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Employer’s Liability for Family Violence when Staff Work from Home

As Victorians undergo Stage 4 Lockdown, many employees who may have returned to their workplace for a brief period have recommenced working from home. Whilst employees have returned to the home working environment, it may be that they are returning to a situation where they are at risk of family violence or abuse. Although an employee’s home may be geographically removed from the workplace, in Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54 the NSW Supreme Court held that an employer can be held responsible for family violence when staff work from home. In this way, the scope of the course of employment has been expanded in such a way that an employer is implicated in issues of family violence while employees are working from home.

Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54

This case involved a family business, where de facto partners worked together from home. In the midst of a series of paranoid delusions surrounding his partner allegedly stealing clients from the business, Mr Hill attacked Ms Caroll with a hammer and killed her. 

Having been charged with murder, Mr Hill was found not guilty on the ground of mental illness. The Workers’ Compensation Commission found in the children’s favour last year, holding that Ms Caroll had died as a result of injury arising out of and in the course of her employment and ordered payments in favour of the two children. The judgement stipulates that an employer might not always be liable for domestic violence, however in this case there was a ‘palpable and direct connection’ between the delusions, Ms Carrol’s employment, and her death. Further, it was found that Ms Caroll was killed while performing her work related duties.

Future direction and implications?

Family violence has, for some time, been known to be a serious issue that affects the workplace. Employers have a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to provide a safe workplace, and where that workplace is the home, employers need to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that the home is safe from hazards and risks to safety.  In Victoria, public health directions dealing with permitted work expressly provide that an employee may work from their usual workplace (where this currently might not otherwise be permitted) where it is not reasonable for the employee to work from home because of a risk of harm, including harm relating to family violence or violence of another person at the premises (see clause 9(1)(c).

Going forward, the outcome of Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill [2020] NSWCA 54 may instigate employers updating their protocols surrounding work from home, to ensure that staff have an adequate opportunity to disclose any risks that may be present in their home environment. Employers should consider having a family violence policy in place which informs employees about the supports that their employer may be able to offer them, including while they are working from home, and educates managers about what steps they can take and what supports they can offer where family violence is suspected. Indeed, for many people working from home, attendance at a workplace or carrying out work functions during usual business hours will no longer be core elements of the course of employment, and may now extend to any activity undertaken whilst working at home.

Nicholes Family Lawyers is equipped to support and advise those who may be exposed to circumstances of family violence while working from home. If you would like to seek legal advice in relation to these matters, please contact Nicholes Family Lawyers on 9670 4122.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers

 

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