A research paper published by the Australian Government Productivity Commission (‘AGPC’) reveals how the rise in employees working from home (‘WFH’) has resulted in a major shift in workplace relations. Though stay-at-home orders are no longer in force, the number of employees continuing to work from home is much higher than it was prior to the pandemic.
What are the costs and benefits of working from home?
Employers should consider how WFH impacts productivity, costs, workplace culture and staff retention.
There is a potential for lower productivity when employees cannot collaborate and share knowledge effectively. Though WFH may improve time management, wellbeing and concentration, there is a risk that employees may avoid responsibilities when distanced from managerial monitoring. The effects of WFH on productivity varies across industries and is dependent on an employee’s commitment, and capability, to WFH.
Employers must also consider whether they can afford to effectively manage a remote or hybrid workforce. Though WFH forgoes the need to rent expensive office space, employers may need to invest in remote monitoring systems to prevent workers from shirking their duties. Training and equipment may also need to be provided to ensure employees can work productively from home.
Do employers have the right to monitor employees when WFH?
In Australia, employers have the right to install and monitor time tracking software on work devices during working hours. These surveillance technologies assure employee productivity and assist in managing workflow.
For employees, however, these practices raise concerns about a loss of privacy and autonomy. Though some pieces of legislation such as the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) afford certain protections for the collection and use of personal information, there is no absolute right to privacy under the Australian Constitution.
Accordingly, employers must ensure that their workplace surveillance strategies are compliant with relevant state laws. In NSW, the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) requires employers to give at least 14-days-notice to employees before workplace monitoring takes effect. Sufficient notice and transparency are essential when notifying employees of workplace monitoring on personal computers and mobile devices.
How can employers effectively and ethically monitor their employees?
WFH surveillance practices must comply with relevant state laws. To avoid infringing upon the rights of employees, employers should implement the following strategies:
- Include a surveillance clause in employment contracts;
- Develop a transparent surveillance policy that provides 14-days-notice of changes to procedure; and
- Only use monitoring for essential workplace management purposes.
How Etheringtons Solicitors can help
If you are experiencing privacy related issues in the workplace or require an employment contract to be reviewed, we recommend speaking with a legal professional. For assistance on an employment matter, please contact one of our solicitors on (02) 9963 9800 or via our online contact form.