Working from Home? Know Your Rights

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Why your home office setup should be a company priority

The Coronavirus lockdowns throughout 2020 have had a lasting effect on the way Australians work. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey released earlier this year, two in five people with a job (41 per cent) continue to work from home (WFH) at least once a week and most expected this arrangement to continue throughout 2021. Workers have adapted to this new reality by setting up workspaces in their homes. However, many people remain unaware that while they are on the clock, their employers are still responsible for their welfare and safety in the home.

“Under Work Health and Safety Laws, the definition of workplace includes anywhere an employee is working, even if it’s the kitchen table,” says Tony Carbone, Managing Partner of Carbone Lawyers. “The onus is on companies and organisations to make sure any staff working from home have a safe and healthy work environment.”

Mr Carbone says whether workers have chosen or been directed to work from home, they are entitled to conditions that reflect their regular workplace conditions. Simply being provided with laptops and other essential equipment is not enough. Employers should be checking that those working from home have proper seating, desks at the right height, good lighting, and were taking time out for lunch and regular breaks.

“Home furniture is not made for office work. If people sit for hours with their laptops on the sofa or at the dining room table, they can soon develop back, neck and shoulder pain and other health problems. Ultimately it is the employer’s responsibility to support their staff with whatever they need to reduce any risk of harm whether that’s equipment, advice or training.”

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) ruling in Hargreaves v Telstra Corporation Limited upheld that employees are entitled to claim compensation if they sustain an injury while working from home. In this particular case, the employee fell down some stairs while working from home for Telstra and sustained physical and psychological injuries. The AAT awarded all the medical and treatment costs as well as compensation for her time off work.

Mr Carbone believes the welfare of employees who are working from home should be a top priority for companies and organisations that are planning an EOFY shopping spree or want to take advantage of the recent extension to the Instant Asset Write Off. 

“If you are working from home and your employer has not taken an interest in where and how you’ve set up your workplace, they’re being negligent in their duty of care to you,” said Mr Carbone.

Employers Obligation Check List

  • Does your company or organisation have a detailed Work From Home Policy that stipulates hours of work, overtime arrangements and breaks?
  • Have you been provided with an incident reporting procedure?
  • Has your employer conducted a Working from Home Safety Audit of your home workstation in person or on video? 
  • Has your employer offered to loan or purchase furniture and equipment for you to use while working from home?
  • Has your employer conducted any training on setting up a home workstation and minimising tripping hazards and other risks?

If you have sustained an injury or illness while working from home, you may be entitled to make a WorkCover claim. Contact Carbone Lawyers for a confidential chat about your circumstances. It costs nothing to know where you stand.

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