Working from Home & Insurance
Whether you're self-employed or own a business, here's what you need to know about working from home.
While working from home can be a great way to boost productivity and establish a much better work-life balance, it's relatively unfamiliar territory for employers and businesses when it comes to insurance and liability.
Whether you're a business owner, are self-employed, or are considering allowing staff to work from home, it's important to be aware of when and what you are responsible for. Here's what you need to know.
If I'm a business owner what health concerns do I need to factor in with an employee (or myself) working from home?
Before you allow staff to work from home, you need to be sure that the work area meets occupational health and safety (OHS) standards. An inspection and assessment of the area is usually required, which generally involves looking at:
- Any tripping hazards and risks
- Security issues such as fire exit access, first aid and noise levels
- Electrical safety
You need to speak to your staff member if any changes are required and come to an agreement about how to move forward.
Another vital factor you need to consider is their mental health. When you're working from home, you don't get the same positive reinforcement you'd normally rely on from subtle queues like body language or the general office vibe.
Maintaining strong communication between you and your staff is really important. Try and find ways for social interaction. Video chats like Skype are a great way to discuss work with staff and are far more personal than emails.
What are the main insurance considerations (if a customer gets injured, if an employee gets injured)?
If an employee gets injured while working from home, you need to make sure you they are covered with workers compensation insurance as it's ultimately you that needs to provide a safe work environment for them. Make sure you have an adequate level of insurance for an injury sustained while working from home.
Similarly, if a staff member sees customers in their home as part of the job, you need to make sure you have public liability insurance. Some providers won't cover working from home, so make sure your public liability policy covers you before you agree to anything.
What about property and equipment?
Think of this way, they may be at home, but they're doing work. Working from home can blur the lines between what's your responsibility and what's the homeowners, so take the following points into consideration.
- Home insurance won't cover your business equipment. Even if your employee is working from home and has home and contents insurance, it won't cover any business equipment should it be damaged or broken.
- Exclusions. Your employee may have a pet, children or a smaller workspace that could result in damage to your equipment. It's important that you know what exclusions apply to your policy as you may not be covered if something is damaged.
- Damage, theft or loss of property and equipment. It's a good idea to have an inventory of the equipment your staff member is using when working from home. This will help you determine whether you have enough cover should anything be damaged or stolen.
- Personal items. If someone is using their own laptop to do work and they damage it, your business insurance is unlikely to cover the costs. The same is true of lost information; both your business and their home insurance are not likely to help out.
Should I let my employee (or should I) work from home?
In spite of the challenges and learning curve required for working at home, it's a great way for you or your staff to boost productivity while improving your work-life balance. However, before committing to the changes, make sure you've considered the following questions:
- What kind of supervision does the role require? If the job role is requires little supervision - for instance, if they are a writer - then working from home might be a good idea.
- Will your employee work better from home? You should take into consideration whether your employee would be as effective working from home. Ask yourself if they have demonstrated that they can work productively on their own without supervision.
- Is teamwork a key part of their job role? Communication is harder when you're working from home. If you or your employee's job role requires a lot of teamwork and collaboration then working from home might not be practical. You also need to take into consideration how much their absence from the workplace will affect other members of staff as well.
- What kind of equipment does the employee need to work from home? If it's going to be difficult to transport any equipment, or if the equipment they require is very expensive, then working from home may be impractical. However, if like most of us these days, they simply require a laptop, then working from home might make a lot of sense.
While working from home on a permanent basis may be less feasible, one or two days a week might be more suitable. Making sure you follow these steps can ensure you have the right cover in place, should anything go wrong.
Does workers compensation cover me when I’m working from home?
In short, yes – as long as you meet certain requirements. Workers compensation is mandatory insurance for Australian employers and it covers any injuries or accidents employees sustain while doing their job. Even if you’re working at home, you’re still an employee and you are entitled to the same protection as you are at the office as long as your house satisfies some basic regulations.
According to Shine Lawyers, your employer’s policy should cover you if you ensure the following:
- Entries and exits to your house comply with normal business requirements.
- You follow Work Health and Safety guidelines.
- You and your employer have discussed what the insurance will cover. This may include damage to personal and company property, damage to your house and public liability if you meet with customers.
What are my responsibilities when working from home?
When making the decision to work from home, you and your employer should lay out all the duties and responsibilities involved in a working-from-home agreement. This may include details on anything from how you should set up your workplace to how much contact you’ll have with your employer throughout the day.
But no matter your arrangements, it’s important to remember that your employer can only do so much. When working at home – just like at the office – your safety is your responsibility too. If you have safety concerns, raise them with your employer. If you’re unsure about some detail of the arrangement, bring it up in a discussion. Your employer can also perform a home workplace safety inspection upon request to make sure it’s up to code.
When might workers compensation not cover me?
A lot of the grey area in worker compensation claims for those working at home stems from the specificity of the arrangement. Workers compensation will cover you if you’re in your designated work zone doing a task incidental to your job while on company hours.
As you can imagine, this leaves quite a few potential situations where your employer may not compensate you. That’s not to say the system is heavily weighted against you. For example, workers compensation claims have been awarded to a Telstra employee who damaged her shoulder while going downstairs to lock her front door and to a man who sustained a back injury while dashing from the shower to answer a phone call from his boss.
But such cases can hinge entirely upon specific details – the woman had been instructed by Telstra to keep her house secure while working, and the man had been previously chastised by his boss for not answering the phone quickly enough. If the circumstances aren’t quite right, you could end up footing the bill!
In addition, some people aren’t covered when they think they are. For example, independent contractors aren’t considered employees when it comes to cover.
How can income protection cover help?
Workers compensation can provide excellent protection for employees in many situations, but it has a narrow application. If your situation falls outside of the parameters required for a successful claim, you could miss out on compensation for an injury sustained while working at home.
Income protection cover can help when work cover can’t and can include the following perks:
- Wider occupation cover. Self-employed individuals and homemakers can seek income protection.
- Partner benefits. If your partner needs to take time off to look after you following an illness or accident, they can recoup their lost income.
- Rehabilitation cover. This provides cover for programs or treatment to help you return to work.
- Extended benefit cover. Your benefits can cover you up until the age of 70.
To see exactly how income protection cover measures up to basic workers compensation, check out our article here.
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Picture: Maria Fernanda Gonzalez - Unsplash
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