A return to “hybrid working”? – What would this mean for staff wellbeing?

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On 26 January, the so-called “Plan B” COVID restrictions came to an end in England.

The Government had previously re-introduced a number of measures to tackle the outbreak of the COVID-19 Omicron variant on 8 December 2021. In England, this was referred to by the Government as “Plan B” and meant a return to the compulsory wearing of face coverings in public places, and working from home, wherever possible.

Millions of office-based employees across England have therefore been back to working full-time from their home offices, kitchen tables, and garden sheds.

Although this may have been an easy and desirable transition for some, there has also been an increase in the number of employees reporting feelings of stress and loneliness when working from home, typically attributed to missing out on the in-person, human interactions associated with office working.

Most employers will have made allowances for staff to attend the office on the occasions when their required tasks made it unavoidable. However, some large employers, such as accounting giant PWC and city law firm Slaughter & May, went further and added “mental health needs” as an acceptable reason for going into the office, even if the employee’s tasks did not strictly necessitate it. This acknowledges the potential benefit to an employee’s wellbeing of being allowed to attend the workplace, particularly if, in doing so, they are able to meet and interact with clients, colleagues or managers.

Whether the latest announcement will mean a sudden surge of staff returning to work full-time in the office is uncertain but seems unlikely. It is more likely that many staff will continue to work partly from home and partly from the office (i.e. hybrid working), as was the case after the previous relaxing of restrictions. In some cases, staff may even continue to work from home much, if not all, of the time.

This is borne out by polling, which has shown a lack of appetite among office workers to return to work in the office 100% of the time, and a desire from both employers and employees for a balanced blend of home and office-based work. Shakespeare Martineau, for example, has joined this trend with its ‘empowered working’ model.

Some international companies such as Twitter and Spotify have implemented “work from home, forever” and “work from anywhere” policies, respectively. Neither company envisages closing all of their offices permanently but will re-shape their use from a place of everyday deskwork to more collaborative workspaces.

So, the impact on mental health of periods of working from home, or away from the workplace, will remain a live issue.

In the UK, from an employment law perspective, it remains important that employers consider both their office and employees’ home working environments when considering their health and safety duties towards staff. Any home working plan and risk assessment should consider both mental and physical wellbeing when working from home, and each employee’s needs should be taken into account.

When staff are working from home, employers should be issuing specific and tailored advice to look after employees’ safety and wellbeing. This might include encouraging staff to keep in contact with managers and colleagues, to keep a routine that separates work and personal life, and to take regular breaks that involve stepping away from desks and moving around.

Employers should also be mindful of the potential for an employee who is struggling with their mental health to be deemed disabled under the Equality Act 2010. The general litmus test is if the mental illness has a substantial and long-lasting impact on their ability to do day-to-day tasks.  If an employer suspects this may apply to one of their employees, they should consider obtaining a report from an occupational health provider. Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, and this is best done in open consultation with the employee in question, supported by any relevant Occupational Health report or medical documents.

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Robin has experience in employment tribunal litigation and ACAS conciliation, acting for both employers and individuals. Robin also advises on non-contentious employment matters including IR35, TUPE, GDPR, contracts, and more.

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Enhancing the hybrid working experience with home workspace loans

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Home workspace loans for hybrid working

Hybrid working is expected to become the new normal for many and while it offers great flexibility, it has left some people working in less-than-ideal circumstances.

However, with employers having a duty of care for their employees, now is the time to consider how they can help to create the best working conditions for those continuing to work from home.

Offering a ‘home workspace loan’

Some employers may wish to introduce an interest-free ‘home workspace loan’, which can be packaged as an employee benefit. This would provide financial support for staff looking to make their remote working conditions more comfortable.

The terms of the home workspace loan are at the business’ discretion, so it can be tailored to suit both employer and employee. Terms to consider include:

  • Timeframe
  • Eligibility
  • Repayment options

If businesses choose to introduce this perk, it must be approached in a fair and inclusive way, to ensure all employees are given the chance to make as many changes as necessary.

Not a normal loan

It is important to remember that this type of loan is different from those offered by banks and other finance providers.

It is not a regulated credit agreement and doesn’t fall under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, meaning it isn’t regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Offering the loan as an employee perk does mean that certain levels of bureaucracy can be avoided. However, to ensure that it is not deemed a regulated activity, there are strict rules to follow. If these are not adhered to, the loan scheme will require authorisation.

Understanding the differences

The first major difference between this loan scheme and a standard loan is the structure of the agreement. The home workspace loan requires the agreement to be between a borrower and lender alone, meaning the employer cannot get involved with any of the chosen contractors or suppliers.

Another aspect to consider is the interest rate. In most cases, it’s advisable that it is offered on an interest-free basis, which would make the terms more beneficial to the borrower than the lender, showing a focus on employee wellbeing.

Lastly, the agreement cannot be a ‘restricted use credit’. Employees should be free to use the money how they see fit within the purpose of the loan and the employer cannot interfere.

Keep your employees informed

When communicating the loan to the workforce, it is important to be transparent and not misleading. The terms and expectations must be laid out clearly, so workers understand the risks and costs involved with the agreement.

While the loan is an effective way of supporting staff working remotely, it may not be the right fit for every business. For smaller companies that might not have the financial capacity to offer a full loan to every employee, they may wish to provide smaller loans or purchase furniture outright.

Remote working has brought many positives, including creating a better work-life balance for employees, but it has left others struggling. By offering home workspace loans, employers can provide their teams with everything they need to do their best work.

Get in touch with our  debt and asset recovery team to find out how they can help.

Find out more about our home workspace loan fixed fee

For a fixed fee, our team of consumer credit experts work with you to set up a home workspace loan benefit for your employees quickly and efficiently.

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Eddie works with a highly skilled team to deliver industry specific advice to the asset finance and leasing sector.

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Home workspace loans | Future of flexible working

Home workspace loans for employees | An employer's guide

The pandemic has revolutionised how employees work. As lockdown in the UK lifts, it is likely that flexible home working will permanently become the norm for many organisations.

However, the need for employers to ensure that they are supporting their staff wherever they work has not changed. Now is the perfect opportunity for employers to review how they continue to support home working, and the benefits they have in place. 

A new and innovative option for employers is to introduce interest-free home workspace loans into staff benefit packages, enabling employees to create an appropriate working environment at home. Find out more below. 

What is a home workspace loan?

A home workspace loan is an interest-free benefit that employees can opt into as part of their benefits package, providing them with the funds they need to set up a home office of their choosing – from larger loans to cover bigger expenses such as the construction of a garden office or convert a garage, to smaller loans to purchase items such as office furniture.  

What are the benefits of introducing this type of benefit?

This innovative staff benefit has multiple benefits for both your organisation and your employees.  

For employers who are looking to continue full- or part-time remote working on a more permanent basis, it is a low-cost option to help make employees feel supported in both their mental health and financial wellbeing. It ensures that employees have a safe and healthy space in their working environment, and helps to set clear boundaries between home and work-life balance. 

For employees, this has clear knock-on benefits. A home workspace loan presents the opportunity to invest in creating a more permanent working setup that suits them, helping to boost morale and promote wellbeing. The loans are interest-free and repayments are made through salary deductions, meaning it is a simple, effective and low-cost option for employees. 

Is a home workspace loan a suitable option for my organisation?

Our team of experts work with you to assess the suitability of introducing a home workspace loan benefit into your organisationGet in touch with a member of our team using the button below or contact Eddie Flanagan to find out more.

How our fixed-fee service can help

For a fixed fee, our team of consumer credit experts work with you to set up a home workspace loan benefit for your employees quickly and efficiently, including:

  • Carrying out a no-obligation assessment of the suitability of implementing home working space loans for your organisation.

  • Working with you at every step of implementation and delivery, from loan documentation and FCA regulation requirements, to compliance agreements and communications with employees.

  • Offering expert advice on putting strict provisions in place when offering employee loans, helping you to navigate the potential complexities with ease. Above all, we help you to focus on what’s important: your employees.

Want to find out more or have further questions?  Contact us today using the button below.

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Guides & Advice

What will working arrangements look like in a post-pandemic future?

It’s been over a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic and working arrangements shifted dramatically from in-office to remote. But with normality on the horizon, how will we all be working in a post-pandemic future?

Facilitating flexible working

With staff beginning their gradual return to the workplace, businesses will need to start making decisions around working arrangements, informing staff of these as soon as possible. It might be that business owners choose to ask employees for their thoughts beforehand to ensure their needs and concerns are considered.

Businesses choosing to return full time to the workplace will need to establish whether this will be done on a rota basis or not. For those adopting a more hybrid way of working, clear expectations will need to be given to staff, including establishing working hours and days in the workplace versus days at home.

Considering contractual changes

Depending on the decisions made around an employee’s working conditions, contractual changes may be required. This would include details of where a staff member is required to work from and their expected working hours. For those working from home full time, employers must consider whether a new risk assessment is needed for their place of work.

It would also be wise for employers to reserve the right to request an employee’s presence in the physical workplace. For example, to attend client or customer meetings.

It is important to note that any contractual changes must not be made until the employer is certain that they will be implemented for the foreseeable future. Discussing these changes with the workforce beforehand can reduce the risk of employees making formal flexible working requests, such as for alternative working hours, at a later date.

Implementing new policies

In the event that an employer has some of their workforce operating full time from home and others on flexible working terms, it may be necessary to implement a homeworking policy. This would also be beneficial to businesses looking to trial a hybrid approach, before implementing one permanently.

For those working alone whether at home, at customer premises or in the workplace, a lone worker policy may be necessary. This would set out the measures in place to ensure the health and safety of those working by themselves, including regular check-ins and the reporting of any incidents.

Although some businesses will return to the workplace full time, it is likely that more and more will begin to adopt hybrid ways of working in the future. Organisations should seek to consult their staff before making any permanent decisions, to avoid any issues later down the line.

 

Read more: Frequently Asked Questions about Post Pandemic Working

Watch our post-pandemic working arrangements webinar
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Get in touch to find out how our employment team can help.

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Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.

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Blog

What might a post-COVID workforce look like?

As the UK has cautiously eased lockdown restrictions, many businesses are now looking to the future and considering the options for their workforce and the possible end to remote working for some.

As the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out continues at speed, for those businesses bringing employees back into the physical workplace, employers are facing unprecedented challenges, particularly around the safety of vulnerable and shielding staff. Our guide outlines how businesses can prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout now.

For many businesses, the pandemic has radically changed the way in which their staff work and therefore many employers may take the pandemic’s end as an opportunity to rethink the way they operate.

Here we highlight what workforces may look like after the pandemic.

Flexible working

Some large businesses have already stated that they will not ask staff to return to the office full time. For example, accounting giant PwC have announced a policy of “start when you like, and leave when you like” and indicated that most staff would be able to work from home around two-three days per week as standard.

Many employees may never have imagined a life outside the office, but the pandemic has changed that, with previous permanent office-based roles having been completed remotely across the UK for over a year. As a result, employers can no longer argue that such roles are wholly unsuitable for home-office or other flexible arrangements.

However, employers should see this as an opportunity rather than a problem. For instance, by making use of remote working, many businesses are reducing office space in towns and city centres to save on costly commercial rent. Indeed some businesses may get rid of any requirement to attend an office at all, with music streaming service Spotify announcing that all staff can “work from anywhere”.

For businesses where most or all work can be carried out from home, employers way wish to adopt a hybrid approach. For example, this may involve smaller office space being retained for collaboration and to allow essential in-person connections and supervision among staff, but with flexibility for all employees to come and go from the office on a more ad-hoc or necessity basis. This approach could allow employers to improve the morale and wellbeing of staff, whilst saving on commercial rent and other associated costs of a larger office.

Our handy guide outlines seven practical issues employers should consider when their employees work remotely.

Working abroad

Another interesting approach is the British-based financial technology business Revolut, which recently announced it is giving its 2,000 plus employees the opportunity to work abroad, up to two months a year. The tech start-up said this arrangement would give its employees “flexibility”, after receiving many requests to visit family overseas for longer periods. Such opportunities to work from abroad for extended periods may allow employees to travel abroad in 2021 and beyond despite restrictions on travel, as they will have time to complete strict testing and quarantine rules required in many jurisdictions. Any employees that take up this offer will have to ensure that they are compliant with the tax laws in the jurisdiction they reside in for those two months, which may mean completing tax returns in both countries.

Similarly, some warmer parts of the world such as Barbados, and the British Overseas Territory of Anguila have tried to tempt professionals to relocate for up to a year, whilst keeping their existing job and working remotely.  It is thought that the warmer climates and island lifestyle might encourage wealthy professionals to take up the offer and in doing so, support the economies that have struggled without tourism income during the pandemic.

Sabbaticals

Longer periods of leave, or unpaid sabbaticals can be an inexpensive method for businesses of rewarding employees, provided the business is not so reliant on particular individuals that their absence would cause significant harm. For example, the energy firm Bulb has a policy of offering staff one month’s unpaid leave following the completion of a year’s service, coupled with a relatively generous annual leave allowance of 33 days. In addition, another well-established employer that offers extended leave is the John Lewis Partnership which, for many years, has famously offered six month’s paid leave to all employees that complete 25 years’ service.

Geographical pay

With many roles now advertised as wholly available to 100% remote working, the concept of variance in remuneration based on geography may be brought to the fore. For example, historically, London-based businesses were able to attract talent to the city with offerings of big pay and generous benefits. However, it is possible that employers may look to take on remote talent from elsewhere who will work happily for cheaper rates. On the other hand, some professionals may be able to secure higher wages from a London-based employer, whilst working remotely and living in lower cost of living areas.

Supervision

For employers whose employees have worked remotely for over a year, many may have concerns regarding the supervision of junior staff, with remote working offering fewer opportunities for passive training and oversight.

Read our guide on how to effectively manage remote employees, including challenges when managing performance and how to effectively monitor employees who work from home.

Health and safety

Employers’ obligations to employees regarding health and safety as well as mental and physical wellbeing have not gone away despite office desks being empty. Any employer considering making roles 100% remote will have to consider how they will ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect the employees’ working environment, and to ensure their wellbeing is looked after despite their lack of physical presence in the workplace.

Read our guide on what employers need to know, including how to deal with workplace injuries, identifying risks and how HR teams can help reduce their likelihood.

We’re here to support you, whatever approach you decide to take.

If you’re considering a renegotiation of your commercial lease, or altering the terms and conditions of your employment contracts, then our specialist landlord and tenant team and employment lawyers can guide you through your options.

Our employment law experts are on hand to review your company policies and procedures and can advise and support you on transitioning roles to partially or fully remote bases.

Contact a member of our employment team to see how we can help you to unlock your potential.

Our employment team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

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The workplace is going to look very different now that most restrictions have been lifted, for many reasons.
Make sure that your business is prepared for the challenges and opportunities that will face us all.

Visit our future of work hub on how we can help:

  • Draft vaccination and flexible working policies.
  • Review your flexible and hybrid working policies.
  • Implement new additional benefits to employees.

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Guides & Advice

How to effectively manage remote employees

One of the most obvious knock-on effects of COVID-19 has seen many people now working from home (as opposed to the workplace) as government guidance has generally remained that employees should work from home where possible to do so.

The proportion of workers in the UK who work entirely from home is still relatively low. However, perhaps unsurprisingly at the moment, numbers are growing.  There is no legal definition of “homeworker” but essentially homeworkers may work exclusively at home, divide their working time between home and their employers' premises, or work at home on an occasional basis.

Similarly, there is no legal determination as to who can work from home.  This really depends on the nature of the job in question, but also the circumstances of the employer and the employee. Some jobs, by their nature, require employees to physically be in the workplace.  Other jobs can be just as easily done from someone’s home as they can from a place of work.  Working from home usually suits those jobs with in-built performance measurements, such as those where time recording and financial targets are prevalent – this way it is easier for employers to monitor the performance of those working remotely.

Read our blog on the practical issues an employer should consider when their employees work from home.

Challenges when managing the performance of remote employees
Productivity

Perhaps the most obvious concern you may have as an employer is reduced productivity.  However, some employees may actually be more productive working remotely as they may feel more comfortable at home and encounter less distractions. On the other hand, for others, it can be harder.

Conflicting responsibilities

Related to productivity and one of the things we have increasingly seen recently, especially when schools were closed due to COVID-19, is a recognition that parents and carers may have competing responsibilities to manage during the working day.  This in turn can have an effect on productivity; for example where such an employee is having to spend their time looking after a child who would otherwise be in school.

Lack of routine or structure

Some employees need the structure and routine of working from a dedicated workplace and may find it harder to achieve that same organisation, time management and motivation at home.  Where employees miss the structure and routine that comes from being in an office environment, this may result in them being more easily distracted and less productive.  Again, you should consider what management tools you have in place to address such concerns swiftly and to ensure your employees continue to work productively, even when not in the office routine and environment.

Communication

How much contact should you have with your homeworkers?  As an employer you may want to monitor and regularly check on the progress of work carried out by your homeworkers.  If this is the case (and this applies to monitoring employees in the physical workplace too) you should have a clear policy dealing with such matters, setting out what is expected and why the system is in place.

You should also bear in mind that while regular contact is usually a positive thing, as it can make your employees feel integrated and part of a team, it can lead to problems with the working relationship if your employees don’t feel trusted.

How to monitor and measure the performance of remote employees
Implement a clear appraisal process

One of the most common ways you can measure performance is through appraisals - homeworkers should be appraised like any other workers.

As well as your own concerns around productivity, homeworkers may also be concerned that their managers (or other colleagues) will suspect that they work less (or less effectively) than workplace-based colleagues. Therefore, some thought should be given as to how you will measure the quality and quantity of your homeworkers’ output.

A suitable reporting and appraisal system should be agreed at the outset, building in sufficient opportunity for reviews of work progress, involvement in projects, levels of performance, expectations and any difficulties that either the homeworker or their manager consider should be addressed.

Furthermore, homeworkers should not be denied promotional prospects open to comparable workers merely because they work at home. There may be good reasons why such workers cannot be promoted to a particular position, but you will have to show that a decision can be objectively justified if, for example, a discrimination claim is brought.

Introduce a trial period

As part of reviewing an employee’s performance you could consider whether you wish to include a provision enabling the homeworking arrangement to be brought to an end.

If you have concerns as to how the arrangement will work, it is sensible to have an initial trial period and a right to require employees to revert to conventional working at the end of that period. If there is to be a trial period, the duration and the measures used to identify success or failure should be clearly set out in any employment contracts.

Set clear expectations

You should try to agree as much as possible with your employees and make sure expectations on both sides are clear in advance of any homeworking arrangement.  This leaves less room for disagreement and for potential problems and issues to arise further down the line.

Implement a homeworking policy

It is also advantageous for your business to have a clear homeworking policy in place, which needs to be effectively communicated to all employees and reviewed on a regular basis.  This helps with the point highlighted above about ensuring as much as possible is agreed in advance and expectations are set from the beginning.

Adapting to new ways of working

Homeworking was on the rise before COVID-19, but the pandemic has meant it has become “the norm” for more and more employees.

Indeed, this certainly looks to be the direction of travel and is something the government are looking at with the Employment Bill (where having the right to flexible working is being proposed as the default and a day-one entitlement for employees, and without a qualifying period of service).

Efficient performance is key for all businesses, so it’s important that it is managed as effectively for those working from home as it is for those in the physical workplace.

We’re here to help

To discuss implementing or reviewing a homeworking policy or process, or any other employment-related matter, please contact Ewan Carr or another member of our employment team.

Our employment team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

Helping business prepare for the future of work post COVID-19

The workplace is going to look very different now that most restrictions have been lifted, for many reasons.
Make sure that your business is prepared for the challenges and opportunities that will face us all.

Visit our future of work hub on how we can help:

  • Draft vaccination and flexible working policies.
  • Review your flexible and hybrid working policies.
  • Implement new additional benefits to employees.

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Guides & Advice

Working from home – Seven practical considerations for employers

The COVID-19 pandemic means that working from home has become the ‘new abnormal’ for many businesses and their employees – and is also likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Research shows that 62% of employees would like to continue to work from home, with most favouring a hybrid arrangement of home with a day or two in the office.

Both employers and employees have had to be practical, flexible and sensitive to the respective needs of the other. However, employers and employees alike still have a duty of care and responsibilities to ensure safe working, productivity and compliance – in particular, in terms of maintaining confidentiality.

Maintaining confidentiality when working from home

Naturally, in employment contracts there will be express provisions seeking to protect confidential information both during employment and after an employee moves on.  It is important that these are regularly reviewed so that they are specific to business need and the protection required, as companies will stand far better prospects of enforceability should court action ever be required.

In addition, depending upon the type of confidential information, employees will have implied duties of confidentiality, such as not to compete with the employer’s business and to act honestly. These obligations remain and they apply equally to remote working as they do to employees being based in an office or other premises.

It’s always preferable to rely upon express provisions set out in a contract of employment or company handbook rather than to rely solely upon implied terms. As an employer, you want to ensure that you maximise what can be said to be truly confidential information and the best way to do that is in the employment contract.

It’s timely to now review current employment contracts to check that the contractual provisions seeking to protect confidential information are up to date. As well as the express contractual provisions, employers should always look at what practical steps they can take to protect confidential information. This should also be complemented by your data protection obligations and in ensuring data security through home working arrangements.

Addressing the practical challenges of remote working

Employers need to consider the practicalities and challenges of their employees working from home, including how they can best support remote working and any specific needs of individual employees.

  1. Equipment and technology

Consider what your employees need to work effectively and efficiently – this may have changed.

Look into how easy it is to set up remotely.

Remember that the equipment remains an employer’s responsibility.

  1. Check that IT systems are working as they should

Ensure your IT systems can cope with the number of remote users and prolonged working from home arrangements.

Check what IT support is available for home workers.

Identify if you are able to make improvements / upgrades if required. g. dual screens.

  1. Setting expectations – set working time boundaries:

Agree how work/life balance is to be managed, e.g. taking regular breaks and self-regulating their finish time.

Set robust rules around storing information and data protection. Please see below for further detail.

Consider how performance will be managed and measured – taking into account people’s circumstances where necessary.

Outline who employees should contact if they have problems or circumstances change and how they will keep in touch.

Discuss when employees will be available to work (this is especially important given some children are at home for periods of time). Requests may be made to work unconventional hours.

Consider requests regarding working different hours, such as agreeing that employees may not be able to work a full day or a full week, reducing work targets and/or being flexible about deadlines where possible.

  1. Pay and terms and conditions of employment

If employees are working usual hours then their usual pay and terms and conditions apply.

Ensure staff follow the law on working time, e.g. rest breaks and average weekly working hours.

  1. Expenses

Decide if employees can recoup costs incurred from having to work from home, e.g. extra phone or broadband charges.

Update your expenses policy to reflect any changes.

  1. Health and safety

It is unlikely usual physical health and safety risk assessments can be carried out at an employee’s home, but checks should still be made that:

Employees feel that the work they are doing at home can be undertaken safely.

Employees have the right equipment to work safely.

Managers keep in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated.

Reasonable adjustments are made for employees with disabilities.

Employees are reminded that they have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety. They must also advise managers about any health and safety risks or any home working arrangements that need to change.

Employees need to look after their mental and physical health. Stress and anxiety levels during the pandemic will be high for all so remind employees to take care of their wellbeing by taking regular breaks and to do other things to stay mentally and physically active outside of their working hours.

  1. Data protection and confidentiality

To comply with the obligations under GDPR and DPA 2018, employers need to take appropriate measures against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data. Read more about the importance of data protection. A home working policy should cover this and the following aspects should be considered further:

Employees should ensure that screens and documents at home should not be left “on show”.

Employees should be reminded to store devices and documents safely, if possible in a locked room, to limit the risk of theft.

In terms of confidential data, you should have rules about its retention. You may wish to consider providing shredding facilities or ask employees to use their own if they have any.

You should be limiting the use of IT equipment to employees only.

Ensure you are satisfied that the remote working systems allow encryption/password protection.

Ensure that certain key information is only circulated to a limited number of employees.

Make sure sensitive information is marked as "confidential".

Provide confidential information in emails marked "confidential”. If the information is stored electronically, this can be achieved by password protecting the documents.

Regularly monitor the use of email, and other devices. It may be necessary to implement a new monitoring procedure (or update an existing procedure) but ensure that employees' rights in relation to their personal data are respected.

Ensure there are proper reporting procedures and regular communications, e.g. having regular virtual meetings with employees and with teams.

Put in place effective confidentiality agreements, if necessary.

Look out for odd or unusual behaviour, e.g. logging on at odd times (although with flexible working this may be harder to spot), telephoning the office and requesting secretaries or others to collate, scan and send over key business information or contacts, or information being emailed to a personal email account.

Review whether all employees have received/do receive adequate training. Ensure their responsibilities are clearly outlined.

What if you do need to take action against an employee?

No employer wants to find themselves in a situation where this is necessary, but if it does come to this then there are certain things that can make your case more robust.

It’s going to be much more difficult to monitor behaviour remotely but it isn’t impossible. Having a system in place that includes effective communication, monitoring (without going too far as to impact upon personal data) and restricting who has access to confidential information will greatly assist. Whilst it won’t prevent someone taking your confidential information it will reduce the risk of it happening.

Having such a system will also strengthen any claim you may bring against the employee if you can demonstrate to a court that you had effective systems in place that made it clear to all employees the importance of keeping confidential information confidential and the consequences should those obligations be breached. A court will want to know what an employee was told about confidential information and how it would be handled.

Finally, ensure your disciplinary policies and procedures recognise a breach of confidentiality as a matter of gross misconduct.  This will give employers the ability to take employees to task on such matters and with a potential outcome of summary dismissal, without notice, where confidentiality is breached and it can be shown that the employees were fully aware of the possible consequences of doing so.

Read more about how to handle employment disputes.

The importance of a home working policy

Given the fluctuating situation with COVID-19 restrictions it’s unlikely employers will be able to have all employees present in a workplace for a while yet, or will even want to going forward, and so home working will continue for many.

If not already in existence, employers should introduce a home working policy to provide guidance and support, not just for in the current climate, but also for the future as businesses adopt new ways of working. If home working policies are already in place, now is the time to review and update these where necessary.

Getting the practical aspects of home working right at the start will reap benefits in the long term for those employers who think through the implications carefully, to ensure that the approach works to the mutual benefit of employers and employees respectively.

Get in touch

To discuss implementing or reviewing your working from home policy, or other employment-related matter, please contact a member of your local employment team.

If you need advice or guidance if an employee has breached the confidentiality clause in their employment contract then Steven Skiba in our commercial litigation team can guide you through your options.

Our employment team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

Helping business prepare for the future of work post COVID-19

The workplace is going to look very different now that most restrictions have been lifted, for many reasons.
Make sure that your business is prepared for the challenges and opportunities that will face us all.

Visit our future of work hub on how we can help:

  • Draft vaccination and flexible working policies.
  • Review your flexible and hybrid working policies.
  • Implement new additional benefits to employees.

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