As another year of navigating a world with COVID-19 is now well underway, it’s a timely reminder that company directors have a direct legal duty to ensure employee safety.
This not only includes the physical duty of care in the workplace, but also the requirement to provide a mentally safe workplace.
For years, workplace health and safety (WHS) has been included in risk registers and reported to directors at board meetings, however the nature and extent to which the pandemic has impacted on the mental wellbeing of employees is now firmly on the boardroom agenda.
So, how are directors ensuring they are satisfying their WHS obligations? Questions to consider at the next company board meeting include:
- How is the organisation ensuring the health and safety of workers while they work from home?
Directors’ must satisfy themselves that an organisation is taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of their workers, even when working from home. This may include maintaining daily communications, providing guidance on good work-station set-up and continuing to provide access to an employee assistance program.
- What steps are being taken to minimise health risks associated with COVID-19, and how is this being communicated?
While eliminating all risks associated with COVID-19 is almost impossible, directors must satisfy themselves that organisations are doing all that is reasonably possible to minimise the risk. This may include sharing the latest COVID-19 information and government advice with workers, having a plan for when a worker tests positive for COVID-19 and providing adequate hygiene facilities.
- How are workers feeling supported through this challenging time, including the psychosocial effects?
Duty of care to provide a mentally safe workplace is particularly important as the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 becomes more prevalent. Organisations can take some important measures to minimise workplace stress such as providing workers with appropriate networks to support workplace mental health and wellbeing and discuss concerns.
As has become increasingly evident overt the past two years, company directors have a responsibility to their organisations and employees to ensure a healthy, safe workplace – whether that be in the traditional office environment or at home.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Financial Times.