2020 has been a year of sudden shifts, including in the way we offer working arrangements. Thanks to technology, this isn’t too much of a problem. In fact, it’s now easier than ever for workers to work from home.
If you’re an employer who has hired a remote worker, the good news is that there are clear regulations and helpful ways to manage your obligations to employees. However, the legal side of hiring a remote worker can get a bit confusing.
Whether this is your first time hiring someone remotely or you’re not too sure about certain aspects of the WFH employment relationship, we’ve got you covered.
What Agreements Should I Consider When Hiring Remote Workers?
Hiring remote workers means you’ll need to think carefully about what agreements to have in place. The first one that may come to mind is an Employment Contract, which generally covers:
If you’re hiring a new employee who will work entirely remotely, then your employment contract should also accommodate WFH arrangements. This may include Work Health and Safety regulations tailored to remote working conditions, which we’ll cover shortly.
Work From Home Policy
A Work From Home Policy is a great way to regulate the conditions of your employee’s remote working environment. More specifically, it ensures home office compliance by checking that the equipment being used at home is sound and that there is minimal risk of injury.
Recording Hours Of Work
Now that you have remote workers, it’s important to have a system in place that keeps track of their working hours. This also makes it much easier to manage your record-keeping obligations. Whether this is done through a timesheet or informal communication, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your employee about this before adding it to your employment contract or any other agreements.
Working remotely requires a good internet connection, too. Your workers will need to report to you frequently about their work and recording their hours, so it’s important to discuss with your workers the best way to do this.
Work Health and Safety Obligations
As an employer, you’re probably familiar with Work Health and Safety obligations in the workplace. Even when your employees are working remotely, you still owe them a duty of care.
This means that you’ll need to minimise the risks to your worker’s health at their home. The following are some general ways you can do this:
- Give advice on what would be considered a good and safe workstation
- Allow your workers to borrow office equipment (e.g. monitors, cables)
- Introduce a policy for workers to check that their workstation is safe, and report to you accordingly
- Provide access to mental health and wellbeing services
- Maintain regular communication with your employees
- Have a reporting system in place in case of any incidents or injuries (this should also be in your contract)
- Visit Comcare and learn more about how you can provide a safe workplace for your remote workers.
The regulations surrounding WFH arrangements have become much clearer in the past year — you can read more about your WHS obligations to your workers here.
As we mentioned, employers are still responsible for minimising any risk of injury while employees are working from home. This means that any existing insurance policies (such as Workers’ Compensation Insurance) should be updated according to these arrangements.
Some of your workers may live with other people, so it’s worth considering ways to protect your confidential information. A good way to do this is to encrypt confidential information or set up two factor authentication. Even if your employees are not working from home, it’s generally good practice to keep all information as secure as possible.
You might also consider having an Information Security Policy in place to ensure the security of your data.
Working from home can incur additional expenses for your workers. Thankfully, the ATO introduced a temporary shortcut method which runs from 1 March to 30 September 2020. Essentially, it allows you to claim a deduction for expenses incurred while working from home — you can read more here.
Who Can Request To Work From Home?
While working from home is now considered a norm, it’s still important to check that your employees actually have the right to request these flexible working arrangements under their enterprise agreement or modern award.
With social distancing measures now a necessary measure to ensure the health and safety of staff, it may be necessary for some staff to work from home if the workplace cannot ensure enough space for staff.
If an employee’s enterprise agreement includes the right to request flexible working arrangements, this should include the right to change their working hours or location of work. It’s important to note that the terms of the agreement will determine whether this needs to be in writing or not, so double-checking is a must!
On the other hand, if your employee is under a Modern Award, the National Employment Standards apply. This means they generally do have the right to request WFH arrangements.
What If My Remote Worker Is A Contractor?
So far, we’ve been talking about remote workers as employees. But what if you’ve hired an independent contractor? It’s important to know the difference between an employee and a contractor.
If you’ve hired an independent contractor, you’ll need to consider a few things.
Do I Need A Freelancer Agreement?
A freelancer is very similar to an independent contractor—they work for themselves, take care of their own insurance and offer their services to businesses.
If this sounds like your remote worker, you may need a Freelancer Agreement. It generally covers:
- Scope of services
Freelancer Agreements are important when it comes to establishing who owns the intellectual property rights to the work produced, and managing confidential information. If your contractor is working remotely, you want to ensure that the way they use the information is clear from the outset. You can read more about Freelancer Agreements here.
What If My Contractor Is Working Overseas?
If you’ve hired an independent contractor before, you might be familiar with a Contractor Agreement which sets out the scope of work and confidentiality terms. However, it can get tricky when engaging overseas contractors because of the potential language barriers and the different jurisdictions.
When drafting your Contractor Agreement, it’s important to establish which country’s laws will apply. To avoid any major difficulties, it’s a good idea to have everything according to Australian law, but it’s also important to know which overseas laws might conflict with Australian laws.
You can always speak to a lawyer about these overseas agreements to minimise the risk of a headache later down the track.
What If I’m Hiring A Remote Intern?
Interns are considered workers under the Work Health and Safety Act. This means that if you have certain obligations to your employees, you owe them to your interns, too. This includes ensuring that their workstation is safe and there are systems in place for reporting injuries or risks. It also means that your Workers’ Compensation will need to cover your remote interns.
These factors can be outlined in an Internship Agreement, so that everything’s captured in writing.
However, some entitlements (like interns’ right to be paid according to any work done) will depend on whether there is an employment relationship.
If you’re not too sure whether your worker is an intern or what obligations you have to them, we’ve created a simple checklist here.
Hiring a remote worker has become more common in the past year, and is set to become increasingly popular. With so many obligations and responsibilities to think about, speaking to a lawyer should be your first step.
You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on 1800 730 617 for a free chat about how your employer obligations work remotely.
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