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In the age of COVID-19 and intermittent lockdowns, managing remote workers has been a fact of life for many New Zealand businesses across the country. There are benefits to remote work, and sometimes it is made mandatory by external circumstances. However, at the same time, there are some common mistakes businesses make. Avoiding these mistakes can help improve your business’ management of remote workers. This article sets out three mistakes to avoid when managing remote workers, including: 

  • forgetting your health and safety obligations; 
  • underestimating the potential issues in terms of data management and cybersecurity for your employee’s home office; and
  • not valuing employee privacy by using monitoring equipment. 

Forgetting Health and Safety Obligations

As PCBUs under health and safety law in New Zealand, businesses have an obligation to ensure their employees’ health and safety at work. This includes remote workers working from home, where employees must take all reasonably practicable steps to protect employee health. 

Note that this includes risks to both physical and mental health. Some employers assume that because an employee is working from home, their health and safety is solely their own responsibility. However, this does not capture the health and safety obligation that employers continue to owe. 

There are physical safety issues to be aware of as a first step. Employers should consider whether their employees’ home office or home workplace needs a risk assessment. It depends in each case on: 

  • the particular aspects of the workplace in question; 
  • whether the employee is using equipment of some kind; and
  • what the existing protections are. 

Employers should also consider risks to their remote workers’ mental health. Social isolation is a real risk for employees exclusively or mostly working from home. Employers should try to ensure that employees have opportunities to stay connected. They could do this by: 

  • encouraging employees to work with others in an office if possible; or 
  • ensuring virtual meetings and check-ins so that the employee working remotely does not feel isolated or alone. 

Underestimating Data and Cybersecurity Weaknesses

It is also a mistake to underestimate the data and cybersecurity issues posed by a remote worker’s home office or home workplace setup. This is an issue if the employee is working with sensitive data or commercially sensitive information. As a general rule, cybersecurity risks are more acute for home offices. This is because employees cannot control the technological and online environment as tightly as they can in an office or other workplace. For instance, employees may work from different computers or through different networks at home.

You may need to speak to a cybersecurity professional to assess the possible risks to your business if several employees are working remotely with sensitive information. You may need to take additional precautions and steps to protect the security and integrity of your business’ data and other important information.

Not Valuing Employee Privacy With Monitoring Equipment

Finally, a common mistake made by employers is to take employee privacy for granted when employees are working remotely. For instance, this could be with respect to the use of monitoring equipment. It is usually not a good idea to set up cameras to monitor employees and ensure they are productive. This is likely to be bad for morale in your business. Additionally, it may well breach the employee’s right to privacy, given that they are being filmed at home. 

In general, monitoring equipment is not worth the risks regarding employee privacy to set up for remote workers. However, you may have a strong justification (for instance, safety, if the employee is working alone with dangerous machinery) for monitoring equipment. In that case, you can speak to a specialist lawyer about making this work for your business. 

Key Takeaways

It is a significant change to manage remote workers versus workers in a physical workplace or office. Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a range of common mistakes made by businesses faced by new forms of work. Some of the common mistakes involve forgetting about health and safety for employees working remotely, including both physical and mental health. It is also important to think through data and cybersecurity from the perspective of remote work, and whether there are any vulnerabilities for your business. Finally, it is important to value employee privacy and not abuse monitoring equipment. 

If you would like more information about managing remote workers in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the health and safety risks for remote workers?

There are a range of possible health and safety implications for employees working from home. These include whether the employees’ home office or other places of work is safe or has any possible risks for the employees’ health or safety. There are also social isolation risks that employers should try to manage as far as possible. 

What are cybersecurity risks for remote workers?

Because employees’ homes are typically less cybersecure than a more controlled environment like an office, sensitive business data can be more at risk when employees are working from home. It can be a good idea to get expert advice on how to protect your business’ sensitive information and data. 

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