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Health and Safety Obligations - Working From Home

30 January 2022 | Andrew "Andy" Ogilvie
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As we have stated and advised during lockdowns over the last two years, employer's obligations to their employees are not suspended in lockdown or work from home periods. While the Employment Agreement is somewhat varied if the place of work is shifting from the office to a home base, employers are still required to ensure that their employees are operating in a safe and healthy manner.

Some of these obligations are easy to address and look at. They would include a consideration of whether the employee's proposed working site, e.g. tehir home office or lounge or bedroom, is set up in such a way that the employees health and well being is not compromised.

  • Is the desk or table at an appropriate height?
  • Are there trailing extension cords likely to cause a trip hazard?
  • Is there poor lighting affecting the ability to see computer screens adequately?

Some of these are obvious but frequently overlooked in the “make do” environment that is necessitated when employees are required to work from home. It may be worth asking your employees to send you photos of their chosen workspace, to ensure that they aren't sitting on the couch, and do have a safe working environment.

Another area that may well be overlooked is the Employees mental health well being. Just like when staff are in the office, employers have an obligation to ensure that their employee's mental health is not being harmed by their working environment. It is worth employers checking that no employees are socially isolated from the rest of the team. There should be regular contact with other members of the staff of the organisation, checking on workloads and simply checking in to avoid the sense of abandonment or isolation that can sometimes occur when somebody is not working a collegiate environment but is left to his or her own devices at home? 

What are your rights as an Employee?

The simplest thing for an employer and an employee to remember during these periods of enforced remote working is that the requirement to be comfortable in the working environment, is still governed by the same laws and responsibilities that apply if the employee is working in an office environment under the employer’s direct oversight.  The employee is responsible for satisfying its obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act as to the appropriateness of the working conditions the employee is under.

Employees should be aware that sick leave laws apply in the same way regardless of the working from home environment. If an employer is exercising pressure on the employee to continue working when they are sick, this should be safeguarded against, as any employee is within his or her rights to push back against a request or an expectation that if unwell is still required to work remotely.

We at Godfreys can assist with specific advice to your own situations regarding working from remote locations and of course, we are, like most other organisations, experiencing the exact same requirements ourselves in having to work remotely from time to time. 

What are your requirements as an Employer?

Every employer should have a written policy in place containing guidelines on the parties health and safety obligations while working remotely. Every employment agreement should make reference to company policies regarding ancillary behaviours and processes. That policy can also incorporate the requirement for the employee to continue to ensure that the employer's data remains secure and equally, that the employer should require suitable arrangements to protect the security of its data and its transmissibility between remote workers and the central office server.

Employers should be aware that if an employee suffers an injury when working from home it is possible that Worksafe could commence an investigation or site visit so that the procedures and policies that applied at the time of a workplace accident would be one thing that would come under scrutiny.

Finally, it is vital that the employment agreement between the employer and employee or employees contains a provision authorising and agreeing to remote working. This is as simple as agreeing to a variation to the existing employment agreement and recording it, in writing, signed by both parties and should remain up to date.

If you need assistance reviewing your work from home policies or making sure your employment agreements are up to date please contact the employment team at Godfreys Law on (03) 366 749.

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Article by:

Andrew "Andy" Ogilvie

Associate

Andy's varied background includes banking and hotel management experience, but law is his real passion. He began as clerk in the Courts in Wellington and worked his way up to Registrar of the Court of Appeal, before running his own business and studying law.

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