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28/04/2020

COVID 19 - the implications of homeworking

With a sudden rise in the number of workers temporarily working from home, as an employer, you have the same legal duties for employees working from home as for those in the workplace. But there are extra issues to think about, such as:

  • Security threats and what measures to take to protect confidential information and personal data.
  • How to review health and safety implications of the arrangements, including carrying out a risk assessment.
  • Deciding whether any special equipment should be provided which meets health and safety standards.
  • Considering whether any special planning or insurance arrangements are required.
  • Deciding what arrangements should be made for management and supervision.
  • Who is liable for extra costs, such as heating, printing and phone bills.
  • How to handle increased psycho-social risks to staff posed by lone working.

Are you sure your staff have a correct set up at home and your home working policies are up to date creating a safe, risk-free environment where they can continue to carry out their duties?

Home workers are entitled to training and supervision and suitable safeguards and sufficient risk assessments must be carried out ensuring your staff are working safely from home. Employees themselves can carry out a simple display screen equipment risk assessment, provided by the employer. However, if you provide tools or chemicals which the worker uses at home, exactly the same standard of protection is expected as if this work were being carried out on your own premises.

Employers also need to think about the risks to the workers’ mental health. Do you have a psycho-social risk and stress management checklist? Is your rest break policy up to date?

There are potential benefits of homeworking and these include:

  • Reduced overhead costs. The need for expensive office space and other office overheads can sometimes be reduced and relocation costs can sometimes be avoided.
  • Increased productivity as a result of spared travel time and associated stresses.
  • Better motivation. Many workers respond well to homeworking which impacts on their motivation.
  • Skills retention.
  • Team flexibility.
  • Established homeworking can form an important part of disaster management planning.

However, there are reasons why employers may be reluctant to embrace homeworking:

  • Lack of trust of their employees.
  • Loss of control.
  • Damage to team working and culture.
  • Overdependence on technology and significant duplication of equipment.
  • Potential data security breaches. 

A potential drawback for workers is that they may feel alienated from their organisation and developments within it, experience loneliness, resulting in less motivation.

Practical considerations

Employers will need to address a number of practicalities when entering into homeworking arrangements with their employees.

Contractual provisions

Employment contracts should be tailored to fit the specific needs of homeworking, i.e. whether the employee's principal place of work is their home or the employer's premises. In addition, there should be a requirement for the homeworker to attend the office from time to time; for example, for client meetings, training, team meetings, appraisals and disciplinary issues.

Hours of work

It is crucial to establish their working time. Will the employee be completely flexible, will they observe strict office hours, or something in between? Who will be responsible for regulating their breaks?

Salary and benefits

The salary and benefits package provided to a homeworker must not be less favourable than those provided to comparable employees. If they are treated less favourably, they may have a discrimination claim.

Expenses

What expenses can be claimed? Travel expenses to attend the office, telephone, heating and lighting costs, and any increased insurance premiums.

Sick pay

A homeworker must have the same entitlement to sick pay as any other employee, but the reporting mechanism may need to be adjusted.

Confidentiality

In practice confidentiality is more difficult for an employer to police when the employee is working from home. Therefore, there must be an express confidentiality clause in a homeworker's contract, clearly defining what information is confidential. In addition, the homeworker should be required to keep confidential information secure. Precautions must be taken for keeping confidential information secure, such as passwords and encryption, no access by household members, facilities for confidential disposal, such as a shredder or confidential bin and a secure filing cabinet.

In addition, considerations should be made in relation to the use and monitoring of communications systems, handling discipline and grievances, trial periods and the right to revert.

For more information, please contact Irina Polyakova at irinapolyakova@eatonsmith.co.uk or Lewis Holroyd at lewisholroyd@eatonsmith.co.uk or call them on 01484 821 300.