We’re living in a whole new world. As many workers have shifted to a home office or are under stay-at-home orders, there are legal questions about who is responsible for the worker’s health and safety. The corona virus pandemic has brought into focus the many new and different risks faced by businesses and workers alike as we enter into a new working landscape.
The companies that will cope best with this new paradigm shift in workplace arrangements will be those that think ahead, think laterally, and think openly without any bias.
The legal issues surrounding working from home can be thorny. In fact, businesses may now need to have workers send photos of their home office, complete a Safety Checklist or even send someone out to do an inspection.
If the worker does not make an effort or is completely negligent in creating a safe and healthy home office environment then the onus of responsibility from an injury may be on the worker.
In saying that, companies cannot abrogate their responsibilities for stay at home workers, but it does place a greater burden on the worker to look after their own health and safety. Both the company and the worker need to work together and do what is reasonably practicable in making sure each stay at home worker is not exposed to any short, or long term risks.
Stay at home workers also need to understand the degree of responsibility for an incident can depend on whether they created the hazard that caused the injury, or the injury was caused by their own misconduct.
Because of this the worker needs to fully understand your company’s Working from Home policy BEFORE setting up their home office.
Having a robust policy will help remove doubt surrounding the company’s expectations and in particular should include where the ‘office’ is to be located in the home. For example, a worker using their laptop on a kitchen bench surrounded by knives and other people is not ideal, nor is sitting by their pool in the blistering sun appropriate.
There are also other risks at home that are not present in a controlled workplace such as tripping over a toy and breaking a leg or falling off a ladder whilst changing a lightbulb in their office. I could go on, but the fact is most accidents occur in the home and without a clearly understood Working from Home policy the company is exposing itself to many new risks.
There are also other risks at home that aren’t present in a typical workplace such as children, other family members or pets which all impact on the dangers of a home office environment.
As with any legal issue, clarity around workers working from home is critical, so having a policy that spells out in detail the responsibilities of both the company and the worker is best practice in achieving a safe, healthy, and happy workplace.