OHS Matters: Working From Home

 

“I am working in administration. I am a casual, now working from home. Does the company I am working for have to provide me with an ergonomic office chair?”

 

Unfortunately, there is nothing specifically in the law that requires an employer to provide the equipment necessary, for someone to work from home. However, under Victoria’s OHS Act (and similar acts in other jurisdictions), the employer DOES have a legal duty to employees (including casual employees) to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the ‘general duty of care’ and applies to everything: the workplace, the equipment, the systems of work, supervision and training, and so on. But it is qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

Australia’s OHS regulators are all providing guidance and advice, but Comcare has made the clearest statement: “An employer has the same work health and safety obligations to a worker while they are working from home. A worker’s home workplace should meet the same work health and safety requirements.”

WorkSafe Victoria says: “[The employer’s duty of care] also includes controlling new risks that may be introduced when an employee works from a location other than their normal workplace, such as their home office.” It then emphasises that employers must consult with employees and HSRs on matters relating to OHS and any issues associated with working from home.

So, what are the things that an employer should be doing? At the very least:


• Consulting with you, and any HSRs, on any issues relating to working from home

• Ensuring an audit of your working space and equipment is done to check the physical working environment (workstation, chair, light, and so on).

• Also take measures to look after your psychosocial health: establishing a way to maintain communication, set clear work tasks and expectations, create an appropriate digital workplace, support work-life balance.


When it comes to the equipment that you must use – not just your chair, but computer, monitor, and so on - the union position is that your employer should be responsible for this. Either it should be provided by the employer OR the employer should cover the cost of any extra equipment which must be purchased. Once again, Comcare has the clearest advice: “Where possible, only equipment issued by the organisation should be used.”

Will employers provide or pay for the equipment necessary to work from home? It depends. It depends on lots of things including the willingness of the employer to be ‘put out’ or to spend a bit during this time to minimise the risk to employees. It is more likely that employers will provide this to permanent workers – and less so to casual workers. It will also depend on whether the workplace is unionised and has strong HSRs.

For more information, go to
OHSReps@Work www.ohsrep.org.au
(search for ‘Working from home’ and ‘Coronavirus’)