Small-business owners need to be prepared for the changes to their “duty of care” if their employees are working from home during COVID-19 or they provide a blended approach moving forward between the office and home.
At the office or on a job site, much time has been spent ensuring appropriate health and safety measures and precautions have been met – but has this been done for workers at home?
Duty of care includes ensuring that both the physical and mental health of your employees are protected and any risks are eliminated, or at least minimised.
Work Health and Safety laws still apply whether an employee is working somewhere else other than their usual workplace.
With hundreds of thousands of Australians working from home during COVID-19 and no real end in sight, considerations must be made to ensure home environments are suitable and safe places to work.
Working from home during a pandemic can be a stressful time, blurring the boundaries between work and home life. This has created specific challenges and pressures, so it’s necessary to also include mental health challenges and increased rates of domestic violence in your strategies around duty of care.
There are legal implications around not adequately identifying risks to health and safety – so it’s important to be aware of your responsibilities as a small-business owner.
Ways to ensure you are meeting your duty of care for employees working from home during COVID include:
Minimising the risk to health and safety for workers at home by educating them on hazards they may face and how to manage them. This includes:
desk/workspace set up and making sure it is ergonomically sound
taking regular breaks
switching off from work and logging off at the end of the day.
Maintaining regular communication and contact, both one-on-one and in team meetings if relevant, to facilitate social interaction and limit feelings of isolation.
Checking in with yourself to assess your emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. It’s important to be able to speak with your employees openly and respond appropriately and also pick up on any challenges they may be having.
Seeking additional training if you need assistance with creating strategies to meet your obligations.
Ways to manage risks specific to mental health include:
Regularly checking in on employees’ wellbeing and responding to unexplained absenteeism, lethargy or other changes in behaviour by having a conversation.
Providing increased support and flexibility to limit any stress (i.e.) meeting family demands), through flexible working arrangements where available.
Providing information about mental health and other support services.
Equip your leaders or managers with training or coaching.
If you would like to read more about your obligations around duty of care, there are some great resources available at the WorkSafe and state governments’ COVID-19 websites.