Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic
This briefing is drafted on the basis that homeworking is temporary to deal with the coronavirus outbreak and is not therefore a permanent arrangement under which there would be additional considerations.
- Trust: It is important to have a healthy relationship of trust between the homeworker and their manager. A lack of trust is the greatest barrier to making homeworking successful. Managers who are used to assessing performance by the number of hours someone is in the office will need to adjust their approach. It is therefore important that the homeworker and their managers are clear about what is expected in their roles and how they are expected to work together.
- Supervision: Managers should give some thought as to how they will measure the quality and quantity of the homeworker's output or they should agree specific work objectives. It should be possible to manage using email, telephone, video and tele-conferencing. If possible, managers should be trained so that they are confident in supervising and assessing an employee’s performance from a distance. Line managers should also monitor homeworkers to ensure they do not over-work, ensure they take breaks and do not work excessive hours.
- Hours of work: Employees should be clear about their hours and the core hours when they should be at work. There should also be a clear understanding of homeworker’s availability and good use of computer calendars and out of office and voicemails should be encouraged.
- Communication: It is important to maintain communication with homeworkers. This can be through email, telephone and video conferencing. Managers and homeworkers should agree about when and how contact can be made and review this to ensure it is working. An extra effort should be made to foster connections and keep everyone up to date on how work is progressing. Managers will need to understand whether an employee has enough work or too much, in the same way they would in the office. This will also help overcome problems with isolation. Homeworkers should also be clear on how to reach their manager in an emergency.
- Social isolation: This is potentially a significant issue of which the employer should be aware. It is important that homeworkers don’t feel cut off and managers should make an extra effort to keep in touch and make themselves available and ensure homeworkers know how to contact them.
- Technology and equipment: Most employers will want the homeworker to use only the employer's computer equipment, to ensure compatibility with the employer's systems and to ensure that proper virus protection and security measures are in place. Employers should also ensure that the homeworker has a support system in place to deal with IT issues when working at home. Consideration also needs to be given to any other resources the homeworker might need to be provided with from time to time.
- Stress: Managers and colleagues should be attuned to the signs of stress from homeworkers through the tone of emails and telephone calls. Some homeworkers may have difficulty enforcing boundaries between work and home life, leading to an increased risk of stress. They may become isolated and lack the support networks available when they worked in the office. Employers should be aware of this issue, consider steps outlined above to monitor work and stress levels. It is a good time to remind employees, if it is available, of the contact numbers and right to access any employee assistance programme which may be available to them (eg through private medical).
- Training and appraisals: If homeworking continues for a long time, some thought needs to be given to performance reviews and training and development needs.
- Sickness: An employee who works at home has the same entitlement to sick pay as other employees but reporting mechanisms may need to be adjusted and homeworkers should be informed of what these are. It is important that if the employee considers they are ill that they report in sick.
Health and safety
Employers have a duty of care for all their employees and health and safety legislation applies to all homeworkers. Employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers, to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk. A risk assessment should check that the homeworker’s ventilation, temperature, lighting, space, chair, desk and computer, work station and floor are suitable.
The employer will need to ensure that equipment it supplies is to the homeworker is suitable for its purpose, maintained in good working order and inspected regularly.
The employee should ensure that they report any accidents and the employer should ensure there is a proper reporting procedure in place. It should also provide first aid supplies.
Employers should check HSE guidance on homeworking for further guidance.
A homeworker is under the same obligations of confidentiality but it is more difficult for the employer to police. The homeworker should be required to keep confidential information secure and the employer may want to consider precautions such as forbidding access by household members, passwords and encryption, a secure filing cabinet and facilities for confidential disposal such as a shredder or confidential bin.
Homeworkers may need specific training on their obligations and those of the employer in relation to data protection and confidentiality, concerning the procedures which they must follow, and what is, and is not, an authorised use of data.
Employers should also carry out a data privacy impact assessment of the data protection implications of employees working from home. Specific advice should be sought on what the assessment should cover.
Other legal issues
- Ideally employers should have in place a homeworking policy which will set out key points to ensure consistency in the business.
- Homeworkers should be reminded about the employer’s policies about computer use, electronic communications and data security.
- Both the employer and the homeworker should check their insurance covers business equipment in the homeworker’s home and a claim from a third party.
- The employee should check with their mortgage provider or landlord whether they are permitted to work at home.
- There may also be tax consequences of homeworking e.g. household expenses may be tax deductible.
- Employers are not obliged in law to compensate employees for use of their home wifi/broadband, unless the contract already provides for it.
- An employer’s duty of care toward their employees continues even though they may not be working on the employer’s premises. Employers may therefore wish to issue employees with workstation desk assessment forms to remind them how to set up their workstations in order to mitigate against injury. Please contact us for more information.
- Employers should also familiarise themselves with the detailed ACAS guide for employers and employees on homeworking.
For more information, please contact Emma Bartlett. Check out our blog for further comment on the coronavirus and other trending topics.