Alongside lengthy 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, yet published at the very start of lockdown) showed that of the UK’s 32.6 million in employment, only 1.7 million people (approximately) 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 amend your documentation with the agreement of (and following a 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);
- 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.
Helen Boddy is a partner in Boddy Matthews, solicitors specialising in Employment law – www.boddymatthews.com