Here are some important issues that employers must consider.

Whilst the economy is due to completely reopen in the near future, for many, homeworking will become the new norm for many businesses.

As an employer, it is extremely important to consider the following issues in relation to homeworking.

Health & Safety

An employer is responsible for an employee’s welfare, health and safety, so far as reasonable practicable.

In the context of homeworking, this means carrying out a risk assessment to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk to employees or anyone else who may be affected by their work arrangements. For example, is there a risk of back injury in relation to an employee’s chair?

It should also be noted that employees have a joint responsibility in relation to their health and safety.

Another aspect of health and safety that needs to be considered is the impact to mental health. For many employees, working from home will result in employees feeling isolated. Some may struggle with separating work life from their personal lives. Therefore, it is extremely important that employers have a system in place to provide employees with support in relation to their mental health whilst they are working from home.

Issues with confidentiality and data protection

Working from home results in the real risk that non-employees will be able to see confidential information and personal data. This could be because a laptop was left open and a non-employee walked passed it or because confidential information was disposed of in a dustbin. This could result in a breach of personal data which could result in disastrous financial and reputational consequences for the employer.

Therefore, it is strongly advised that contracts of employment have provisions in relation to confidentiality as well as guidelines about how to dispose of confidential waste.

If employees are working abroad whilst still working for a UK based company (see below for more information on this), consider the fact that personal data is being transferred to and from the UK. Some countries have strict rules in relation to data protection and exporting data. Employers should seek advice to ensure that their employees are not acting in breach of any local data protection laws. 

Costs such as heating and lighting

Employers should not forget about the potential additional costs incurred by employees when working from home such as heating and lighting. If these are genuine additional costs incurred by the employee, these may be claimed by the employees via their tax code.

It is therefore strongly advised that the issue of additional costs is agreed between the employer and employee.

Place of work clause in the contract

Employers should consider whether the place of work clause needs to be changed. It may be that this clause allows an employer to do this on reasonable notice.

However, in the absence of a clause enabling an employer to change the place of work, employers will need to consult the employees about changing their place of work.

Following consultation, if employees refuse to work from home, despite having all their concerns addressed, a possible option for employers is to terminate their contract of employment (with notice) and offer a new contract with a new place of work clause accommodating homeworking.

It is strongly advised that employers seek legal advice before doing this to avoid claims including unfair dismissal and constructive dismissal.

Insurance

It is important for employers to check that their insurers for employee liability insurance are aware of the fact that their employees work from home.

If employees work abroad

Whilst employees may be working abroad for a UK based company, it is extremely important to ensure accountancy advice is taken as there may be tax implications in relation to working in another country. Note that employees could acquire local employment law rights in the country that they are resident.

Can an employee demand to work from home?

There are some roles where supervision is required, particularly for junior staff. This is something that cannot always be done properly through virtual means such as video calling.

Nevertheless, employers should be aware of the fact that where an employee has more than six months service with the employer, they can request flexible working. This could entail homeworking.

Employers should deal with the request within a reasonable period of three months. Note that employers can refuse this request on the following grounds:

  • the burden of additional costs;
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • inability to re-organise work among existing staff;
  • inability to recruit additional staff;
  • detrimental impact on quality;
  • detrimental impact on performance;
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or
  • planned structural changes.

In light of the above, what should employers do?

As this article shows, there are so many matters to consider in relation to homeworking. It is therefore strongly advised that employers have in place a robust and comprehensive homeworking policy which clearly lays out provisions and guidance for their employees in relation to the above issues. Not doing so could risk many adverse consequences.

If you would like us to prepare a suitable homeworking policy, we can do so for a cost of only £350 plus VAT.

Please contact a member of the Employment Team on 0330 1910561 so that we can draft a policy for you.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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