Are we required to pay for a worker’s health and safety home office purchases?
Our workers typically work from home but have access to the office should they wish to use it. Some workers come into the office on occasion but most do not. If a worker requests an item of equipment for the home office for health and safety reasons, what are our obligations in terms of funding the purchase? For example, supplying a sit-stand desk for a worker’s home office because they suffer from chronic back pain.
In short, an employer may be required to provide or reimburse an employee for equipment for working at home if the provision of the equipment is a reasonably practicable step to ensure the health and safety of the employee while working from home.
A home office is considered a ‘workplace’ for the purpose of health and safety legislation in all jurisdictions. This means that a person conducting a business of undertaking (PCBU) will have a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, even when they work from home. Accordingly, a PCBU is required to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or minimise the risk to health and safety. This may include minimising physical risks by ensuring that employees have appropriate equipment, such as chairs, monitors and keyboards.
As a first step, you should discuss with your employees what equipment might be required for their home office. The equipment required may differ between employees depending on the tasks they are completing from home and the identified risks to health and safety. You may require employees to do a self-assessment of their homeworking space to identify risks and assess the suitability of their own furniture. This may include identifying existing furniture that would be suitable.
If an employee does not have suitable equipment at home, it is likely going to be a reasonably practicable step for a PCBU to provide equipment or reimburse employees for the purchase of equipment to set up a home office. You can then determine if it is appropriate to reimburse employees for the cost of equipment (or allow employees to borrow equipment from the office). Supplying a chair or a desk may not be reasonable based on the type of work performed by the specific worker.
For employees who may have a pre-existing injury or may be pre-disposed to an injury, a sit-stand desk may be a reasonably practicable step to minimise the risk of injury to an employee. This should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
This requires an assessment of the risks to health and safety posed by the working environment and assessment of the suitability of existing furniture or equipment available to the employee.