In early June 2020, the NSW Court of Appeals ruled that an employer is accountable for family violence impacting on employees when they are working from home. The court case involved a woman who worked from home, and who was then sadly killed by her partner inside the home. The court upheld the decision that the murder was a workplace death, which subsequently entitled the employee’s family to receive Workers Compensation.
The lawyer for the employee’s family stated that “the case had some fairly unique circumstances” and had to fulfil two conditions which were:
- The incident had to be in the course of employment and
- Work must be a substantial contributing factor to the injury.
The particulars of this case were not clear cut and would be difficult to apply for any future Workers Compensations assessment. However, one lesson we can take away is that employers may need to address not just the traditional physical risks to employees working from home, but also any mental health or domestic violence risks which may arise from family relationships.
What must employers do to look after their employee’s mental health when working from home?
Employers should strive to eliminate or minimise mental risks to employees working from home as far as is practical. The following guide from Safe Work NSW recommends employers and employees maintain frequent consultations to:
- Set realistic and clear instructions on duties, roles, and tasks to ensure workloads are achievable. Employees should be given the option to decide whether working from home is a suitable arrangement for them. When possible, employers should offer flexible work arrangements with work hours or negotiating tasks.
- Monitor for signs such as of mental strain, such as looking tired, not being engaged, not motivated, or changed behaviour. By keeping in touch, signs can be detected early and addressed.
- Make sure employees have clear boundaries in their home where they can disengage from work and find respite, as well as effective logging off at the end of the workday.
- Encourage workers to keep in touch with their supervisors, colleagues, and work support network.
What else can employers do to help their staff working from home?
Employers should be keeping up to date with the latest safety information of working from home, and pass on all relevant information to their employees. They should have in place a Working from Home policy, and an employee self-checklist to assess both physical safety and mental health wellbeing. The employee should not be allowed to work from home if it is not safe and should work together with their employer to implement safety controls. Examples include loaning or purchasing suitable office equipment, training the employee on working safely from home, and providing access to mental health support networks. Employers also need to inform workers of their leave entitlements when unfit for work or have caring responsibilities.
Especially important now than ever as we experience physical isolation, employers need to be proactive in staying connected to employees working from home. When employers show appreciation for their workers and support them, ultimately it will be the business that benefits as employees thrive in their work.
For more information on Working from Home consult the SafeWork NSW website. Since the complexity of the potential risks can vary, employers may need to contact a Work and Safety Consultant to discuss their specific needs.