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When working from home is not working out

Working from home arrangements are the new normal. But what are an employer’s rights in directing employees to return to their usual place of work when working from home is not working out?

So…you’ve done the right thing: setting up your employees to work from home but for whatever reason, it’s just not working for some people. No real surprise there; even before the whole coronavirus crisis, working from home arrangements simply don’t suit every business or every employee.

So what are your rights in directing employees to return to work in your office? The answer to this one’s going to be a balance between what you should do and what you can do.

Only businesses covered by an enforceable government direction (restaurants, pubs, cafes, gyms and other services deemed non-essential) must not open for business. For all other businesses, the current advice from the Government is that under the declared coronavirus outbreak, employers should allow workers to work from home wherever and whenever they can. Key word? “Should”.

While employees have the right to refuse to perform unsafe work, they are also obliged to follow their employer’s lawful and reasonable directions. If the employer’s direction is that employee must attend work and not work from home is, in the circumstances, lawful and reasonable, the employee must obey this direction.

When working from home arrangements aren’t possible and employees need to attend the workplace to work, it’s important that employers consider their workplace health and safety obligations during the current pandemic. This includes implementing appropriate controls to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

What employers can do to manage risk will depend on your workplace and the work that you do. However, three key things you can start with are:

  1. maintain good hygiene and cleanliness of the workplace
  2. implement physical distancing – keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart, and
  3. use protective personal equipment (PPE) appropriately.

There might be other controls that would minimise the risk of infection, such as delaying non-essential tasks. There is no one size fits all approach. The important thing is that you:

  • actively consider the context of your business: the workplace, the work carried out there, your workers (for example, those classified as “at risk” because of their age or with pre-existing respiratory conditions) and others who come into the workplace, and
  • do what you reasonably can to eliminate or minimise the risk of the people at your workplace contracting COVID-19.

Safe Work Australia has a range of online information to ensure employers  manage the hazards and risks associated with COVID-19. The latest physical distancing measures can be found on the Department of Health website.

Having employees work from home is always going to be a challenge. While you team’s heath and wellbeing should be your first priority, you also have a business to run. Especially in times like now. Bare Bones Consulting can help you with strategies to get the best from your team members in working from home arrangements. Our advice is based on simplicity, value for money and genuine results. Check out our “Working from home: getting it right” page here. We got your back.

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.