As a result of the Level 4 restrictions currently in place, many employees are working from home.  Even after Level 4 restrictions are lifted (on 22 April 2020, at this stage), it is likely that many non-essential businesses will still be required to close their usual business premises under Level 3 restrictions. Employers need to know that they continue to be responsible for the health and safety of their employees, even though they are working from home.

When working from home, by law, the employee’s home is defined as a workplace.  Employers are therefore required to eliminate and minimise any risks to their employees’ health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Given employers cannot be physically present to undertake any assessment, they should work closely with their staff to assist them in identifying and eliminating or reducing any potential hazards in their home. 

This could include ensuring that working over the internet does not risk employee privacy, encouraging employees to take regular breaks and stick to their usual hours, identifying slip and trip hazards, preventing the overloading of sockets and any cables they may get caught up in, and assisting them with setting up a work station that is beneficial to their posture.

Employers should also recognise the potential impacts social isolation may have on the mental health of their staff. They should encourage their employees to engage with each other over electronic forums whether it be email or video software.

It is also important to acknowledge that many employees will be subjected to additional stressors while working at home. This may be children that cannot attend school, or other members of their family that depend on them at home. Employers should be flexible and discuss these situations with their employees, as well as coping mechanisms that may be incorporated. This could include flexible working hours, or making sure they are aware of services employers may provide such as employee assistance programmes.

If you are unsure about your obligations, you should seek advice.  Getting things wrong can lead to costly personal grievances, or enforcement action from WorkSafe New Zealand.

Read more about assistance available to employers and businesses, or to read more about protecting essential employees who are still working during the lockdown.

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