Here, we explain the duty of care that you owe to your remote workers and how you can meet it in just 5 simple steps.
The fact is this – whether you intend to have your employees work-from-home permanently or just for a few months, you will still need to set a clear structure and guideline for your remote workforce.
Failure to do so may invite possible lawsuits or, even worse, damage the trust that your employees have in you.
With that said, here are the considerations that you should have in implementing these remote work guidelines for employers.
What responsibilities do I owe my employees?
As an employer, you owe a duty of care to provide your employees with a safe environment and not put them in harm’s way.
This duty is covered under both common law and Singapore statute.
Under Singapore law, this duty of care is dealt with under the:
- Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA);
- Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA); and
- various guidelines set by the Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSH).
The laws require you, as an employer, to provide a safe and healthy workplace for your employees. And “workplace” is broadly defined to mean any premises where the employees work, not just office space. Hence, home offices are also covered and considered as a location other than our offices.
Under the WSHA, you will have to:
- Take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of employees at their workplaces; and
- Proactively identify and mitigate risks and hazards at the workplace.
What consequences would I face if I failed in my duty?
It goes without saying that employers will be held legally liable if they fail to take reasonably practicable measures to protect their employees’ health and safety.
The liabilities for companies are heavy. They range from fines of up to $500,000 for first-time offenders to $1 million for repeat offenders.
But more than that, focusing on your employees’ safety, health and overall well-being is quite simply, good for your business.
Employees’ well-being have a direct impact on their work quality, performance and productivity. This translates into growth and profitability for your company.
The converse of this is that when the employees are unwell, companies suffer from unplanned sick leaves and missed deadlines.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a point of time when many employees have low morale and are afraid of losing their jobs.
However, we venture to say that it also presents a unique opportunity for you to proactively show your employees that you care.
Now is the time for companies to reexamine their policies to see how they can ensure they take care of their employees, even when they are unable to be present in the office.
A note… these responsibilities apply whether you are a startup or an MNC
One misconception that many small-medium businesses have is that this duty of care only applies to larger companies.
However, the law makes it clear that the employer’s duty of care does not change based on firm size.
Every company, from the smallest startup to the largest multinational, owes the same responsibility – to take reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of their employees at their workplace.
But what is reasonably practicable for startups is different from a multinational corporation.
For example, small businesses would not be able to provide an expensive task chair for their employees. But their employees should at least expect to receive an adequately ergonomic chair to perform their jobs.
What practical steps you can take to address your duty of care to employees
Meeting your responsibility to your employees does not have to be difficult or expensive. The eligible employees for this guide can be fully remote employees, full-time employees, and those with part-time or flexible schedules.
We recommend a basic 5-step-approach:
Step 1: Enact a work-from-home policy
Whether or not you are planning to have work-from-home as a permanent feature of your workplace strategy, it makes sense to enact a work-from-home policy.
This Work-From-Home policy should set out a clear guidelines and policy on questions such as:
- Who is qualified to work remotely
- How frequently can they work remotely
- Expected working hours
- Whether check-ins are required. Regular check-ins should be scheduled between team members and managers to ensure alignment and address any concerns.
- Expectations of response time. The work-from-home policy should also specify which communication channels employees should use.
- Tools and resources essential to their job duties.
- When is the employer or employee entitled to request, change or initiate termination of remote work
- Minimum ergonomic and safety standards for the home workspace
- Any entitlements for remote workers, e.g. supplies of office equipment
Each employee who is working from home should be required to acknowledge and sign this work-from-home policy.
Step 2: Review your employment contracts
One of the requirements under Singapore law is to clearly stipulate the employee’s place of work. That is why you see it as a clause under almost all employment contracts.
If you have decided to offer work-from-home as a permanent option to your employees, we suggest that this be specifically mentioned as a place of work inside the contract itself.
Step 3: Conduct a pre-work risk assessment of employee’s workspace
A pre-work risk assessment is probably one of the most important factors in any remote work guidelines for employers.
Remote employees are expected to carry out their tasks in a safe remote work environment. A properly carried out risk assessment helps to make sure this is true for all employees.
Areas of potential issues that are often overlooked include:
- Wires, cables, rugs or mats that are a fall and trip hazard
- Overloaded power strips that are a fire risk
- Improperly set up workstations that can cause postural issues
Companies can conduct a risk assessment in two ways.
The first is having an in-person or virtual assessment done by a professional trained in workplace safety. While this is the gold standard, it’s obviously expensive.
A more time saving and cost-effective method is having your employees fill in a self-assessment checklist and receive workplace safety training.
We will be coming up with such a checklist soon. If you are interested to receive it, sign up on our mailing list!
Step 4: Fill in the gaps revealed by the risk assessment
The pre-work risk assessment will reveal potential health and safety risks that may result from the employee’s workplace set up.
Employers should then proceed to advice and train the employees, to resolve these issues. This can be done according to the employer’s workplace policy – which is another reason why the policy is important!.
For instance, if the employer finds that an employee only has a hard stool to sit on, this should raise an immediate red flag.
By referring to your workplace policy and claims criteria, you can choose to directly provide an office task chair for your employee, or give a stipend or allowance for the employee to rent or buy the chair.
Step 5: Ensure you are sufficiently covered for work-from-home related liabilities
Many current business insurances do not cover liabilities incurred when employees work from home. They were written on the assumption that employees work in the office.
Hence, if you are considering a permanent shift to work-from-home, it’s worth considering specialized insurance for work-from-home coverage.
These insurance could include:
- Work-from-home insurance. This covers work-related injuries more likely to happen at home, such as ergonomic injuries, mental health support and accidents (trips & falls).
- Cyber insurance. This covers any losses from cyberattacks which have increased due to more people working from home.
- Property insurance. This covers damages to the company’s assets including monitors, laptops, phones, chairs, etc.
- Employer or D&O liability insurance. This covers the employers for any claims made by the employees, for instance, relating to health and safety injury claims
Last thoughts on remote work guidelines for employers
Transiting to a remote team certainly means more than just handing your employees their laptops and cancelling the office lease.
The first step begins with understanding your duty of care to your employees, then finding ways to fulfill that duty of care efficiently.
Here at Esevel, we help reduce the complexity of managing a dispersed workforce, by taking care of your remote employees’ safety, productivity and day-to-day work needs.