By Mehmet Musa

The last few years have highlighted both the fragility and resilience of our workplaces. We’ve been shown – by forces outside of our control – that workplaces will need to adapt to and improvise with the emerging challenges of the 2020s. With many offices attempting to return to an in-person or hybrid working model, employer Work Health and Safety (WHS) obligations are again under the spotlight.

Employers must constantly remind themselves that their obligations do not end during ordinary working hours and they have some responsibilities in respect of their workforce before and after hours.

In this article, I deep-dive into why employee safety should be one of the highest priorities a business has, and explain why an employer’s WHS obligations don’t end when the clock hits five pm.

Getting to work safely

The recent floods in NSW and QLD have left many workers needing to find alternative transport arrangements to get to and from work. In many instances, the floods have been so devastating that, for many employees, attempting to get into work would be unsafe. In this sort of situation, an employer’s duty of care could extend to the employee before they start work, especially if they’ve been made aware of the risks of travel.

Businesses should act reasonably in these situations and shouldn’t pressure employees to come to work when it’s not safe to do so. Injuries that occur on the way to or from work may constitute workplace injuries for workers compensation and WHS duties, in certain circumstances.

Staff shortages due to COVID or natural disasters

Many employers are currently having difficulty adequately staffing their workplaces due to COVID isolation requirements or due to staff being impacted by extreme weather events. As such, the remaining employees may be asked to work longer than their ordinary hours. This is especially the case in retail and other customer service based industries, where work often can’t be completed remotely.

Longer working hours may attract overtime or penalty payments, and employers must recognise and pay these entitlements to avoid an underpayment claim.

Managing fatigue is also a critical factor when extending hours of work: businesses must constantly assess any WHS risks posed by employees who are working longer hours or more days of work than usual, to ensure they are still meeting their safety obligations to their workers, customers or clients, and any visitors to the workplace.

Requiring workers to travel

As a result of the above factors, employees are often being asked to travel to other sites as a temporary fill-in for staff who are absent. It’s important to know your obligations to pay travel time, which vary per award, enterprise agreement, or employment contract. As we’ve mentioned above, employers’ obligations may extend to the time an employee spends travelling, and therefore precautions should be taken to ensure this is performed as safely as possible.

Requirement of reasonable overtime

Employers may only ask their workers to perform additional hours of work where it’s reasonable. This requires consideration of several factors, including but not limited to: the nature of the work performed, how much notice has been provided, the hours of work performed to date, and the individual’s particular circumstances.

How HR Assured can help

No matter where your people work from, it’s imperative that their health, safety, and well-being is at the top of your to-do list. If you’re unsure about WHS or you think it’s time to review your internal practices, we’d like to offer your business a complimentary WHS Health Check valued at over $750. To arrange this, contact us here.

Mehmet Musa is a Workplace Relations Advisor at HR Assured. He has a particular interest in retail industry compliance and meeting the diverse needs of clients within an evolving legal framework. Mehmet regularly provides advice on workplace matters to assist clients.