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March 06, 2020 on chapter Flexible work arrangements

Can we force staff to work from home during emergencies?

Considering recent events such as the coronavirus and the bushfires, can we force staff to work from home due to business requirements? For example, if our site burns down, or if staff are forced to be isolated in their homes?

If working from home is addressed in the employment agreement, you may direct the employee to work from home in accordance with the agreement. If working from home is not addressed in the employment agreement, you may, nevertheless, ask employees if they would like to work from home, to which they may agree.

If you have not done so already, you should implement policies and procedures to clarify your expectations regarding working from home. You will also need to consider health and safety, and how equipment will be maintained. Your health and safety obligations to employees who work from home are the same as your obligations to employees in the usual workplace. In the context of bushfires and workers being isolated in their homes, this is something you will need to carefully consider.

Generally, a working from home arrangement will only be reasonable if:

  • it is suitable to perform the role from home, i.e. the role does not require the employee to be present in the workplace;
  • tasks can be carried out safely away from the normal workplace; and
  • the quality of the work is not affected by performing the role away from the normal workplace.
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