Employers still responsible for ensuring safe work environment

With more and more people working from home – many for the first time because of coronavirus – it is important both employers and employees know the law that governs the home workspace.

Even when staff are working from home, employers still have the responsibility to ensure a safe work environment under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Regardless of the type of work you do, if you are an employee and you are working for a company or individual, they have a duty of care for your health and safety while you are working.

Safety and security should be on par with the company office

Employers have a duty to ensure the home workspace has the same safety provisions as if staff were working in the company office.

This includes security and fire safety. Home workers must have functioning smoke alarms, and a safe way to evacuate the premises.

Employers should also provide the same safe workplace equipment as in the company office, such as ergonomic chairs, work phones, computers, adequate computer monitors – everything to ensure the home workspace complies with health and safety requirements.

If an employee working from home sees clients at their home as part of the business, the employer needs to ensure they have the required level of public liability insurance.

Employees working from home should be covered by workers compensation insurance

If an employee is injured while working at home – or at any time during the course of their employment – the employer's workers' compensation insurance should cover that employee.

For instance, if the worker trips over cables, slips on the floor or tumbles down stairs in the home workspace during work time, then by law the employer should have them covered by insurance. Employers could be liable even if an employee has an accident making coffee in their own kitchen during work time.

Develop a home workplace safety checklist

During the current health crisis when many employers are suddenly telling workers to carry out their tasks at home – mostly on computer or phone – it would be best to develop a checklist for employees to verify that their home workspace complies with health and safety standards.

With self-isolation it is impossible to check employees' homes physically to ensure they comply, so it would be wise for employers to get legal advice on how best to formulate a home workplace safety checklist.

If employers can demonstrate they have such a policy and checklist, and have trained or instructed employees on safe home workplace requirements, this should serve to protect the employer if an employee has an accident while working from home.

Employers could demonstrate safe workplace requirements via Skype or Facetime and use this opportunity to do a visual inspection of the home workspace, pointing out potential problems.

Employees ordered to work from home where there are safety problems – including domestic violence – should consult a workplace lawyer, as they may have a right to claim compensation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Emily Wittig

Employment law

Stacks Collins Thompson