Working from home: a grey area for work-related injuries

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe place of work for their employees.  This obligation is likely to extend beyond the office walls into home- and mobile-working environments.

When you work from home, you should maintain an open line of communication with your employer to ensure you’re aware of any safety issues that relate to your work environment. Fortunately, many technologies enable you to stay connected and prioritise a positive culture of workplace safety.

Workers compensation for injuries that happen at home

If your injury arises out of or in the course of your employment or while performing any activity that is incidental to your employment, you will be eligible for WorkCover compensation. If you have your employer’s permission (whether explicit or implicit) to work from home, you should be covered if you sustain an injury at home.

Recent cases show that you will be covered by WorkCover for the same types of incidents that would be covered if you were working on your employer’s premises. For example, if you injured yourself during your lunch break on a day when you were working from the office, you would be covered, and the same conditions can apply in a home-based work environment. However, if you were injured after clocking off from work or while doing something clearly unrelated to work in any way, you probably would not be covered. Still, the scope of these situations can vary widely, so it all depends on your individual circumstances.

Your employer can help make your home office safe

Your employer has an obligation to provide you with a safe workplace. Of course, they can’t control your home environment in the same way they manage their own premises, but they still have a responsibility to ensure your safety.

There are many reasons why employees request flexible work arrangements, and this need for flexible work arrangements might be temporary or permanent. Either way, smart employers will find a way to make sure that they are able to accommodate requests for flexible work arrangements. Those employers that make it work will see the benefits of staff retention, productivity gains, a happy workforce and, most likely, a more profitable company.

One of the top priorities that employers should take into account when supporting flexible work arrangements is safety. The employer can not turn a blind eye to safety just because the work is undertaken from home.

I would encourage employers who are thinking about how to provide for a safe place of work for employees working outside of the office to embrace new ways of thinking that the opportunity presents. For example:  

  • explaining how to set up a desk properly (will this be done during induction? Supported by on-line video? Refresher courses?) and advising employees on the type of equipment they should use and the best place for them to work
  • making their employees’induction processes relevant to the home-based working environment whenever possible
  • creating a checklist or a set of instructions to help employees create safe environments for working away from the office
  • staying engaged with employees to keep them informed about the tools, advice, information and resources they need in order to stay safe at work.

Safety is your responsibility, too

As an employee, you are responsible for your own safety at work whether you’re in the office or at home, so you need to take reasonable care. If you have doubts about the safety of your work environment at home, you should raise these concerns with your employer. This discussion may result in the decision that it’s unsafe for you to work from home or in the creation of risk controls to make your home office safe.

If you still have concerns, ask your employer to perform a worksite inspection. They will check your work environment to ensure they are happy with its condition and consult with you about how to reduce or remove any risks to your safety.

Liberty Sanger is a Principal, Board member and Practice Group Leaderin Maurice Blackburn’s Melbourne offices.

TOPIC: Work rights
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Work related injuries

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Liberty Sanger

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Liberty Sanger is a Principal, Board member and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, co-leading the Victorian WorkCover and Road Accident injuries (TAC) departments. Liberty is a qualified Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist and she is recognised by the prestigious Doyles Guide as one of only five leading lawyers in workers' compensation in Victoria. Liberty says she became a lawyer to help people. “I love getting excellent results for my clients. The process of obtaining compensation can be very stressful and confusing. Having to navigate your way through the WorkCover system at the same time as dealing with the consequences of your injury and the permanent changes to your life and life plans can be completely overwhelming. Knowing this, I am driven to make sure that I take that stress away from my clients and get them the best result possible. I have been told by many clients that having Maurice Blackburn on their side from the beginning of their claim took a load off their mind, and that the compensation I have obtained for them has made a real difference to their lives. Knowing the approach to my work and the outcomes I achieve has had that impact on their lives is incredibly satisfying.” Liberty is Chair of Maurice Blackburn’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, which is charged with recommending strategies and initiatives to the Board to ensure that every employee feels comfortable to bring their whole unique self to work and thrive in an accepting and supportive environment. She has also been appointed Chair of the Victorian Government’s Equal Workplaces Advisory Council as part of their Gender Equality Strategy. The Council has been asked to identify government action that will promote the achievement of gender equality, to identify promote and publish good practice examples of initiatives that work to promote gender equality and to consider the issues and linkages relating to pay equity, equality and productivity to achieve equitable outcomes for women and men. "While we've achieved a lot, there is still a long way to go. When you look at the data, you see significant gaps in the areas of pay, leadership and workforce participation, and a grossly disproportionate representation of women affected by family violence, bullying and harassment. And there can’t be any explanation for this other than differential treatment of the genders. The good news is that we can take action to redress all of these things. While it will take courage and leadership from all of us to do so, we will all benefit when we get there," says Liberty. Liberty was raised in Wodonga and stayed true to her roots while progressing social agendas on national platforms through a number of political and community organisations. A self-confessed “committed unionist and opinionated chatterbox”, Liberty regularly voices her views on The Friday Wrap with Jon Faine on 774 Melbourne radio, by reviewing newspapers on ABC News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland, and as a regular panelist on Politics HQ on Sky TV. She has also been a guest on the ABC’s Q & A TV show.  Memberships & accreditations Law Institute of Victoria Member Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist Australian Lawyers Alliance Member Maurice Blackburn Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee Chair (2017-present) Melbourne Olympic Parks Trust Member (2017-present) Equal Workplaces Advisory Council Chair (2017-present) McKell Institute Advisory Board member (2016-present) YWCA Life Member Emergency Services State Super Fund Board Director (2010-2013) Federation Square Pty/Ltd Board Director (2009-2012) Victoria Law Foundation Board Director (2004-2009) Liquor Control Advisory Council Chair (2006-2009) Media Code of Conduct Working Group on Body Image Chair (2007-2008) Awards Doyles Guide leading lawyer, 2016 ...

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