Advice

Working from home – Seven practical considerations for employers

Working from home – Seven practical considerations for employers

The COVID-19 pandemic means that working from home has become the ‘new normal’ for many businesses and their employees, and is also likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, even after lockdown is lifted.

Both employers and employees have had to be practical, flexible and sensitive to the respective needs of the other, particularly in view of school closures and the consequential childcare commitments being placed on many employees. 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.

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

1. Equipment and technology

• Consider what your employees need to work effectively and efficiently
• Look into how easy it is to set up remotely
• Remember that the equipment remains an employer’s responsibility

2. Check that IT systems are working

• Assess if your IT systems can cope with the number of remote users.
• Check what IT support is available for home workers.
• Identify if you are able to make improvements / upgrades if required.

3. 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 rules around storing information and data protection.
• 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 school closures). 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 work, reducing work targets and/or being flexible about deadlines where possible.

4. 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.

5. Expenses

• Decide if employees can recoup costs incurred from having to work from home, e.g. extra phone or broadband charges.
• Updating your expenses policy to reflect any changes.

6. Health and Safety

It is unlikely usual 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. Advise managers about any health and safety risks or any home working arrangements that need to change.
• Employees 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.

7. 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. 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 limiting the use of IT equipment to employees only.
• Ensure you are satisfied that the remote working systems allow encryption/password protection of all documents.
• Review whether all employees have received / do receive adequate training. Ensure their responsibilities are clearly outlined.

The importance of a home working policy

Following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Sunday evening (10 May), to slowly ease the UK out of lockdown, its unlikely employers will be able to have all employees present in a workplace for the time being, and so home working will become far more commonplace.

If not already in existence, employees to should look to introduce a home working policy to provide guidance and support, not just for in the current climate, but also for the future as businesses look towards adopting 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.

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

Shakespeare Martineau has launched a free legal helpline, with a team of experts on hand for any queries on family and private matters. We are also offering bespoke guidance on a range of other subjects, from employment and general business matters, through to director’s responsibilities, insolvency, restructuring, funding and disputes. Available from 10am-12pm Monday to Friday, call 0800 689 4064.

General advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.

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