Working from home is becoming increasingly common as many employees look for flexibility and work-life balance. Employees who work from home are often more productive and happier, while businesses experience higher retention rates and employee loyalty.

There are some legal risks employers should be aware of before finalising a working from home arrangement in order to achieve better, safer outcomes for both businesses and employees.

Is working from home the right option?

Not every employee will be in the right position to have a working from home arrangement. Some key things to consider when an employee requests to work from home are:

  • Is the employee involved in a lot of face-to-face work with clients? If they worked from home, would this enhance or hinder the business’ client relations?
  • Is the employee required to work closely with a team on a day-to-day-basis? What communication processes would need to be implemented?
  • What level of supervision or monitoring does the employee’s role require? Are they self-motivated and able to work autonomously?
  • Is the employee’s home environment safe and free from distractions?

Open and consistent communication between employer and employee is key to making any arrangement successful. Employees should be able to articulate why they want flexibility and how it will enhance their productivity. Employers should set clear expectations before consenting to a working from home arrangement to ensure everyone is on the same page going forward.

The right to request flexible working arrangements

Under the National Employment Standards, some employees are entitled to request flexible working arrangements, including working from home. Employees are eligible if they have worked for their employer for 12 months and if they are a parent or carer, have a disability, are over the age of 55 or are experiencing domestic violence.

Employers must seriously consider any request for flexible working arrangements. A request can be refused on reasonable business grounds, which could include that it would be too costly for the employer, be impractical to accommodate or would negatively impact customer service.

Work, health and safety obligations still apply in an employee’s home

Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace for their staff, whether they are working on-site or at home. Under work, health and safety legislation, an employer’s duty of care extends to wherever an employee is performing an activity that is part of their employment.

This means that if an employee physically injures themselves while working at home, it can be considered a workplace incident. Employers may be liable under a workers compensation claim.

Having a Working from Home Policy and Checklist can help to ensure an employee’s home complies with WH&S requirements.

Employers also have an obligation for their employee’s mental well-being, even if they are working from home and psychological injuries are covered by workers compensation. Stress, struggles with workload, bullying, harassment and job dissatisfaction are still issues that arise with employees who work from home. This risk can be minimised by having regular office days when the employee comes into work and checks-in with managers and other staff.

Confidential information

If an employee is working from home, company property and intellectual property will often be put on personal computers or taken home in hard copy. This inevitably creates risks of confidential information being shared outside the business.

Employment contracts, codes of conduct and policies can assist with protecting your business’ confidential information. They can also ensure employers are able to request access to information and property (such as laptops or phones) at any time, including termination of employment.