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The Big Story: court case highlights work-from-home policies

Employers are grappling with work-from-home arrangements after a Telstra employee successfully claimed for injuries she sustained in her own home.

Video transcript below:

Donna Sawyer, HC Online
Donna Sawyer:
 Hello, I am Donna Sawyer and you are watching the Big Story on HC Online. Work from home arrangements are in a clamour after a Telstra employee successfully claimed for injury she sustained falling down some stairs in her own home.  Managing Principal of People and Culture Strategies, Joydeep Hor says the industry has been aware of such cases for some time, but this latest incident has brought the issue into the limelight.

Joydeep Hor, People and Culture Strategies
Joydeep Hor:  That was an issue that’s been evolving over the last decade, the reality is that significant number of people do work from home these days.  The issue of OHS compliance and doing audits has been very much live on the radar of business for quite some time.
Marnie Douglas, Ergoworks Consulting
Marnie Douglas:  I think the risk of having employees working from home has always been there, but because Telstra is such a high profile company, I think it’s really highlighted the need to have employees set up correctly at home.
Joydeep Hor:  I think as with any cases that attract a fair degree of prominence and particularly those cases that involve high profile employers like Telstra, there is going to get more focused on that issue of working from home.
Donna Sawyer:  But is this whole affair set to scare employers off setting up work from home arrangements?  Unlikely says General Manager of People and Culture at Medibank Health Solutions, Denise Moore, when the benefits are so strong.
Denise Moore, Medibank Health Solutions
Denise Moore:  It’s interesting that in our last employee engagement survey, the work at home team, we probably have about 600 people so we do measure those as a discrete group of people actually ranked higher in almost all categories than the office based people.
Donna Sawyer:  However, Director of Ergoworks Consulting Marnie Douglas says the Telstra case has made many employers look more closely at their remote site work places.
Marnie Douglas:  Previously I think companies were just doing the bare minimum, so making sure that they are adequately set up.  Now they realise that they need to do probably a little bit more.
Joydeep Hor:  The employer ultimately has to do whatever it needs to do satisfy itself that the work is going to be done in a safe way.  Now it’s very difficult for an employer without doing a physical inspection to say that it has satisfied itself that where the work is going to be done and how it’s going to be done is necessarily going to be safe.
Marnie Douglas:  I would have to say about 90% of the people that we see are unsafely set up, it doesn’t actually cost a lot, I think it’s a real conception, so you know a basic task chair, you know a laptop stand, keyboard and mouse will cost a couple of hundred dollars and that will ensure they are setup as best as they can at home.
Donna Sawyer:  Marnie Douglas says most work at home injuries happen at the desk and of course by poor setups.  
Marnie Douglas:  I think probably the biggest thing is necks and backs.  Most of the time, it’s because of the chair.  So most people sit on a dining room chair or the lounge.  So the injuries really come in the back and the neck but it can also be from anywhere.
Donna Sawyer:  Joydeep Hor predicts this issue will continue to become more prevalent as more employers pursue flexible workplace strategies.
Joydeep Hor:  What we are going to see is that as more and more work is done from home, as we have been seeing through work cover authorities around the country, that their scope of attention has been broadening and widening.  So we are going to start seeing more enquiries made, cases like the Telstra case certainly highlight the fact that there can be legal consequences.
Donna Sawyer:  For more on work from home practices and other industry headlines, click around HC Online.  I am Donna Sawyer and I will see you again soon with the Big Story.