The psychological toll of working from home: Employers have a health and safety obligation

Published July 22, 2021 Author: Employsure
Lockdown WFH

It is the responsibility of business owners who have staff working from home during lockdown to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, their physical and psychological safety and wellbeing.

It may start as a novelty to work remotely, but as the weeks roll on it can be taxing on the physical and mental health of employees. Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor, is urging employers to be proactive in organising and maintaining a connection with employees, and also make sure their work environment is safe.

“One of the most important aspects when running a business is ensuring the health and safety of staff. With Victoria, South Australia, and most people in New South Wales currently in lockdown, it’s imperative correct measures are taken so employees stay motivated, healthy and safe,” said Employsure health and safety manager Larry Drewsen.

“An employer has a duty of care that extends to anywhere an employee can perform work. Employers must consider all scenarios and whether the home is the safest environment. They must ensure they’re doing right by their staff and are compliant with industrial relations and health and safety laws.

“The best workplace, no matter the location, is a safe workplace. If employees are required to work from home, their employer should require each of them to assess their environment and complete a working from home safety checklist.”

Employers should regularly check in on staff, and identify any issues that might impede their work. Employers should also identify whether staff live in a COVID-19 hotspot and who they have been in contact with. Knowing which staff members have physically been in the workplace can help avoid a potential infection spread.

Because everyday encounters with colleagues do not happen spontaneously when working from home, employers can also urge their employees to reach out to fellow colleagues to maintain a social connection. Staying connected not only helps reduce stress and the feeling of isolation, but it can boost productivity. It also helps employees communicate with their manager and team to keep them informed of what project they are working on.

Common feelings employees who work remotely may experience during lockdown include social and professional disconnect, lack of motivation, loss of energy, appetite or weight changes, unexplained aches and pains, loss of interest, and feelings of anxiety and stress.

This is reflected in calls to Employsure’s employer advice line, which has seen a 68 per cent increase in grievance-related calls from concerned business owners since the start of the year. To keep better track of employees, business owners should use employee management software such as BrightHR to manage sickness, rosters, work locations and all other sensitive information and documents.

In some scenarios, domestic violence may be identified. If this is the case, an employer must, as far as reasonably practicable, work to manage, eliminate or minimise any threat to staff. If this cannot be ensured, an alternative work environment must be provided. Some aspects, such as whether a worker chooses to disclose family matters, may however be out of an employer’s control.

“Employers may want to include specific, optional questions relating to domestic violence for employees in their working from home safety checklist,” continued Mr Drewsen.

“Continued communication is key, and employees should be assured any information given will be kept private. An employer should consider contacting an organisation such as 1800 RESPECT if a worker discloses that they are experiencing domestic violence. If a worker or anyone in the workplace is in immediate danger, call 000.”

Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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