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Do you have staff working from home?

Did you know there are things you MUST do as an employer to make sure it’s all legal?

Now that all restrictions have been lifted with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic, you might think that everything has returned to normal in the world of work.

But many employees have decided that they like working from home and many employers have decided that “hybrid” working is a way to keep good employees motivated. If you have staff working from home part-time or full time then their home becomes an extension of your workplace in a way, and the employer is responsible for a number of things.

Here’s a quick checklist of things you may need to look at.

The work is suitable to be done from home. Any equipment that you have provided to do the work (e.g. laptop) is safe and the employee has an adequate chair and desk to carry out work from home. The homework environment is included in the risk assessment.

One of the first things to consider is whether the duties are suitable for working from home?

Adequate training must be provided to be able to work from home, and access to senior staff and information where required should be made available.

Has any special equipment been identified and provided that will be necessary to allow the employee safely to complete their duties from home, for example, suitable desk, chair, computer, first aid kit?

Have the hours of work been stated and agreed upon along with the communication procedures between management and colleagues?

Has it been agreed whether the arrangements are temporary or permanent?

Is there a review scheduled to check out how it is working for the employer and employee?

Is there a working from home policy? Has the employee seen it? It may seem strange that someone’s home can effectively be their place of employment for which you, as an employer, are responsible, but that is the law.

Can you force your employees to work at the office rather than at home? Before coronavirus, the answer to this question would be yes. Most employment contracts require a person to be available for work at a specific location and during a certain time. If an employee refuses to do as instructed then they are breaching their employment contract, and face the possibility of being dismissed. However, these are not normal times. Workspaces carry risk and the right safeguards and policies need to be in place before re-opening. Employees are entitled to ask questions about these safeguards and policies.

Employers’ duty of care towards employees

Employers have a duty of care towards employees to look after both their physical and mental health. They also have to abide by a variety of health and safety standards, such as ensuring that sanitation measures are in place, and that there are enough first aiders and fire wardens on site.

Employers have a duty to comply with equalities legislation and not discriminate against those who have protected characteristics, such as a disability. All of this means that employers need to consider how to alleviate any concerns raised by employees about their health and safety and/or their ability to do their job. Employers should have a Covid-19 risk assessment of the office and details of how the risks will be mitigated. Under the government’s COVID-19 return to the office guidance, all businesses have a duty to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment. Staff groups should be consulted about the risk assessment and employers have a duty to explain to their staff the measures they are implementing, to bring risks down to an acceptable level.

Flexible working requests

If employees want to work in a way that is different from the one stated in their contract, then they have to obtain permission. All employees have the legal right to request a new working arrangement and the formal process is known as a flexible working request. Employers are required to approach such requests in a “reasonable manner”. When making such a request, employees must give their reasons for doing so and any evidence that shows how their new way of working will not impact on their performance. This will help the employer to consider the request, and if they do not agree with what the employer is asking for, maybe suggest a compromise.

Employees may already be able to prove they are entitled to work from home.

Many employees have been managing their work alongside childcare responsibilities or care for other dependents or have been working their usual working day over longer hours during lockdown. To the extent that employees feel that this arrangement has worked for them, the employee may have already gone some way in proving to their employer that they can carry out their role successfully at home going forward (permanently or for at least part of the working week).

Can an employer refuse home working?

There are eight statutory grounds for rejecting a flexible working request. Employers may find it difficult to demonstrate that there will be a detrimental impact on quality or performance of work in the long term – especially if there was no such impact throughout the period of lockdown.

Employers should record that they have considered each and every request made, including the reason(s) for it and how it might be dealt with. This way employees understand why their request may have been rejected and are less inclined to appeal and/or worse, file a claim.

Time to Audit What You Do?

The whole business of work has changed so much over the last couple of years that it may be a good time to review your staff handbook, contracts and how you approach your staff relations.

For more information or an appraisal of how you are implementing your employment law duties please email [email protected]  or telephone 0118 958 9711.

Further Reading:

Flexible Working Requests

When is it Smart Not to be Smart?

No jab No job – reality or myth?

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