Australian businesses have been forced to implement remote working arrangements and many are scrambling to implement specific structures and policies for their teams.
To help, we have outlined some key considerations when creating “Work from Home Policies”, including OHS, expenses, expectations and communications. This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. It is not intended to replace legal advice.
Workplace safety laws still apply to businesses with employees working from home, and risks must be eliminated or minimised where possible.
The key risks are physical risks from a poor working environment and psychological risks such as isolation, uncertainty, reduced social support, high or low job demands, online bullying and domestic violence.
It is recommended that employers provide policies, checklists and ongoing guidance and leadership around what is a safe working from home environment, including workstation setup, ergonomic practices, mental health and the importance of breaks and physical activity.
Employees should also be advised of how to report potential health and safety issues and encouraged to make these reports if they identify a hazard.
Psychological risks may be harder to manage, – especially with the uncertainty presented by COVID-19 – however providing a mentally healthy workplace is still a key WHS requirement of businesses.
Creating policies around working hours and setting and maintaining strong lines of communication is critical to this, as are virtual team building programs that will foster a sense of belonging and a shared identity.
Ultimately, it is the employer’s responsibility to drive safety and in the event of an incident businesses should be able to document that they have trained employees on how to work safely in their home.
Who Pays? What expenses are employers required to cover:
Employers are required to provide staff with their tools of trade. This is a key difference between employees and contractors and it applies whether employees are working from their office or from home.
So, you need to consider what, if any, expenses you might cover for employees, including internet, phone, desks, chairs and other requirements, and create a policy around that.
Many businesses who were already embracing their staff working from home provide a home office setup and management budget.
However for workers who are temporarily working from home, this may not be practical and workers could be offered a loan of office desks, chairs, monitors and other equipment.
Given we are in unchartered territory with Coronavirus, it is recommended you speak with your legal counsel for specific advice.
Clearly define expectations:
Some workers will thrive when working from home and enjoy increased productivity. Others will struggle with distractions and motivation.
A clearly defined policy outlining expectations will help keep workers on track. Outline how you will be measuring and reporting on their work and success and build processes to publicly recognise and reward that success.
By defining your virtual communications protocol, you will ensure everyone clearly understands how to reach relevant staff and what tools to use – whether email, Slack, specific internet messaging tools or otherwise – and how they might sync. You don’t want your team using five different tools and communications fragmented across those.
Also define how employees are expected to respond to internal and external requests and how and when teams will coordinate and meet to discuss and manage those requests.
A “work from home policy” should also outline how you will manage communications and data security, including antivirus, and expectations from staff around.