During this time of disruption, many businesses have had to move staff to flexible arrangements, and have had staff working form their homes.
For many workplaces, having staff working from home, for at least some of the time, will now become a normal part of their working arrangements moving forwards.
This being the case, employers have obligations to provide their staff with a working environment that is safe, and without risks to their health. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 these obligations are not strictly limited to workplaces which are under the direct control of the employer. Employers need to provide, “as far as reasonably practicable”, a safe environment.
The types of things the Act may require are:
Providing certain necessary equipment or appropriate furniture for use in the home office; and
Making some effort to assess suitability of the space employees are using as their home office.
The Act also has a requirement to provide information to employees to enable them to perform their work safely and without risk.
This will almost certainly require the provision of a Working from Home Policy to provide staff with information regarding the safe set-up of a home working environment.
As restrictions eventually begin to ease, some employees may wish to continue with flexible working arrangements.
Under the Fair Work Act, employees can make written application for flexible working arrangements (which may include working from home, but also includes things like flexible hours), under certain grounds, specifically:
If they are a parent (or have similar caring responsibilities);
If they are a carer;
If they have a disability;
If they are 55 years or older;
If they are experiencing Family Violence, or are providing care or support to a person experiencing family violence.
The request needs to be in writing, and outline the details of the change sought and reasons why. An employer then needs to provide a written response within 21 days, and can only refuse the request on reasonable business grounds, which include, but are not limited to:
The change will be too costly;
There’s no capacity for arrangements of other employees to change to accommodate the request; and
It’s impractical to change arrangements or recruit new employees to accommodate the change.