Suffer an injury while working from home? You may be entitled to workers compensation if it can be shown that your injuries occurred in the course of your employment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted traditional work patterns, with many workers finding themselves working from their study, dining table or couch. Employers have directed their employees to work from home, and many employees have elected to work remotely when given the choice to return to the office.
An Increase in Remote Work Compensation Claims
National work health and safety authority Comcare has witnessed an increase in work from home claims over the past year, and workers compensation claims arising from remote work are expected to increase.
If the injury arises out of or in the course of employment, you may be eligible for workers compensation under a scheme such as WorkCover. If you have been granted approval to work from home by your employer, you are likely to be covered by workers compensation for an injury sustained at home whilst undertaking an activity incidental to your employment during agreed work hours.
Over the past year, physiotherapists have reported an increase in sore backs and necks due to poor home workstations that are not ergonomically set-up. It is likely that employers will be exposed to an increase in workplace injury claims for repetitive strain and back issues, particularly where employers neglect to provide workers with appropriate equipment and furniture to complete their work from home.
Though a contentious area of workers compensation, the common law indicates that an injury arising during a tea or lunch break can be found to arise out of employment, and therefore be compensable (Hatzimanolis v ANI Corp Ltd  173 CLR 473). Similarly, in Hargreaves v Telstra  AATA 579, a worker who fell downstairs while going to her refrigerator was found to be acting in the course of her employment because getting food from her refrigerator was found to be a legitimate need for leaving her home workstation. However, the scope of the scope of workers compensation has not been rigorously tested for working from home contexts. It may be assumed that where a worker is undertaking a more private activity during their break, such as dealing with personal matters or going for a run, the course of employment test may be less likely to be satisfied.
Employer’s Duty of Care
Under Work Health and Safety laws, employers have a legal duty of care for the health and safety of their employees and others at the workplace “so far as is reasonably practicable”. This duty of care extends to working from home arrangements, meaning reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the employee’s work environment meets workplace health and safety requirements.
Naturally, employers have less control over your home environment than the office, which has resulted in workplaces developing working-from-home policies and requiring their staff to complete a self-audit of the risks they face when working from home. Risks may include workstation ergonomics, environmental hazards, psychosocial risk, and risk associated with trips and falls.
As an employee, you are responsible for your own safety when working from home, too. If you are concerned about your work environment while working from home, you should have a conversation with your employer about what changes are necessary to safely carry out your work. You might be required to mitigate risks for the employer to deem it safe for you to work from home.
Most freelancer and contractors will not be covered by an employer’s workers compensation policy, and to obtain the benefits of workers compensation they may need to take out your own insurance policy.
Segelov Taylor Lawyers Can Help
If you have suffered an injury whilst working from home, you should immediately inform your employer, seek medical treatment, and contact a lawyer. Lawyers, such as Segelov Taylor, can provide guidance, advice, and representation on workplace health and safety.
Segelov Taylor principal David Taylor is an accredited specialist in employment law. If you have concerns about safety in the workplace, please get in touch by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (02) 8880 0500.
This information is intended as general information only. It does not purport to be comprehensive advice or legal advice. Readers must seek professional advice before acting in relation to these matters