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HOME OFFICE AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY – CAN YOU HAVE IT ALL?

At a time when increasingly more employees are coming to agreements with their employers to switch from an office setting to a home office environment, employers may falsely come to think that employees are now tucked away somewhere out of sight and all employers are left to do is make sure employees receive remuneration on time. Even though employees are fully in charge of their home office as a working environment, all occupational health and safety requirements do, in fact, apply to this place of work as well. An employer and an employee cannot simply agree that such requirements do not apply as this agreement would be in conflict with the law and void. Therefore, when enabling working from a home office, employers must consider how they plan to comply with occupational health and safety requirements.

Just as under regular circumstances, compliance with occupational health and safety starts with either modifications to or, if needed, the preparation of a new risk analysis by the employer, establishing risk factors and resulting risks in a home office environment. The employer can then proceed from the above to take further measures to mitigate and avoid such risks. It is important to note that even though employers cannot require employees to perform risk analyses on site at home, it is no obstacle to the preparation of a risk analysis, because it can also be done based on a conversation, photos and other data. Therefore, such risk analyses are also based on good communication between the employer and the employee.

Similarly to employees working in the location of the employer, the employer must organise the medical examinations of home office employees with an occupational health doctor with the same frequency as prescribed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. We would like to remind you that the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to organise the initial medical examination of employees within four months as of the time the employee commences work. Subsequent medical examinations will take place at the interval set by the occupational health doctor but at least once every three years.

Even though employers have no control of the working environment of home offices, this does not rule out the right and obligation of employers to instruct their employees in a manner that allows the mitigation and prevention of potential health hazards. Employers can create a relevant instruction manual, which employees are required to adhere to as of being informed thereof. In the case of working with display screens, which is probably the most common form of work in home offices, employer can instruct employees with regard to the correct sitting position, workplace configuration, taking of breaks, etc. It may also become evident that employers must provide additional work equipment for the employees' home offices, such as desks, chairs and/or display screens. Colleague Kristiina Alt has already written of making such purchases and related taxation in her article Teleworking: potential savings for employers?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as people are subjected to additional distancing obligations and required to reduce communication, it would be wrong to underestimate the psychosocial risk factors affecting employees. Meaning that work stress cannot be ruled out in circumstances where the employee, having previously worked every day in the employer's location with their colleagues, now carries out their duties while remaining in isolation for an extended period of time. Employers have several ways to mitigate this risk even during the current pandemic. For example, buy organising virtual team training events, mental health training events, promoting virtual communication between employees and providing direct support and counsel to employees.

Employers should also not forget that working from a home office does not rule out the possibility of occupational accidents. An occupational accident is damage to the health of an employee or death of an employee which occurred in the performance of a duty assigned by an employer or in other work performed with the employer's permission, regardless of whether the accident took place in the location of the employer or a home office. For example, a situation where an employee slips and falls in their home office during working hours may qualify as an occupational accident. If such an accident should occur, the responsibility and further actions of the employer are the same as they would be if the occupational accident took place in the employer's location. Employers can mitigate the risk of occupational accidents in home offices by instructing employees to avoid various dangerous situations. For example, employers can advise employees to remove wires and other objects from the floor which may cause employees to trip and fall.

In summary, we can say that even though enabling working from home means employers have a very different level of control of the working environment, there is nothing that would, in reality, hinder compliance with occupational health and safety requirements. Employers should keep in mind that the good physical and mental health of employees also benefits the company both in terms of work efficiency as well as the atmosphere among all employees as a whole.

If you require further consultation and help in this area, you can always count on Leinonen's legal advisers for assistance.


04.01.21


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Helen Kaur

Legal Advisor

Email: helen.kaur(at)leinonen.ee

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