With lockdowns hopefully coming to an end, many workers will be looking forward to returning to their workplaces. Despite lockdowns lifting, working from home, to some degree, is likely to stay as we learn to adapt to living in the COVID era. Also, employer/worker expectations around travel and physical attendance have changed. So what is the position if you are injured or have a WorkCover claim in this changing landscape? Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner and QLD Law Society Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law, Jeremy Roche explains.
Working from home
The Productivity Commission completed a review of Australian workers and found that working from home had increased approximately 40 per cent over the past two years, remaining high even after lockdowns were lifted throughout Australia.
COVID forced many workplaces to make a swift change in how their employees worked, and much of the new way of our working will be here to stay even after the pandemic has abated.
Although many workers have embraced working from home and appreciate the flexibility and comfort this brings them, others have expressed problems including restricted opportunities for collaboration, some communication loss in the absence of face-to-face meetings, as well as mental health consequences associated with social isolation and reduced human connection.
The benefits of working from home:
The main advantages reported by those who took part in the survey conducted by the Productivity Commission include:
- Saving time and money on their daily commute
- Reducing the costs of work clothing, spending money on coffees and meals.
- Having more time and control over their day, including finding better balance to sleep, exercise, and prepare healthy meals instead of eating on the run.
- Some parents chose to reduce their childcare and have children stay at home more, given they were now working from home. Although this can save significant costs by reducing childcare fees, it is not for everyone and monitoring children whilst working may not allow a worker to perform at their most productive level.
The disadvantages of working from home:
As everyone’s work commitments and home life are completely different, the negative impact of working from home is unique to the individual’s circumstances. Some of the more common consequences of a work from home arrangement were reported to be:
- Deterioration of physical and mental health due to less incidental exercise
- Increased isolation and loneliness
- No clear boundaries between home and work life, which results in a risk of under or over working
- Feeling less supported by managers or colleagues
- Lack of sense of community, teamwork and workplace culture
- The home environment limiting creativity
- Distractions at home, such as children, pets, noise and neighbours
- Having difficulty staying motivated
- Insomnia and sleep problems – difficulty to “switch off”
Tips to managing your mental and physical health when working from home:
Although an employer has a duty of care to their employees whether they are working in an office environment, on a construction site, or working from home, employees also have a responsibility to ensure that they are managing their own mental and physical health as best as possible.
Here’s some tips if you are working from home:
- Ensure you have a comfortable and ergonomic workstation
It’s easy to be complacent about your workstation when working from home. We don’t all have the luxury of having a dedicated office space at home. It is critical to ensure you have an appropriate set up that is safe, comfortable and easy to use. If you do not have a properly set up workstation, this can give rise to poor posture which can lead to musculoskeletal injury and eye strain. Although your employer has a duty of care to you, you also have a duty to take care of your own health and safety while working from home. Your employer should guide you on the best practice and give you suggestions as to how to set up your home-based workstations to ensure you will not be at risk.
- Set realistic expectations and set yourself a routine
It is important to establish structure with your workday. It is also important to ensure you set yourself boundaries and can switch off effectively, knowing when you are dedicating your time to “work”, and when you switch off and are having “home time”. If you do not set yourself a routine and ensure you have down time, you may be at risk of burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout can occur if you feel overwhelmed and are unable to meet your work demands. Burnout can cause long-term changes to your body that make it susceptible to illnesses.
- Stay connected with colleagues
It is important to schedule regular catch ups with your manager and/or team mates to maintain positive working relationships. It is also proven that staying connected with others reduces stress levels and can help you feel less isolated and stay focused on the task at hand. It can also give you the opportunity to communicate any difficulties that you are facing when working from home and encourage open discussion about what is working and what is not working for you.
- Take breaks
Even at home it is important to ensure you take sufficient lunch breaks, and tea or coffee breaks. Make sure you get up from your workstation and walk around to stretch your legs. If possible, get outside at least once a day. Go for a short walk and get some fresh air.
What duty of care does your employer have to you when working from home?
Even when working from home, employers still owe a very high duty of care to their employees to ensure that they are working in a safe environment and that the risk of physical and psychological injury is mitigated within the home. Just as importantly, employers need to recognise the risk factors for mental health injuries and illnesses that can be caused through increased isolation and uncertainty.
It is important to understand that if you do suffer a physical or psychological injury in the course of your employment, which extends to working from home, you are still covered by your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance.
It is a legal requirement for your employer to have workers’ compensation insurance to protect all their employees in the event they sustain an injury or illness in the course of their work.
If you suffer a work-related injury or illness, you may be able to make a compensation claim for statutory benefits (a “no fault” claim), which will cover you for medical treatment expenses, weekly income payments, return to work assistance, and in cases of permanent impairment, a lump sum of compensation.
Any number of accidents can happen in the home during your working hours. For example, if you are working at your home workstation and you trip over your computer cords, or you fall down the stairs whilst working, this would be covered by workers’ compensation insurance in the same way you would be protected at the workplace.
What to do if you have suffered an injury when working from home
Your employer should have a clear procedure for you to follow if you injure yourself at home during the course of your work. First aid should always be the first step when you suffer an injury or illness, or if required call an ambulance immediately.
Notify your employer as soon as possible if you sustain an injury and complete an incident report outlining the details of what happened.
Once your injury has been treated and your workplace notified, the next step you will need to take will be to visit your GP and have them complete a workers’ compensation medical certificate. It is also important to get legal advice as early as possible. There may be vital pieces of information that a lawyer will prompt you about.
It is important to note that strict time limits apply for WorkCover claims. In Queensland, you have 6 months to lodge an application. This means you need to complete an application form on the WorkCover website and upload the WorkCover Medical Certificated completed by your GP within that 6-month window. Although the 6-month time limit is not always fatal, every effort must be made to comply with it.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – Experts in WorkCover Claims
Our lawyers understand that following a serious work injury, your life can be turned upside down. It is our intent to help you and your family get the support, treatment and income you need so that you can recover as quickly as possible and get your life back on track.
We do our best to take the stress out of making a WorkCover claim, so that you can focus on what matters most – your recovery.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers practices in all types of compensation claims including workers’ compensation, motor vehicle accident and CTP claims, public liability claims, TPD and superannuation claims, and historical and institutional sexual abuse claims.
We take on every matter with compassion, empathy, and support. If you have been injured during the course of your work and would like to discuss your options, contact Compensation Law Department on 1800 621 071.
You can also book a free, no-obligation and confidential initial appointment to find out where you stand by booking online now. Our lawyers are available to meet with you at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.