24th April 2024

More and more commentators and business owners are suggesting that work from home will become the new norm. What are the long-term insurance implications?

Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home was becomingmore common – in fact telecommuting was a term first brought into vogue in the 1990s. With social distancing and isolation rules in place, a significant proportion of the population is now working from home and many commentators are suggesting that it could become the ‘new norm’ for large sections of the workforce.

The benefits of working from home, for both employers and employees are well documented. For employers they include lower costs (particularly office rent), potentially greater productivity and more satisfied employees. For employees it can include better work/life balance, reduced commute times and generally greater flexibility.

However, there are also some real potential hazards associated with working from home that both employers and employees need to consider.

In an article published by InQueensland, Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work notes that at-home work is likely to become permanent for many employees, even when the immediate implications of the pandemic pass, which means that employees and policy makers need to pay serious attention to issues around employee safety and fairness.

One of the biggest concerns raised by Stanford is the concern that expectations on employees to actively demonstrate work “attendance” and prove performance might create substantially more workplace pressure, coupled with employer-driven cyber-surveillance, creating mental stress for employees.

Coupled with this is concern from some commentators in the mental health space that working from home means that people are even less likely to switch off after hours, with some calling for new and more robust rules in the employment relationship to establish what is acceptable in terms of contact hours at work.

Some suggest that not everybody is suited to working from home on a full-time basis in the long term, due to less tangible issues such as personality type, or pre-existing anxiety /mental health issues. It simply doesn’t work for everybody and, if you’re one of those people, it could raise material mental health concerns.

Another area for consideration is more related to the physical aspects of workplace health and safety – how do employers ensure that an employee’s physical working-from-home arrangements are adequate from a regulatory and legislative perspective? This covers a range of workplace hazards, from slip and trip hazards, to heating and cooling, electrical safety, isolation and workplace ergonomics.

There are already existing insurance and legal cases where workplace injuries incurred while working from home have been contested on the basis of confusion about where the onus lies in relation to the employee as a worker versus a homeowner.

These complexities around responsibility and agreed rules, policies and laws will have major implications for employee and employer relationships into the future. They will also have major implications for the way that the income protection insurance sector sets itself up for this emerging economic and employment trend. This will particularly be the case if the “work from home” trend also translates into an increase in contractual versus full-time salaried employment arrangements.