For many workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a range of psychosocial hazards in the workplace. In particular, it has significantly increased the number of workers currently working from home. This has raised important questions about the line between what occurs in the course of a worker's employment and their personal life.
The recent court ruling in Workers' Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill found an employer liable for an employee who was killed by her partner while working from home. The landmark ruling involved relational issues between two people who worked closely together whilst in a relationship and also raising children together.
The worker was killed by her de facto partner while working from their family home. The worker and her partner were employed as financial advisors by a family owned company. Whilst her partner was charged with murder, he was not found guilty on grounds of mental illness.
The worker's place of work was in the family home and her employment was deemed by the Court to be a substantial contributing factor to her death.
She had two dependent children, a teenage son and a newborn baby, who made claims for death benefits under Workers' Compensation law. The Insurer initially rejected the claims on the basis there was no causal link between her employment and death.
The decision was appealed and the Court found that the worker's death occurred in the course of her employment, arose out of her employment and that her employment was a substantial contributing factor to her being killed. The evidence showed she was performing employment related duties or on-call at the time she was killed.
Her de facto partner had paranoid delusions that related to the way she performed her work duties at home. A direct connection between her partner's delusions, her employment, and that she was killed by him was established on the evidence before the Court.
This tragic case highlights that when employers have employees working from home, they must consider more than simple ergonomics. Other potential risks of psychological harm for those working from home include feelings of isolation, not being supported and a failure of employers to implement new policies and procedure to address new working arrangements.
If you or someone you know is in need of help due to family or domestic violence contact Safe Steps 24/7 crisis service on 1800 015 188.
If you have sustained an injury whilst working from home, contact Redlich's Work Injury Lawyers to talk to one of our WorkCover experts on (03) 9321 9988.