I recently read an interesting article in the Financial Review on the hidden costs of working from home. The article by Fiona Carruthers detailed the problems which Telstra faced just recently when it was found liable for physical and psychological injuries sustained by one of its employees who were working from home. Telstra may now face paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
This article got me thinking about some of the ways in which businesses could minimize the risk of their employees and subcontractors being injured while working from home. With the introduction of the new Australia wide Workplace Health and Safety Act 2012, which will come into effect on 1 January 2012, issues of safety when working from home will be paramount.
Many business owners want to give their employees the opportunity to work from home. Particularly, with the new trend of having a work-life balance, I have found that there is an increased pressure on business owners to be more flexible in the working conditions they set for their employees. However, it’s equally important for employers to understand that this can come at a very high price, if the right foundations are not set from the very start.
One of the best ways for business owners to protect themselves from liability is to ensure that each individual who is engaged to work from home, signs a Workplace Health and Safety Agreement. This Agreement may form part of the individual’s employment agreement or may be an entirely separate agreement. Either way, it is essential that both the employer and employee are aware of their obligations under what are a very comprehensive set of regulations.
The benefit of having a Workplace Health and Safety Agreement drawn up is that both parties understand their obligations under the law. Procedures may be put in place under the Agreement to ensure that both parties are complying with the relevant procedures and taking appropriate measures to identify and minimize the risk of potential injury. The Agreement can also require that both parties inform each other immediately in the event of a possible breach so that it may be rectified in the most efficient way possible.
Business owners should note that the clauses necessary in a Workplace Health and Safety Agreement differ based on the nature of the relationship between the parties entering into the agreement. For example, if the Agreement is between a principal and contractor, the burden of liability will be far more heavily placed on the contractor than the principal. This is distinct from an Agreement between an employer and employee as the relationship between those two parties at law is very different compared to that of a principal and contractor.
If you have any concerns regarding how the new Workplace Health and Safety laws may affect you or your workplace, please feel free to contact me.
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