Employees working from home?

Looking for ways to limit employer liability when your employees work from home?

Flexible work place arrangements are increasingly common with many works now performing work duties from home. Accidents and injuries are inevitable depending on the nature of the work, however there are ways for employers to reduce or limit their liability.

Employers should do the following, in clear written terms of agreement:
  • Place limits on the scope of when the employee is employed by specifying the days and hours when the employee is “at work” and when they are not;
  • Require the employee to maintain a log book recording their time of commencement of work and when they stop for lunch and stop for the day. The log should contain a section in which the employee can record any incidents that occur during the work day;
  • Require the employee to notify you via email when they commence work for the day, when they stop for lunch and stop for the day;
  • Place limits on the additional tasks that the employee can undertake as part of their employment when they are working at home;
  • Formally restrict the parts of the employee’s home which are recognised as their actual “home-based work place” so that the rest of their house is not;
  • Clearly stipulate the employee’s primary duties in a way which restricts the types of activities that will be found to be incidental to their employment; and
  • Recognise and address any additional risks that exist. For example, if the employee wishes to work from home because they have recently had a baby, ensure your agreement clearly reflects for both parties what are the expectations regarding the care to be provided to the child and the tasks to be performed.
Employers should also ask:
  • Does their policy of Workers Compensation insurance provide coverage for work places in the home?
  • Does the employee have a policy of insurance that covers accidents in the home while working?
  • Is the home based work area OH&S compliant? Issues such as whether there is a First Aid kit, safety manual or functioning smoke alarm may need to be addressed?

An effective way of documenting the condition of the workplace is by requiring the employee to complete a safety check-list which contains these requisite OH&S items and others. Depending on the nature of the work, employers should consider completing a routine inspection of the employee’s home office or work space, and place obligations on the employee to comply with directions and maintain particular conditions.

Case Study

Elringtons’ client was a qualified child carer working for a Not For Profit organisation providing child care services in the home. Up to 4 children would be cared for in her home. Lifting injuries are common in the child care industry however, Elringtons’ client was aware of proper lifting practices particularly with young children who can sometimes be difficult to handle when upset.

On a rainy day, Elringtons’ child carer client had safely lifted up a 20 kg, 5 year old child who was in her care. At the same time, another small child ran past her from the room where the children were usually minded, into the back yard which was wet and slippery. Elringtons’ child carer client tried to follow the darting child into the back yard whilst still holding the 5 year old when she slipped on wet paving and fell. She successfully turned her body to one side to save the child she was holding but injured herself in the process.

Elringtons successfully acted for the child carer on the basis that is was an inevitable accident whilst performing work in the home. The injuries were significant, affecting the child carer’s ability to work in the future The child carer received workers compensation coverage from the Not For Profit organisation’s insurer for her injuries.

Conclusion

The above suggestions are, depending on the circumstances, likely to reduce an employer’s liability for a worker’s injury claim. In some circumstances however, inevitable accidents occur and it is imperative that employers, who provide flexible work place arrangements where work is conducted in the home, ensure that their insurance arrangements provide adequate cover.

For advice in relation to your obligations as an employer, or your rights as an employee, please contact:

Matthew Bridger | e: mbridger@elringtons.com.au | p: 02 6206 1300 http://elringtons.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Specialist-accreditaion.jpg