So, you’ve been asked to work from home. How does this change both your responsibilities and your employers? Apart from the obvious of not physically being at the office, it doesn’t change the mutual obligations an employee and employer have. These remain exactly the same even though you work at home.
Your employer’s duties, under both industrial relations and work health and safety laws, are to ensure you are able to work safely at home, and to cover reasonable expenses. Your obligation is to work if you want to be paid.
A safe workspace
An employer has a legal duty of care for the health and safety of workers “so far as is reasonably practicable”. That duty of care extends to anywhere work is performed. If you are asked to work
from home, your employer is responsible to ensure this does not pose a risk to your health and safety.
Some organisations conduct formal inspections of homes before approving working-from-home arrangements. That may not be practical in current circumstances.
If this isn’t possible, at a minimum, your employer should provide you with a health and safety checklist to ensure you understand what space is required to ensure you can work safely from home.
Your employer’s primary responsibility under employment law is to pay you for the work you do under applicable awards, enterprise agreements and contracts.
Your employer is also responsible for providing you with the appropriate resources for work to be carried out.
There is an implied obligation also to reimburse you for expenses incurred while working at home, such as extra electricity or internet access. You may need to establish with your employer what costs will be reimbursed, what limits apply, and what approvals are required.
If your employer does not reimburse you for running costs – remember you can also claim work-related expenses, including the cost of a dedicated work area, as tax deductions.
In allowing you to work from home, your employer is demonstrating a degree of trust that past generations of managers would have found unimaginable. Your obligation is to do the right thing
even without direct supervision, observing the same practices as normally expected by your employer.
All the standard employee responsibilities from the workplace continue to apply, such as obeying lawful directions and working to the best of your ability.
While a lot has been written on how to best work at home, there are some common themes. Get dressed for work, so that you feel “at work” and behave accordingly. Maintain a separate work space. Ensure you take breaks to maintain your health and well-being.
Working from home can be isolating in the best of times, and in the current situation this is arguably also an aspect of your employer’s duty of care. You and your employer may need to consider new routines for communication to ensure working at home is about physical distancing and social solidarity, not social isolation.