5 Working from home issues to be considered during the COVID-19 pandemic

Business
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Coronavirus is increasingly growing as a health and safety problem in the workplace and several companies are considering work from home arrangements for workers.

Some workers often say that they work proactively from home, and not only because of personal health issues.
Coronavirus can interfere with existing childcare and school arrangements, requiring working parents to care to their children at home, or may need care for elderly relatives.

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Some companies have implemented processes and frameworks that allow this, but many employers will have to quickly understand the issues involved.

And while we suggest that you contact your attorney during difficult times for general business advice, there are a few particular issues to address.

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1. The legal aspect of things

Sending employees home due to concerns about coronavirus can fall under this big responsibility. Nevertheless, employers who let their workers work from home do need to consider the risks in the external environment to ensure employee health. Without proven procedures this can be difficult and in some situations it will be a matter of managing competing risks.

Employers should also be mindful of applicable workplace agreements, business agreements and awards while either enforcing work from home arrangements or responding to demands from workers to do so.

As always, seek legal advice on employment law matters.

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2. Worker’s insurance, public responsibility and worker’s compensation

Regardless of the place, employers have to have a secure place of work. Employees may have rights to workers ‘compensation benefits if there are accidents or illnesses that occur when operating remotely, but it might also be wise to review the nature and coverage of certain insurance schemes such as public liability, occupational compensation and other plans for business security.

If a home-based employee performs face-to-face business from home, such as seeing suppliers or clients, public liability protection should be checked.

Businesses providing health services will need to amend their insurance compensation policy (or at least alert their insurer that the coronavirus workers are now working from home). Skilled compensation insurers may request information from home employees regarding supervisory arrangements for work.

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3. Be specific about home-ground job rules

Employees typically rate a company highly, which provides flexible job conditions and can improve productivity from home. With no commuting time, more can be achieved on both the domestic and job fronts.

Yet unstructured, poorly supervised work from home practices may be harmful not only to the company but also to relationships in the workplace, if some workers feel that they work harder than others.

So it is important to state explicitly from home arrangements the requirements and boundaries of the employer around the job. For example, the employee will commit to working the same working hours (although not generally a typical “9 to 5” working day in which family care commitments exist) with the same performance level. They will schedule their day, set targets and concentrate on results just as they would if they were supervised at the workplace of the employer.

Supervisors and administrators will arrange daily check-in.

Effective communication is completely essential. Using instant messaging apps not only to communicate downtime (e.g. “away from work, leave voicemail”), but also the reasons and anticipated time while online back (e.g. “buying groceries from 3 pm to 4 pm”).

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4. Tools, technologies and systems for work

Telephone and internet connectivity related to work are relatively common these days, but employers should ensure whether home infrastructure is sufficient for work purposes. At the very least, employers should ensure that there is adequate reception or access for workers to contact emergency services if needed.

Connection to networks should be checked, too. Employees today need access to much more than office emails. Access to company and record databases, accounting systems, HR, payroll and customer marketing software are only a few examples where different workers may require various rates of access, and licenses for business software used in the business.

Cyber-consciousness is important, as always. For example, it should be discouraged to log into workplace systems through public networks (e.g. the coffee shop just around the corner.

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5. Job equipment insurance

Every company should have records of the equipment at the workplace, its location and the name of the worker responsible for it.

The general property insurance policy of the company should cover business equipment regardless of its location but review the policy to see if there are exclusions applicable to equipment being brought home for use in the job.

A “gap” in risk and insurance coverage can occur when the property of the employee is being used for work purposes. This is, the employee’s property is not covered by the employer’s policy and the employee’s insurance policy for home and goods does not protect the employer’s business equipment. Damage suffered from loss of data etc.

Check with the agent or insurance broker for advice.

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