A ruling that makes employers liable for injuries suffered by staff working at home is likely to shake up an informal arrangement for people working from home and mean bosses will insist on dictating the working setups in employees' homes.
A landmark case where a Telstra employee successfully claimed injuries she suffered at home were work- related has the potential to change the landscape from a fairly informal arrangement for home workplaces to something that I expect will be more tightly controlled in the future.
Simply put, things are going to get tougher for staff who work from home. If the employer is liable for any injuries at home then bosses will insist on a big say in how home work environments are set up and also what defines 'work' in the home environment.
People may not like the idea of the boss telling them how to set up things in their home, but that's the inevitable consequence if the boss is held liable for home safety.
As an injury compensation lawyer I believe home worker compensation issues could become complicated now after a Telstra worker who said she slipped down her unit stairs while working from home, won a multi-million dollar ruling from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Her employer has been ordered to pay legal and medical costs and compensate for lost income.
Telstra worker Dale Hargreaves, 42, reported she slipped down her stairs twice in a two month period in 2006, while working on marketing projects at her Brisbane townhouse.
Telstra denied it was liable, claiming the accidents happened outside her designated workstation. However the Administrative Appeals Tribunal disagreed and found her injuries were work-related in that they arose from her employment with Telstra. Thus they were workplace injuries.
It would be reasonable now to expect employers to insist on workplace health and safety audits of home workplaces, and we can expect some dramas if workers feel the boss is "invading' their home and stipulating where the carpets should be placed or what sort of ergonomic chair is used.
How intrusive could it become? It would not be unreasonable for bosses to insist any home workplace have functioning smoke alarms, non-slip work surfaces, no trip hazards or stray electrical cords, proper lighting and ventilation and a suitably approved ergonomic chair.
Further, depending on the workplace setup, handrails for stairways, fire extinguishers, barriers to prevent small children from exposure to any hazards in or around the designated workspace and clear exits from the building could be required.
However the single biggest issue is going to be proving an injury at home was work related, especially if there are no witnesses and the whole thing hangs on a worker's word. Expect worker/ employer tensions to escalate if a WorkCover claim is in the wind.
What this means is home based workers need to be especially mindful that they fully comply with all workplace safety requirements and directions from their employers to protect their rights in the case of a claim.
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