Chapters of the article
From a legal point of view, the home office has so far been a rather exceptional way of performing work. Hence its not very detailed legal regulation. The Labour Code is designed for factory workers rather than newspaper editors or “IT” workers. This is why both employees and, above all, employers may now be confused. Especially in terms of what is expected in relation to home office workers – for example in the area of occupational health and safety (OHS).
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Lack of OSH legislation for work at home
The Labour Code does not have any special version of OSH rules for home office. In essence, therefore, it is necessary to apply the general OSH regulation not only to office, hospital or any other normal work operations, but also to home operations, ideally in their entirety. However, if everything is followed to the letter, this would lead to rather absurd situations.
The employer has a number of statutory obligations in the area of OSH. These relate, for example, to:
- identification of risks,
- the categorisation of work,
- the provision of protective equipment,
- fire protection,
- oSH training.
However, the very first point makes us smile. How to imagine such risk identification at home? Should we expect an employer to visit our kitchen or bedroom? Will we fill in a questionnaire about the quality or the wobbliness of our chairs? And how do we proceed if we do not actually carry out the home office at home, but in the woods, on the beach or in a café?
How is the OSH solution in practice?
The situation around the home office is evolving and it can be assumed that in time there will necessarily be a change in legislation that would limit the employer’s obligations when working from home, or clarify some practical procedures for carrying out various inspections, etc.
In the meantime, we will be left to improvise (and in some cases perhaps ignore the regulations).
If we really want to be consistent and follow the OSH guidelines even in the home office, we can listen to the advice of some employment law advisors who recommend that we start to meet the letter of the law by having the employee take photos of the home workplace and have the employer assess the safety of the workplace remotely, based on the photos. This assumes that home office work is overwhelmingly office work and there are no major risks. Should any be identified, the employee should remove them on the basis of the employer’s instructions.
The employee could also confirm that there is a first aid kit or even a small fire extinguisher at home. It goes without saying that an employee working at home must also be allocated protective equipment if it is necessary for their work.
One of the few OSH obligations that does not sound absurd in the present context is to properly train employees on workplace safety issues. The training should be tailored to the specific type of workplace agreed between employer and employee (a problematic situation arises when the employee would like to work somewhere else each time, here a much higher level of responsibility will undoubtedly rest with the employee).
In the case of long-term home office work, it is desirable for the employer to equip the workplace with its own equipment, such as a computer, printer, or tools or devices that are necessary for the performance of the work.
How are home office injuries classified?
The general definition of a workplace injury is that it is an injury to the health or death of an employee if it is caused, independently of the employee’s will, by a short-term, sudden and violent exposure to external influences, solely in the course of, or in direct connection with, the performance of the employee’s work tasks.
A very interesting situation, however, is the occurrence of an accident during work at home. In this case, too, it is, of course, the employee’s basic duty to report the accident. The employer is then obliged to investigate. This raises the question of whether such an investigation can also be carried out on the basis of photographs or video recordings, or whether it is necessary to visit the employee’s home. If we accept the latter option, then this would involve voluntarily allowing the employer to enter the employee’s own home, which may not be comfortable for every employee. However, such entry cannot be forced.
The next question is how to prove something that was probably not witnessed. Moreover, the employer has little way of verifying that the injury occurred during working hours and in the course of work, even if the employee had let him or her into the apartment. In fact, it cannot be shown, in essence, that the fall from the chair was related to passing a dictionary from the upper floors of the library and not to hanging curtains, or that the electric shock was caused by the computer and not by the defective blender.
If you, as a home office worker, want to pursue a work injury claim, you should be able to prove that your employer allowed you to work at home or that you mutually agreed to work at home (contrary to some opinions and myths, home office work cannot be mandated). You should also have as much evidence as possible to support your claim that the injury occurred at work or in direct connection with work. For example, testimony from another family member, a photo from the scene of the injury, etc. can help.
As with ordinary workplace injuries, you lose your right to compensation if you went to the doctor, went out to buy food or went to a restaurant.
As already mentioned above, given that the home office is most often arranged for office work, it is impossible to imagine many types of occupational disease arising in this way, but the possibility cannot be completely ruled out.
The above information on the possibility of making a claim for compensation for an occupational injury should therefore also apply to the assessment of occupational diseases. If you work in a home office for a long period of time and you have a work-related illness that has been classified as an occupational disease by a professional workplace, you can also make any claims that you would have made if you had attended a ‘normal’ workplace.
Claims arising from an occupational accident or disease
As with work-related accidents or illnesses that occur in the normal workplace, the employer must compensate the employee for:
- material damage – this may be, for example, the fee the injured person had to pay for a medical report,
- expenses reasonably incurred in connection with treatment – medicines, medical aids not covered by the insurance company,
- loss of earnings – this is a regular payment of the difference between the average earnings before the damage occurred and the earnings after the occupational disease or accident was diagnosed. The compensation is payable to the employee until the end of the calendar month in which he or she reaches the age of 65 or until the date on which the old-age pension is granted,
- pain and impairment of social life.