to the worker. In a work-from-home context, this effectively means that to discharge your duty of care, you would need to conduct relevant WHS assessment of your employee's place of work, including ergonomics, electrical safety, security, tripping hazards etc. Even if you conduct such an assessment, it's not practical to assess it every day or even every week, so it's possible for a place you deemed safe to be changed and become unsafe without you knowing about it. Furthermore, because there's no one at the site to supervise the staff member, there is no one there to intervene should the staff member start working in an unsafe way. Unfortunately a work from home arrangement tends to increase your risk in relation to WHS matters and also Workers' Compensation, due to the lack of control and inability to assess the workplace. However, it may be possible to mitigate the risk with adequate procedures in place.
The sorts of things one would expect a diligent employer to question before engaging in this type of arrangement include, but are not limited to:
- What level of supervision does the role require?
- Is a lack of monitoring going to be a factor?
- Is team-work an inherent part of the role?
- Does the employee show sufficient initiative whilst at work to be trusted to remain productive and work autonomously in the absence of supervision?
- Is the employee responsible for coaching/mentoring/training/supervising others?
- Does the role require a significant degree of interaction with customers/the public?
- Is there equipment the employee would need to continuously transport to and from home (and how easy is that? Is it really heavy/bulky? Is it of high value? Fragile?)
- If using computers/laptops or other devices is the security sufficient to stop others gaining access?
- Are back ups automatically performed and backed up to the company main frame?
- Is the virus security sufficient?
- Do customers/clients go to the employee's home?
Working from home arrangements have many benefits and are growing to be increasingly common in the workplace. Whilst we are not advocating for disallowing these types of arrangements, it is worthwhile to be aware of the risks involved and to take precautions to ensure adequate procedures are in place to facilitate this arrangement.