Legal obligation of employers during a global pandemic – Part 2

safe, coping, employers, return

In the current circumstances, especially where in certain areas the Government are instructing businesses to establish working form arrangements for staff where it is reasonably practicable, employers are required to further manage the risks of exposure to COVID-19 and the hazards of working remotely.

Whilst not all businesses are able to operate by working from home, working from home for staff is also dependent on the specifics of the business and the facilities available for staff to work remotely. It will also depend on the level of risk from COVID-19 and how effectively the business can manage the risk of exposure.

Contractual changes

Amendments may be required to employment agreements to ensure that long term and permanent work from home arrangements are addressed in employment contracts. A common approach to such arrangements is a mobility clause which enables employers to make reasonable changes to an employee’s place of work and possibly requiring them to work from home or any other location within a reasonable distance.

Employers may also further outline:

  • when employees will need to attend the workplace;
  • what aspects of salaries and benefits need to account for work from home arrangements; will there be allowances for utilities such as internet and electricity? Will car allowances continue?;
  • flexibility in working hours to account for home and carer needs.

Policies and training

Along with addressing individual needs, employers will also need to review and amend relevant measures regarding company policy for workplace practices and training to ensure understanding and compliance to WHS from home. This may be inclusive of, but not exclusive to:

  • A Work From Home Policy inclusive of WHS measures for ergonomic environments.
  • Information Security, Data Security, Confidentiality, Privacy and Online Communications Policies.
  • Professional Conduct Standards and Policy reiterating standards for professional communication and conduct with colleagues and clients in environments with limited supervision.
  • Accrual and use of leave.
  • Best practice for work-life balance including set working and communication hours and out of office notifications.

WHS and employee wellbeing

An essential part of employee wellbeing and WHS would also include maintaining appropriate boundaries in workplace conduct and behaviours, even if employees are not present in person and being observed in an office environment. Employers may further need to reconsider how to approach:

  • Assessment of performance and performance management.
  • Disciplinary action for poor conduct, company policy or employment contract breaches.
  • Unexplained absence from work and lack of response during expected work hours.
  • Protocols for attending meetings online including dress codes and communication etiquette.
  • Engagement and inclusion measures for staff who’s wellbeing and motivation may be impacted by longer term isolation.
  • Recommendations for work from home practice including hygiene, nutrition, exercise, sleeping patterns and routine.

The hybrid and working from home set up as mentioned is a combined effort between employers and employees to establish the safety and well being of employees while ensuring that the setting is conducive and not a barrier in performing the employees’ tasks.

Information with regards to WHS must be available to the employees at all times and any changes or additions are essential to be circulated and communicated properly.