Do employees need to return to work

Do Employees Need to Return to the Workplace?

With few new cases of COVID-19 in NSW and a significant easing of restrictions, are we going to see a return en masse to the workplace? Or will working from home become the new normal?

Many employees were actively encouraged by their employers to work from home over the last few months. And they’ve experienced its benefits: no commute, greater independence, flexibility in working hours and unlimited access to their pantry. While some are now eager to reconnect with familiar faces and routines in the workplace, others want to continue working from home.

Under NSW public health orders employees are permitted to work from home providing it is ‘reasonably practicable to do so’. However, recent government advice states that employers can request employees to return to the workplace, providing they consult with them first and ensure measures like physical distancing and enhanced hygiene and cleaning practices are in place. Employers are also required to consider any work from home policies that existed before the pandemic and the potential risks posed to vulnerable employees, such as individuals with compromised immune systems. Businesses can ensure they meet requirements by completing a COVID-19 Safety Plan and registering as COVID Safe. Helpful guidelines on what to include in a plan are available for a range of industry sectors.

For those employers and employees ready to embrace working from home arrangements on an ongoing basis, health and safety are key considerations just as they are in the workplace. SafeWork NSW have put together a handy checklist for computer-based work in the home environment. It covers areas such as setting up a workstation and lighting and ventilation, as well as providing general pointers on optimising employees’ health and safety.

Getting it right now will ease the way for an increase in the number of people working remotely in the next few years. A recent paper from the Australian Institute’s Centre for Future Work estimated that around 30% of the workforce could feasibly work from home. Many of those employees now returning to the workplace may be enjoying the benefits of no commute and unlimited access to their pantry in the near future.

Quick links

COVID-19 Safety Plan guidelines

SafeWork NSW Working from Home checklist

What are your thoughts on employees working from home? What have been the benefits and drawbacks? Is remote work feasible for your business and people on an ongoing business?