Employers caught between a rock and a hard place

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With work from home requests on the rise, legal advisors are warning employers to carefully consider the legal extension of workplace health and safety laws.

Employers often approved flexible working arrangements without giving thought to the potential risks involved, Kristin Ramsay from Australian-based Harmers Workplace Lawyers said. “It is important for employers to evaluate potential risks and exposures when considering and granting work from home requests, as health and safety obligations apply the same way to work performed at home as they do to work performed in the office.”

It could be a delicate balancing act between providing flexible working options and minimising legal risks to businesses, Ramsay said. “HR and business managers should consider whether the benefit to the employee outweighed the potential risks to the business, and whether such risks could be properly managed on a person-by-person basis.”

Employers also needed to think about the issue of OH&S risks whilst working in any remote location, she continued. “Employers’ obligations apply to any place that the employer requires or permits the employee to perform work.”

It might be problematic for employers to refuse requests to work from home without reasonable business grounds, and it was important to only refuse a request for flexible work arrangements (such as working from home) if there are reasonable business ground for doing so, she said.

Employers should keep records of all requests, and keep documents relating to any decisions made, Ramsay advised – and added that when considering employee requests to work from home, businesses should consider the following:

  • Give careful consideration to all work from home requests
  • Prior to granting any request, complete a detailed, documented risk assessment of the home work environment looking at areas such as environmental factors (lighting, heating, ventilation etc.), workplace organisation and layout (including electrical and trip hazards), risks arising in respect of others that may enter the home work environment (such as children) and hours of work.
  • Establish a comprehensive policy for working from home arrangements, which covers issues such as the requirement for employees to report health and safety concerns or incidents back to the employer and expressly allows the employer to routinely inspect the home working environment; and is signed off on by the employee prior to commencing a work from home arrangement.
  • Keep documentary evidence of requests for working from home arrangements and the reasons why requests were/were not granted.
  • Implement regular reviews of work from home arrangements as circumstances will inevitably change.

Employers interested in finding out more about their obligations [to employees wanting to work from home] under New Zealand law should contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for more information.


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