Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Patrick Turner joined On the Job with Francis Leach & Sally Rugg this week to discuss some of the legal questions around working from home.
While the employment and industrial law expert hopes the pandemic brings a shift in what work is going to look like into the future, he said our laws weren’t “designed for a such a seismic shift in the way that we work at such short notice.”
“There were a lot of temporary changes that were made to workplace laws to try to accommodate the significant shifts that had to be made in the wake of the pandemic.”
As both employers and employee alike adjusted to the rapid changes, some are now asking what their legal rights are should they want to continue to work from home.
“For a lot of people working from home has allowed them to reengage with their families, it’s allowed them to cut the commute time out of their day, regained parts of the day they never had previously”, said Turner.
“So there’s very good reason that a lot of workers are enjoying working from home and for many, they will want to keep that.
“Unfortunately, there will be limits to the extent that you could resist a direction to return back to the workplace.
“It will depend what’s in someone’s contract, it’ll depend on whether or not their employer is complying with WHS obligations.
“So, if your employer is not providing a safe workplace return to it might be that there’s some capacity to resist that kind of direction, but on the whole, people will have to comply with direction to return to work, or risk disciplinary action”.
Work health and safety is another part of workplace law being tested by working from home arrangements.
“Work health and safety legislation is overwhelmingly focused on safety in the workplace, which conventionally and traditionally has been considered to be the factory floor or the office that people work in,” explained Turner.
“There is, I think, sound arguments that employers could be held responsible for injuries that occur in the workplace, where people are performing work at home, where they’re being directed to work from home and where the employer has a degree of control over the work that they’re performing.”
Another issue Turner thinks employees should be mindful of is the costs associated with working from home.
“It is a serious concern that I have that employees aren’t being compensated for the costs that they might have incurred in working from home and in the transition to working from home.
“I think there will be some employers who think, well, it’s better to have my workforce at home, and to have them bare the expenses.”