COVID-19 | Working from home – important considerations for employers

COVID-19 | Working from home – important considerations for employers

The COVID-19 outbreak means working from home is the new norm for many people and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. Employers and employees alike still have a duty of care and responsibility to ensure safe working and productivity, particularly taking into account childcare commitments during school closures.

In this webinar, we will look at the practical considerations employers need to consider when implementing homeworking, including:

  • What are the pros and cons for employers in homeworking arrangements?
  • Should employers have homeworking policies?
  • Legal issues arising for employers in homeworking arrangements

Further information on how to manage the impact of coronavirus can also be found on our coronavirus resource hub and you can view past webinars at SHMA®ON DEMAND.

Please do let us know of future topics that you are interested in, or for more information about our webinars please contact us.

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Webinar transcript

(Please note this is auto-generated and un-edited)

Hello, welcome to today's webinar looking at home working Arrangements in response to the coronavirus outbreak and practical considerations for Employers in putting these Arrangements in place. My name is Rhys Wyborn, and I'm an employment partner in the employment team at Shakespeare Martineau.
This webinar will last approximately 15 minutes and there will be a chance for you to ask some questions at the end. So to introduce this topic, we all know we are clearly in unprecedented times and it seems like we're facing a daily battle with updates and changes. Are they coming in on a daily basis with updates coming out from central government clearly now, we're in a state of lockdown to a large degree. Although there is still some confusion.
Using is to which businesses are continuing to operate. So do continue to look at our resource Hub around coronavirus where we'll continue to update our clients and contacts as further information comes out in relation to who can continue working at this time. However, the instruction that is coming out from central government is clearly where possible that we should all be staying at home. Therefore that means that we're now facing much more than ever.
The requirement to be agile in our businesses and working from home is becoming the new Norm for many people and the way that they operate this means that employers need to revisit their handbook to see whether they have any home working policies or Arrangements in place. And if not, this is something they should now be thinking about in introducing the clarity and transparency around Arrangements that will need to be in place while we are all working from home.
No doubt. This will also bring challenges in relation to child care commitment and staff who are trying to juggle working from home while also looking after children in view of school closures, but employers and employees alike still have duties of care and responsibilities to ensure safe working productivity and compliance continues particularly in these uncertain and difficult Economic Times.
In this webinar, I will look at the employment considerations for home working including what are the pros and cons for Employers in having home working Arrangements? What are some of the Practical considerations employers will need to consider when implementing home working. And is it important to have a home working policy? And is that something employers should now be looking to put into place?
We'll also have a think about General legal issues arising for Employers in having home working arrangements. And as I say I Look to answer some questions that come in as we go through.
Before moving on to the next slide. It's important to recognize that public health England and the government advice is constantly evolving on a pretty much daily basis. This is in response to how we should all be tackling the covid-19 pandemic and we all need to remain Vigilant and agile in responding to further updates as they come out.
I would just take this opportunity again to urge all employers and businesses to stay up to date with Latest development and to stay tuned into ongoing advice that will be crucial to your business and its continuity. And as I say, we do have a resource available where we're continuing to update our clients as frequently as we possibly can in terms of key changes and developments that are coming out on a regular basis.
So looking now at some of the benefits of home working that can result for businesses many employers were probably concerned that their business model was not going to be prepared to immediately adapt to home working in response to this lockdown requirement. However, as I've said earlier, it's absolutely crucial that you should allow staff members to work from home where possible.
This will protect your Workforce in a long-term and means your Is aligned with the government and its emergency strategy before this pandemic the proportion of people in the UK working from home was still relatively low, but now in response to this crisis is clearly becoming more and more common and it's therefore important to recognize that there are actually a number of benefits to home working these include reducing overhead costs.
So employers can think about reducing expensive overheads if more of its work, Workforce can effectively work from home obviously for the time being in terms of responding to the coronavirus pandemic businesses May well be hit with the double costs of having to Resource home working Arrangements while still maintaining their office space and overheads, but if it's something that's successful employers could then look beyond the pandemic to see whether cost can be saved and this can be introduced as a more regular basis for how work is operated in having staff.
Moving more towards and home working arrangement in places rather than maintaining significant office space if it's no longer as necessary productivity is another issue where benefits can be seen agile or home workers won't have the same travel time or Associated stresses that come with commuting. So saving a commute for example up to an hour each way will give individuals more time and will boost their productivity.
This will also leave them with more time to engage with non-work activities which again can create a generally happier Workforce and also promote better health and mental well-being which is clearly another Factor. We will need to think about in terms of home working arrangements and being isolated from our colleagues and not having that face-to-face contact that comes from working in an office environment more on that later.
Motivation again some workers respond better to home working. It can be an incentive to get them to get things done and it comes without distractions that they might otherwise find in offices, especially in open plan offices where individuals can get their head down at home and be more focused on the job in hand.
Another benefit is skills retention, if an employee's role is largely geared towards home working employers are more likely to be able to Tain them during external disruptions such as in response to this pandemic keeping your Workforce active is going to be much more attractive to employers rather than thinking about layoffs short time working redundancy or even this furlough leave that we've now seen introduced if that can be avoided clearly staff don't want to see a reduction potential E2 80 percent of their pay if there's nothing they can do so being able to work remotely and have sustainable systems and Arrangements in Place that allows staff to continue working, but from home will be of attraction to your staff members and for potential recruits in showing that you're able to continue working in these times of Crisis or in other difficult circumstances.
Finally having an established home working practice can also form part of disaster management planning. We've already seen that organizations that have home working Platforms in place have been better prepared to deal with the problems that are being created by the coronavirus outbreak. So even where employees are considering home working just in the short term where it's being forced upon them in response to the lockdown. We're facing now from the government.
They should also consider The long-term benefits home working could have for their business and so look Beyond this temporary measure to see whether or not this is something that should be considered on a longer term basis.
Having looked at the positives of home working. We clearly have to look at the other side of that coin and there clearly are disadvantages.
Those disadvantages include a loss of control.
Obviously, it will become harder for employers to manage and oversee workloads or productivity and Supervision in terms of how work is being done on a remote basis employers will need to make sure line managers are constantly in touch with team members in order to discuss capacity and workload and to ensure that staff are continuing to work as normal even though they are working from home as Long as there is an effective and transparent dialogue between the team leaders and their staff members working from home should not be too problematic and it should largely be a case of business as usual.
Trust clearly trust in these times is of Paramount importance. Most employers will be very trusting of their staff members. There is always a concern that some staff members May abuse a home working policy or Arrangement and we'll just not pull their weight. This is always a risk and usual disciplinary practices will apply where employers have reasonable grounds to suspect that individuals and not performing as they should where they are expected to work from home.
And they are just not doing what the job requires even though the business as usual and they are working from home.
Dependence on technology, there's simply no way to avoid the additional technological requirements involved with home working that may involve having to provide laptops additional it equipment and other Hardware or software to enable your employees to work from home. Now. There is a potential option of asking employees to use personal devices.
But again, think about the risks around confidentiality additional costs for individuals and impact on service in Of being able to use personal devices and whether that really is the ideal solution where possible the employer should be providing the equipment and ensuring it is robust and tested and on a secure platform to enable home working to be carried out loneliness and boredom can also come with home working. Of course. There is a risk that an isolated worker can become lonely and their mental health can suffer as a result. Therefore.
It's important to keeping engaging with home working employees to check that they're comfortable in what they're doing to check in with them on a regular basis and are all sorts of solutions that we're seeing in response to this crisis where employers are being creative and having regular catch UPS where T breaks are being taken then they're checking in with their teams and having Skype calls or Zoom calls, so you can still have that face-to-face contact, even though it's being done virtually that's really important and staff need to know that having Home working arrangement doesn't just extend the working day so that as soon as you wake up you're working and that you work throughout the day and effectively just extend your working hours there need to be clearly defined boundaries and checking in with staff and having regular breaks and still talking to your team particularly if it can be done face-to-face through these technological solutions is of Paramount importance.
Work-life balance again tag into that potential of extending the working day just because it's easy to do so it is going to be important to be able to separate work life from home life and employee shouldn't feel that they have to be available at all times because they're working from home, of course with school closures the additional challenges that will come with working from home for employee for employees who have children at school. Is that a now going to have to juggle childcare?
It's he's alongside working and trying to do their work from home that's going to involve discussions with line managers to put in place suitable arrangements to look at flexibility to see if hours can be adjusted to allow that balance to be achieved in managing the workload and also caring for their children who aren't able to go to school at this time. Unless they're icky working Arrangements in place where the schools are staying open. Finally is a potential negative.
I'm Going to touch on potential data security breaches. We're all aware of obligations under the gdpr and data protection requirements. So ensuring arrangements are in place to keep data secure and devices are secure in the workplace while working from home is again crucially important for businesses and it's something they'll need to address in putting home working Arrangements in place.
I'm not going to go into detail around data security and data protection issues as I'm aware that Going to be the subject of another webinar by one of my colleagues at another time. So in General on balance, there are a number of advantages to home working that will benefit businesses in the long-term but employers and their Workforce have to be part of a transparent dialogue to ensure that working from home arrangements are as practical and as efficient as possible.
So that brings me nicely onto practical considerations for employers. So in this next slide, we'll look at having a home working strategy and putting in place a policy is going to be important for Employers in looking at these arrangements and how they're put in place some key considerations hours of work. It will be important for employers to establish employees working time. And so it's clear as to what's expected while they're working from home.
If there are challenges around Child Care responsibilities that should take place with a dialogue between the individual and their line manager to set out what arrangements are going to be suitable to cater for both aspects.
Expenses as I say practically there may well be some inevitable expenses that will come from home working.
There might be additional personal cost on mobile phones or Broadband which employers will need to be clear about in terms of What expenses are recoverable for the employee and how they go about recovering those expenses to try and take as much of the concern and pressure away from having to be forced into this home working arrangement having a right to enter where An employer should reserve a right to enter and employees home for example to install appropriate equipment or to recover property in the event.
That employment is terminated clearly here that's less relevant at the moment where the message is to stay at home and when not to have contact with each other but again thinking about those practical arrangements and how property will be returned during this lockdown period And when an employment Arrangement comes to an end is something that will need to be given even some thought to in terms of addressing those circumstances should they arise safety and home working is another key consideration. Keep in mind that an employer is going to be responsible for an employee's welfare their health and safety and so will need to think about a sufficient risk assessment for all the work activities. Are they going to be carried out by the employees while they're working at home again in these current circumstances employees are not going to be able to go into the workplace to carry out.
That risk assessment and so measures will need to be put in place to send a risk assessment to the individual to insist that they have that carried out and go through the requirements to show that their workplace is suitable for the work that they're doing from home and to return that to the employer so that there is some paper trail to show that an assessment of the risks in working from home have been carried out and considered. So to finish I'm just going to ask the question and look at should employers be introducing.
A home working policies to reflect home working Arrangements that are now in place. The short answer is absolutely yes. You should home working policy will cover all the points. I've discussed in this webinar and will ensure the employer is being as transparent as possible in relation to Arrangements that will apply to staff while their home working a typical home working policy will cover the arrangements and when it's appropriate to work from home and usually it will stipulate when it's appropriate to work from home.
And clearly that will apply now in response to the requirements of the government, but it will then also go on to spell out what equipment the employer will provide the employee with who Bears any cost of installing that in equipment any insurance obligations in response or in relation to the working Arrangements again, the policy might also stipulate that the employer is not going to be responsible for any cost from working from home or that they are going to meet such expenses.
So try to be as clear as possible as to how the the working from home Arrangements will be put in place what the employer is responsible for and what the employee is responsible for will be really helpful in trying to ensure this smooth transition to home working and any risks are identified in covid off in putting these Arrangements in place. It's often health and safety considerations are dealt with by such policies. Normally you would set out the employees health and safety obligations and how the employee should self-regulate in terms of health.
Safety and what they're doing at home, of course employee well-being is Paramount, especially when employers don't usually have the same level of oversight that they would have in traditional working environments. So all-in-all home working policy is important and if it's something we can assist you with then do get in touch and we'll be happy to provide support in putting those arrangements in place. So I hope that has been a helpful webinar in looking at some practical considerations arising.
Out of home working Arrangements. Thank you for listening to this webinar and I will now answer a couple of questions and we'll also send a note of all other questions that have come in along with the recording of the webinar for your information. So just picking up a couple of questions. Somebody here is put what if my employee won't agree to carry out a risk assessment in respect of working from home. Well, that's a good question.
And again, this is part of your obligations in putting suit Arrangements in place for home working and a risk assessment to ensure that the workspace is reasonable and appropriate is part of that proper consideration in putting those arrangements in place. It's a reasonable management request for an employee to comply in understanding those risks. So there is the potential if the employee is unreasonably refusing and there isn't just cause for why they're doing so that that could amount to disciplinary action for failing to follow a reasonable management instruction.
I Can't see it being likely it should come to that. But certainly if in a reasonable stance has taken by an individual that is an option that could be considered another question here. What about staff who are working from home who have childcare responsibilities? How does that work? And are there any risks for the employer in terms of insisting the work is done because they're paying for it. Yeah.
This is going to be a key challenge for employees at the moment working from home where schools Closed clearly there is going to be the requirement to look after children while working from home and employers going to need to be wary of introducing Provisions Criterion or practice that potentially put employees at a disadvantage where it could lead to discrimination complaints if they're going to do so, they're going to need to be able to objectively justify why they're requiring those arrangements to be in place. Otherwise, they could well fought for foul of indirect discrimination claims.
So certainly something to look at us a explore flexibility to see what Arrangements will work in trying to marry those two together, but it's certainly something that's going to need discussion with individuals in looking at what can be achieved.
Another one here the final question. I'm going to pick up and the rest I'll have to pick up separately and we'll follow it with questions and answers after the webinar is I'm I obliged to meet the costs associated with working from home again. No that isn't required. It will come down to anything that's in the contract. If there's a contractual requirement on you to provide certain benefits, then that will continue even with the arrangement now working from home.
You can just think about impact on staff morale where this is unprecedented circumstances and we're having to work from home in response to this coronavirus outbreak putting suitable Arrangements in place and meeting those Associated costs will be part of good employment relations in putting these Arrangements in place.
So one would expect that employers will meet the associated costs that individuals incur in working from home, but subject to any contractual Arrangements is not a mandatory legal requirement is one that's good practice and one we'd expect many employers to follow.
So thank you all for the great questions. I'll follow up on those that I haven't been able to answer after the session and share those with you for further advice and guidance on developments as they come out. Please do visit our dedicated resource Hub at shma.co.uk and if you would like any further information or support with any employment queries, then do get in touch. Thanks for your time.

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