Alongside supermarket queues, handwashing, deep cleaning and Furlough, homeworking has been one of the defining features of the Covid-19 lockdown. The most recent ONS statistics on homeworking (2019 – published at the very start of lockdown) showed that of the UK’s 32.6 million in employment, only 1.7 million people reported working mainly from home. And, while there are no up to date statistics on the rate and number of homeworkers during Covid-19, there is little doubt that they are far higher than before. Many employers and employees expect home working to become more established, if not the norm.
So, what should you be thinking about if you want your workforce to work from home more regularly? The starting point must be an agreement in principle for homeworking to take place. This may have already been set out in your employment contracts, handbook or policies. But, if not, you will need to amend your documentation with the agreement of (and following consultation with) the workforce.
Issues to consider when establishing homeworking include:
- The employer’s health and safety obligations (these apply to remote workers in much the same as to those at the workplace);
- The government’s temporary relaxation on working at home assessments was based on the need for businesses to make emergency arrangements to meet the guidance. It is now clear that the period of working at home will be longer than anticipated and, in some cases, the ‘new normal’.
- Employers should review whether the initial measures that they took to support staff working from home are still sufficient. If an employee raises a concern about their home working arrangement, the employer should take action.
- In order to comply with health and safety obligations, the employer should carry out a risk assessment to identify and mitigate potential risks to their employees whilst working from home and to establish safe working practices in agreement with their employees.
- Check the employer’s liability insurance to ensure cover extends to employees working from home and any special conditions that the insurer may require.
- Provision, ownership and access to equipment. For example, will you supply a work laptop or other office equipment and, if so, how will you ensure its retrieval on termination of employment;
- Confidentiality and data protection issues;
- Expenses, tax and insurance. Employees will need to have and maintain adequate home and contents insurance policies. They may seek to recoup some expenses related to homeworking and some may be entitled to limited tax breaks. These issues ought to be determined in advance; and
- Communication, supervision and support of employees. Not everyone will find homeworking easy and some employees will miss the social element of work and/or the discipline intrinsic to the workplace. To ensure productivity remains high and employees’ well-being is unaffected, various safeguards will need to be introduced.
The Government may introduce a new legal right for employees to work from home, which would mean that employers would only be able to reject a working from home request if a staff member’s job could only be done in the workplace. Watch this space for more information once we know more.