Understanding the risks when staff work from home

Wednesday November 11, 2020

The work from home dream has become a forced reality in 2020, and for many, it may not be the ideal way to work. Employers need to understand the risks and responsibilities involved for employees who continue to work from home – some or all of the time – as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease.

Your legal responsibility

As an employer, you still have a legal responsibility to adhere to workplace health and safety laws for all employees working at a location other than your workplace. This includes staff who are working from home. In fact, as much as practicably possible, employers are responsible for the health and safety of remote workers.

The workers, however, are also responsible for taking reasonable care of their own health and safety, including complying with relevant, reasonable company procedures and policies.

The Working from Home Risk Assessment

Here are three important considerations when deciding whether employees can or should work from home.

  1. Is working from home appropriate for your workers?

The decision on whether employees should work from home should be made in consultation with the employee and their representative. Remember to consider:

  • Whether the work can be effectively carried out from home
  • If the physical environment is suitable, including workstation set-up, ergonomics and home environment
  • Whether your organisational procedures support workers who are working from home, including the communication requirements
  • The mental health and wellbeing of the worker, including whether they fall within the vulnerable person category for contracting the coronavirus
  • Whether your flexible-work policies and procedures need to be adjusted to facilitate working from home
  • Your safe working procedures and any relevant training requirements
  1. What are the risks of working from home?

Both employer and worker share the responsibility towards managing the risks of working from home. Again, it’s essential to consult with workers about their home environment and any potential risks. Consider the following:

  • Workstation set-up including furniture and equipment
  • Workload management, working hours and breaks
  • The physical environment such as lighting, temperature, safety and hygiene
  • Communication frequency and needs (between employer, managers and other team members)
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Additional responsibilities, such as caring for children or facilitating online learning for children

Working from home, in isolation from others, can present a new set of hazards that employers and employees should be aware of. For example:

  • Will the worker have access to emergency care if needed?
  • Does the home environment expose the worker to occupational violence and aggression or family violence?
  • Will worker fatigue need to be managed?
  • Is manual handling required in the course of their duties?

Some of the actions employers can take to help mitigate the risks of working from home include:

  • Requiring a workstation self-assessment and providing guidance on good workstation set-up
  • Ensuring workers are familiar with sound ergonomic practices
  • Maintaining regular communication with workers through various means such as calls, video chat and email
  • Providing access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and a representative to talk to about any concerns workers may have
  1. The unseen hazards: psychosocial considerations

Working from home brings with it unseen psychosocial risks such as:

  • Isolation
  • Reduced social support and interaction with managers and colleagues
  • The potential for reduced social interaction with family and friends due to lock-down or isolation requirements
  • Fatigue
  • Online bullying and
  • The potential for domestic violence

For information, guidance and support in planning for and mitigating the risks associated with staff working from home, call The HR Dept.


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