Even with the UK Government announcing the dates for the phased end of the national lockdown, it does not seem like the current requirement to work from home will change any time soon. In fact, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will permanently alter the way we do business with many companies opting to implement a work-from-home policy that will continue into the future.
Of course, working from home could naturally cause some difficulties for employers. For instance, it could potentially be more difficult to track the performance and the progress of employees without personal interaction.
In addition to this, homes are not always ideal places to work. Employees might not have the equipment they need to do their work properly and they might also be faced with constant interruptions from children, pets and relatives throughout the day.
Employers should therefore consider implementing a suitable work-from-home policy that makes provision for the following points:
Deciding who works from home
Naturally, not all job roles are suited to home working. Employers should have a clear policy in place regarding who would be allowed to work from home and the circumstances in which it would be appropriate. The policy should also specify to whom employees should apply if they want to work from home as well as how those requests should be made.
It would also be wise to consider possible reasons why home working might be justifiably refused. Some roles may simply not be compatible with working from home or there might be unexpired disciplinary sanctions on an employee’s record.
It is, however, important for employers to always consider each individual case separately within the given circumstances. A trial period could also be introduced to see if working from home would be feasible for a particular employee.
Minimising security concerns about working from home
Homeworking comes with certain risks as company equipment and data are distanced from the employer’s control. A work-from-home policy should address this to ensure that appropriate risk assessments take place. This could cover a range of provisions such as clear guidance on device usage and data storage or a minimum level of cybersecurity software in place on the employee’s devices. It would be important to reiterate that any IT and data protection policies would still apply.
Ensuring health and safety at home
It is important for employers to consider whether an employee’s home is a suitable work environment. As such, an employer should have the right to carry out risk assessments and alter working-from-home arrangements if there are concerns over an individual’s health or safety.
This can include both physical and mental health. It is recommended that employees assess their own workspaces to determine any issues that might need to be addressed. For example, there may be a requirement for a desk and chair to be provided so that the employee does not have to work from a sofa all day.
Clear reporting guidelines for any health and safety concerns are also important as this can enable employers to address the concerns as soon as they arise.
Managing employees at home
It is understandable that employers might be concerned about being able to effectively manage their employees with a lack of face-to-face contact. There are several practical steps that can be considered to help overcome this.
Last year saw a surge in employers and companies using software like Teams, Zoom and Skype to conduct regular video calls and meetings with their staff. Other technological steps can be taken such as monitoring internet usage and activity or setting key performance indicators which can be easily monitored.
Once the current COVID-19-related restrictions have been lifted, more practical steps could also be taken such as having employees take weekly trips to the office. This would allow for better communication with the employer and could help employees to feel more connected with the company.
The above is certainly not an exhaustive list of considerations to be made when introducing home working for employees. The important thing to remember is that this is new ground for many companies and a work-from-home policy can help them effectively navigate the way forward while mitigating potential risks.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as formal legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Specific legal advice should be sort tailored to the individual circumstances in all cases.
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David Philip Harris is a recognised employment solicitor with over 10 years of experience in advising employees and employers on employment law matters. He is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio Berkshire and People Management Magazine. David has represented individual and corporate clients in the employment tribunal as well as the High Court and County Court. David is a member of The Law Society and The Employment Lawyers Association (ELA UK). To contact David, visit the Contact Us page. For media enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.