Are there WHS responsibilities when employees work from home?


This guide outlines the practical WHS responsibilities — and constraints — when staff are working from home.

In recent years, especially following the pandemic, the concept of remote work has undergone a significant transformation, propelled by advancements in technology and a shifting attitude towards workplace flexibility. As a result, the traditional boundaries of the office have blurred, with most employees dividing their time between the office and their home, and some even working remotely 100% of the time. This also applies to workplace health and safety (WHS) matters.

WHS responsibilities when working from home

This raises pertinent questions about the extent of an employer’s WHS responsibilities when employees are outside of the office. Multiple grey areas emerge when multiple remote ‘workplaces’ come into play. Here’s what employers need to know about WHS responsibilities in remote work.

Working from home has upended the old system

The traditional office setting has long provided employers with a controlled environment where they could meticulously manage various aspects of WHS responsibilities. This control extended to elements such as ergonomic office furniture, adjustable chairs, proper lighting, and fire safety measures. However, the rise of remote work has challenged this conventional model, creating a scenario where employees are operating from various locations, each with different setups, layouts, and potential hazards.

One key aspect to consider is the delineation between an employee’s workspace and their residence. When an employee works from home, the lines between personal and professional spaces become blurred. While it might be reasonable for an employer to expect a certain level of organisation and safety in a traditional office, such control becomes more complicated when dealing with remote workspaces. For instance, an employer might have limited influence over an employee’s home environment, including the setup of their workspace, the suitability of their chair and desk, and even the overall cleanliness and safety of the area.

In this context, the question arises: to what extent is an employer responsible for the WHS of employees working from home? The answer lies in a combination of legal obligations, common sense, and ethical considerations. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, irrespective of their work location. This means they must take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees while they are working, even if it’s from the employees’ homes.

However, the complexity arises from the fact that employers may have less control over the remote workspace compared to a traditional office setting. Employers cannot be expected to micromanage every aspect of an employee’s home office, nor can they be held accountable for hazards that are beyond their control. Consequently, a collaborative approach is necessary, with both employers and employees sharing the responsibility for maintaining a safe work environment.

Practical WHS responsibilities

To address this grey area, employers should focus on what’s in their control. They can take several practical steps in WHS responsibilities:

Provide guidelines and resources

Employers should provide clear guidelines and resources on setting up a safe and ergonomic home office. This could include recommendations for proper seating, lighting, and equipment. While employers may not be able to enforce these guidelines, they can ensure that employees have access to the information they need to create a safe workspace.

Communicate regularly

Regular check-ins can serve multiple purposes. They not only foster a sense of connection and reduce isolation for remote workers but also allow employers to inquire about the working conditions and any potential safety concerns employees might have.

Train and educate employees

Employers can offer training sessions on WHS best practices for remote work. This could cover topics like setting up a comfortable workstation, managing screen time, and avoiding common hazards.

Create reporting channels

Establishing a clear reporting mechanism for safety concerns allows employees to communicate hazards or issues they might encounter in their home workspace. This enables employers to address these concerns promptly and collaboratively.

Supply equipment

In some cases, providing essential equipment like ergonomic chairs or laptop stands could contribute significantly to the safety and comfort of remote employees. Employers might consider subsidising or supplying such items.

The challenges

On the flip side, there are aspects that employers might find challenging to control or regulate:

Home environment variability

Every home is unique, and factors such as space constraints, lighting conditions, and layout may vary widely. Employers cannot feasibly standardise these variables across all remote workspaces.

Individual behaviour

Employers have less control over an employee’s behaviour in their home office. While they can provide guidelines, employees might still choose to work in positions or conditions that are not conducive to their health and safety.

Privacy and boundaries

Balancing the right to privacy with the need to monitor and ensure safety can be a delicate matter. Implementing surveillance or tracking mechanisms might infringe on employee privacy rights.

External factors

Hazards from external sources, such as neighbourhood safety or local infrastructure issues, are beyond an employer’s scope of control.

When addressing these particular issues employers should start by identifying and documenting potential WHS concerns like these, set processes and policies where possible, keep the communication lines with employees open so they can report potential WHS issues and act quickly to resolve or mitigate WHS risks.


Ultimately, while employers have a legal and moral duty to safeguard the health and safety of their employees, the decentralisation of workplaces presents challenges in terms of control and enforceability. Striking a balance between employer responsibility and employee agency is crucial. Employers should focus on providing guidance, resources, and support while acknowledging the limitations of their control. Collaborative efforts that involve open communication and a shared commitment to safety are pivotal in navigating the grey areas of WHS in remote work environments.

Photo by cottonbro studio

About Rolf Howard


Rolf Howard is Managing Partner of Owen Hodge Lawyers. He has been in the legal practice since 1986 and a partner of Owen Hodge Lawyers since 1992. Rolf focuses on assisting clients to proactively manage legal responsibilities and opportunities to achieve competitive advantage. Rolf concentrates on business planning and formation, directors’ duties, corporate governance, fund raising and business succession. His major interest is to assist business owners and their financial advisers plan and implement strategies to build and exit from successful businesses.

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