Working from Home: What’s the law?
While it certainly is more comfortable, are you legally obligated to work in the office if you feel unsafe doing so? What are your rights as an employee when it comes to working from home?
Unlike when we had our first lockdown, this current third wave is different! We are no longer dealing with the state of shock that we all experienced previously due to acclimatising to a new way of life. The shock has now passed, and most of us just want to get on with business as usual.
Covid-19 forced radical, immediate developments within most industries. Most companies jumped into action and virtually overnight set up online platforms for their employees to continue to do as much work as they could from their own homes. This was because during the first lockdown it was illegal to attend work unless your company was an essential service provider.
Whilst many employees enjoyed the new way of working – and the convenience of staying in their PJs all day, and no longer battling with traffic – not everyone benefited from working from home during this time. There was an increase in employees suffering from burnout as there were no longer boundaries between work and home life. These employees would wake up and immediately jump on their laptops to deal with work (well before their normal working hours), then work straight through the day, possibly forgetting to take lunch, then work well into the evening not realising working hours had ended long ago.
It isn’t always more efficient to work from home as many employees do not have the facilities at home they have at work, for example fast internet speeds, a scanner that can scan 100 pages in one minute, two computer screens for different software, and let us not forget to mention the struggles we deal with thanks to our not-so-stable power supply.
What does the law say?
Companies have a common law duty to ensure that the workplace is safe for their employees. This is in terms of various labour legislation that pre-existed the pandemic. For example, a company cannot allow their staff to come to work when there are dangerous fumes in their workplace. But how does a company take precautions against a virus that is so easily transmittable? Especially when many people might not even know they are carrying the virus.
Most organisations did the best they could and engaged with private companies to do regular deep cleanses at the workplace. Companies further provided adequate supplies of hand sanitiser and educational material on how to correctly sanitise and exercise proper social distancing. But is this enough? Surely allowing staff to work from home is safer?
No law legalises working from home or obligates your employer to allow you to work from home. It is a matter of balancing the rights of the employee to be kept safe and the rights of the company to operate without difficulty. This means that each matter case needs to be dealt with on its own merits. The decision of where to work needs to be reasonable and cannot be emotional.
Contact Tania Abbotts at Hammond Pole Attorneys if you need labour assistance.
011 874 1800 / TAbbotts@hammondpole.co.za