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Ask Ed: What are my obligations to employees who work from home?

Ask EdFebruary 6, 2015

Ask Ed: What are my obligations to employees who work from home? (Last Updated On: November 18, 2016)

Question: I run a travel agency, and all of my staff are currently in-house, at desks. However, I would like to set up a home-based, mobile-style travel agency wing, whereby some of my consultants are mobile. I feed them bookings and they simply process them.

Can you please give me some info about pay rates for staff who work from home?

How do they get paid?

Whose expenses are phones/petrol etc. if they are being paid a bonus etc. on top of a retainer, plus commissions?

What other information do you think I would need?

Answer: I wish that I can say that the answer is quite straightforward; unfortunately there are a few layers of the employment law union you’ll need to peel to work this out.

The first thing that you’ll need to do is to verify whether a modern award applies to your business. All wages, allowances and what you can place in an employment contract will be based on the conditions and role classifications of the right award. Depending on the award, the fact that your staff works from home may or may not influence their pay packet, so it’s important to get this step right.

Based on the information you’ve provided, your business is likely to fall under the General Retail Award – I recommend that you check with one of our advisers who can work with you to confirm this. Once the right award is applied the fun really starts in interpreting it to work out wages. You (or us!) will need to consider:

  • whether your consultants are covered under this award – this will depend on the type of duties they carry out. You will need to be careful here as you may find certain staff, for example those doing mostly administrative work, may fall under a different occupational award;
  • which level of classification your employee falls under in the award;
  • the age of your employee; and
  • whether they are full time, part time or casual staff.

Wages can be paid by one, or a combination of cash, cheque, money order, postal order or electronic funds transfer (EFT or bank transfer).

In regards to phone and petrol, the General Retail Award doesn’t include any provision for these allowances. It does however make a provision for transport allowance in the instance where an employer requests that their staff to use their own vehicle to perform work-related duties. Contact us if you need more information on the cost of this allowance and when it takes effect.

Bonuses and commissions aren’t covered by the award either, but you can certainly set up a commission scheme provided that your employees are already getting the award wage rate.

If this is all starting to sound too rigid, the good news is there is still some wriggle room in the award flexibility provision. You and your staff may agree and choose to vary certain terms of the award to come to an agreement that meets genuine needs of both parties. This means that you can include any allowances that your staff may need to do their jobs. You can also choose to pay an all-inclusive rate of pay – an above award wage that includes allowances, penalties and applicable loading.

One last important thing to consider for staff who work from home is their safety. Because their home is technically their office, a risk assessment needs to be done to check whether their homes are suitable and safe environments to work. Guidance on such an assessment can be found through each State’s health and safety government body. Employsure also has Workplace Health and Safety Consultants to help you with this enquiry and conduct site visits.

In short, the terms and conditions of employment all hinge on the right modern award and other applicable state legislation, which will vary depending on the needs of your business. As you can see from this column, the complexity of the modern awards system is extraordinary – so if you are unsure on the pay rates for your employees, call Employsure on 1300 651 415 for advice.

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