This article has been prepared by Colin Biggers & Paisley Lawyers.
In the lead-up to a post-COVID-19 workplace, businesses should be cognisant of the impacts that COVID-19 has had upon its employees. A recent study completed by Safe Work Australia showed that in the many workers’ compensation claims that flowed from the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one in three related to mental health issues.
It is no surprise that COVID-19 has led to an increase in mental health concerns. Abruptly transitioning to a work-from-home environment, and being isolated from workmates and the usual work routine can have a significant toll on workers. Additionally, anxiety in relation to the numerous changes that have taken place in many Australian workplaces, as well as more general unease in relation to COVID-19, may also manifest in an increase in mental health issues.
However, the rise in workers’ compensation claims is not purely attributable to mental health concerns, but also physical health issues. Comcare recently reported receiving a series of claims resulting from injuries linked with poor working-from home practices and set-ups. This can be ascribed to the rapid transition to working from home that businesses were forced to undertake due to the pandemic.
It is therefore important for businesses to recognise these COVID-19-related changes in the workplace, and provide the requisite support to its staff. Businesses should be doing this in compliance with their duty of care to provide a work environment that is safe and without risk to health. However, this approach is also sensible from a liability perspective, as a workplace in which an employee feels safe and supported is a workplace that will likely avoid an onslaught of workers’ compensation claims.
Accordingly, in relation to managing workers’ mental health, businesses should implement safe working practices to promote safeguarding of their employees’ mental health. Suggestions include ensuring workers are staying connected and not feeling isolated while working from home; setting up appropriate work-from-home boundaries in relating to not working late and taking full lunchtimes and other breaks; using outdoor space as much as possible and incorporating exercise and physical activity into the daily routine; and scheduling regular catch ups to foster a warm, inclusive working environment. Reminding workers of the support resources available to them, including any Employee Assistance Programs, is also beneficial. From a physical health perspective, businesses should ensure that workstations are set up in a safe and holistic manner. Enforcing breaks; providing headsets and other equipment that makes working from home easier; and conducting virtual workstation assessments to identify any risks will assist in providing a safe workplace outside the office.
Disclaimer: This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2020.