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Woman working from a makeshift home office in her kitchen

Working from home safety and your entitlements

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Working from home has become very popular in recent years and many think the shift to remote work and home offices will become a permanent feature of society.

With this change comes the need to discuss and understand a worker’s rights to a safe work environment and compensation if suffering an office-related injury while working from home.

Are workers with home offices and working from home covered by the same laws and regulations as those at the primary worksite?

After all, it is your “workplace” – albeit might be harder to prove your work significantly contributed to the accident or injury, depending on what you were doing when the injury happened.

Common risks working from home

Being able to work from home provides some major benefits such as flexibility and even increased productivity. But it doesn’t come without its fair share of risks either.

Many people who work from home temporarily, or only a couple of days a week, may work from makeshift workstations. That is, instead of ergonomic office chairs, desks and monitors set at appropriate heights, it’s common for us to sit hunched over the kitchen bench on hard bar stools, or on the couch with the laptop actually on our laps.

Sitting in awkward positions for long periods of time can cause strains in different parts of the body, particularly to the muscles in the back and neck – commonly known as “tech neck”.

Not only this, but working from home isolates you from colleagues and often makes it harder for employees to draw the line between work and home life. And without a proper support network or employee assistance programs in place, your mental health can suffer.

Who’s responsible for keeping workers safe while working from home?

Just as if you were at the primary workplace, if your boss allows you to work from home, they still have a duty of care to look after your health and safety.

In fact, workplace health and safety legislation in each state outlines that employers must do what is reasonably practicable to ensure a safe work environment to limit the risk of injury.

This may include approving work-from-home arrangements on a case-by-case basis, assessing your home-based workstation to ensure it’s fit for purpose and providing you with the appropriate equipment, training and PPE.

Can I claim compensation if injured while working from home? If so, what type of compensation?

Yes. If you sustain an injury while working from home you may be eligible to make a workers’ compensation claim for statutory benefits.

The challenge with making a successful claim for a workplace injury while working from home is proving the injury happened during a work-related activity or in the course of your employment.

For example, if you were lifting boxes of stock you keep at home and suffered a repetitive strain injury, or tripped up the stairs while taking a work call, this would generally be considered in the course of employment.

You would have to prove the injury happened as you said it did, and that there were no obstacles. The best way to make sure you have a chance is to report it to your boss as soon as it happens – the sooner you report it, the better your chances of a successful workers’ compensation claim are.

Remember, be sure to tell it exactly as it happened, as doctors’ investigations and expert reports need to match up with the description of your injury.

Read more about how to report a workplace incident and unsafe practices.

If you hurt yourself while attending to something not work-related, or not during the course of your employment, however, such as lifting your child or hanging a load of washing on the line, it may be a different story.

There are, however, activities that are considered grey areas. For example, if you injure yourself walking to get cough medicine from the bathroom while sick and working from home.

This exact example has been tested in Australian courts in the matter of Hargreaves and Telstra [2011] AATA 417 where a Telstra employee fell down stairs and injured his shoulder, twice, while walking to get cough medicine and while complying with a work instruction.

While such incidents aren’t the employer’s fault, fortunately, workers’ compensation legislation states it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault to claim statutory workers’ compensation – i.e., weekly wage replacement and medical expenses.

Though it is important to note workers can make a common law claim for damages if their employer is deemed negligent in their duties of a safe work environment, such as if they failed to respond to a request for support from a worker who was struggling mentally and subsequently developed a psychological injury.

Note: You do also have a responsibility for your own health and safety too, however, including following instructions, using equipment properly and attending organised training.

Working from home safety tips

While injury risk is still possible while working from home, as touched on above, there is plenty both you and your boss can do to minimise that risk:

  • Continue to follow workplace procedures
  • Ensure you have the appropriate equipment for a safe workstation
  • Stay in touch with colleagues regularly
  • Don’t forget to take your entitled breaks
  • Manage your own safety of your home