Mental health claims while working from home

Mental health claims while working from home

Whilst employees and employers alike settle into a ‘new normal’ in the times of COVID-19, working from home has its challenges.

An employer still owes a duty to provide a safe working environment even when the work is being completed at home.  There are numerous measures that can be implemented to mitigate the risk of physical injury such as standing desks and ergonomic swivel chairs. However, reducing the risk of mental health injuries poses a challenge for employers and employees working from home during a global pandemic. Along with adjusting to a new way of working, pressure from aggressive employers pushing to maximise productivity in turbulent economic times, creates a perfect storm for work related mental health injuries.

Beyond the general risks of injury that might occur in a transition to working from home, there is also the issue of what awaits the worker at home.

The groundbreaking New South Wales case of Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54 involved the murder of Ms Michel Carroll by her husband and co-worker Steven Hill whilst engaged in their work from home.

Whilst such a claim would be an extreme case, the more typical cases we expect to see as a result of COVID19 and working from home in Victoria relate to the rejection of mental health claims on the grounds of reasonable management action. Some potential occupational health and safety risks to the mental health of employees include:

  • inefficient technology
  • lack of access to assistance or support
  • the stress of digital surveillance by an employer
  • perceived bullying via email due to inability to convey tone
  • increased hours due to job insecurity fears and the need to prove performance.

It is likely that many claims for psychological injury during COVID-19 will bring a robust discussion to the meaning of “reasonable” as defined by the law.

It is still early days in seeing the impact of COVID-19 and working from home on the mental health of the workforce. Time will tell if employers are up to the task of managing the duties they owe to their employees.

If you have any questions about lodging a mental health claim as a result of working from home, please contact our Adviceline on (03) 9321 9988.

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