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Why you need a work from home policy for your remote workers

 I cannot advocate more strongly for employers to hire a remote team or permit their existing employees to work remotely, at least part of the time.  There are numerous productivity and employee engagement benefits to working from home.  However, you need a work from home policy before you hire a remote worker or permit your existing employees to work from home.

Why? 

Put simply, as an employer you need to:

  • protect your liability if your employee has an accident while working from home; and

  • set clear expectations and boundaries for the employment relationship to ensure you do not have an issue with  your insurer for any work from home workers compensation claim.

The two case examples below show how broadly the term “in the course of work” can be defined in the case of employees working away from the office.

Hargreaves Case 

In Hargreaves and Telstra Corporation [2011] AATA 417 (the Hargreaves Case) a Telstra employee was permitted by her employer to work from home 2 days a week and finish out the remainder of the week in the office.

One week during her work from home day, Ms Hargreaves left her desk during work hours to take medicine for a respiratory problem she had and fell down the stairs in her house while retrieving the medicine.  In this fall she injured her left shoulder.  She subsequently injured that shoulder again in another fall down the same stairs a short time later and required surgery. 

Hargreaves made a claim under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) and Telstra denied liability for her injuries on the basis that the reason for both falls could not be connected to her employment.  However, in deciding the matter, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Tribunal), on appeal, held that Hargreaves was logged on to the Telstra computer system on both occasions and had gone downstairs for valid reasons, once to obtain cough medicine to help her continue her job better and the second time to lock the screen door after her son left the house, something Telstra had instructed her to do in her employment contract when she was working from home. 

As a side note, the Tribunal also noted that legal authority can exist when work from home employees are having a tea or toilet break as that occurs in the course of a normal work day.

Ziebarth Case

In the second case study, Robert Ziebarth was injured at home while running to the phone (from the shower) to answer an urgent work call.

The facts set out in the case (Ziebarth v Simon Blackswood (Workers Compensation Regulator) [2-15] QIRC 121) hinge on whether Ziebarth’s injury was sustained “in the course of work” even though he was at home.

In this case, Ziebarth had been in trouble previously with his employer on a number of occasions for failing to answer his work phone when he was on call or at home. WIth this background to the case, Ziebarth indicated to the Commission that he was “anxious not miss the call”. 

On appeal it was held that Ziebarth was engaged in an activity for work during the course of his injury and that his employer had actively encouraged the action that led to his injury (in this case making sure he answered calls).

Avoiding the issues.  Why a work from home policy is necessary

To avoid the gray areas that arose in both the Hargreaves and Ziebarth cases, it is critical for you to have a work from home policy for your employees.

The following is good practice and will go a long way toward avoiding work from home claims, or in the very lease defending work from home claims:

Put a work from home policy in place. 

The policy should clearly state the requirements employees must comply with when working from home. Your work from home policy should include:

a.     workplace set up;

b.     checklists for workplace set up to be completed and returned by the employee;

c.      directions to keep doors looked while working from home;

d.     instructions to keep confidential information secure and follow all directions; and

e.     notify you (the employer) of any injuries or dangerous situations, such as flood or fire.

Make sure your work insurance policy covers you adequately

The correct workers compensation insurance policy to cover employees working from home or other locations.  If you permit your employees to work overseas, will the insurance policy cover them or do they require their own extensive travel insurance?

Have your employees provide copies of their home insurances and complete a remote work checklist

Employees should be required to provide you with a copy of the home contents and building insurance (where applicable) to determine who would be responsible for damage to property.  This should extend to motor vehicles or pushbikes if the employee is required to drive or cycle for work.

Next Steps

The Remote Expert specialises exclusively in remote work arrangements.  Contact us to enquire about our checklist and remote work policy templates.