Homeworking and employment law – how to tick all the right boxes

There is an infinite list of things that employers need to think about to ensure the success of a home-working workforce. As we settle into our ‘new normal’ with many employees now working from home, this is a good opportunity to look at what has been working well so far and what hasn’t.

You can send out a survey to your employees to collect their thoughts and opinions. As well as being good for engagement, it will help you build a successful homeworking policy that will work for your specific workforce.  A homeworking policy will be the bedrock of keeping your business compliant with the law.

Your homeworking policy

Homeworkers are subject to the same contractual and health and safety requirements as workers based on company premises and must be managed accordingly. A homeworking policy defines what home working means for a business and outlines expectations and obligations for employers and employees.

It may be that you cobbled together a homeworking policy when the COVID-19 pandemic struck or built on your existing policy. Now your temporary homeworking policy may need to become more permanent and watertight.

How do I create a homeworking policy?

Alix Passey Brown, Partnership Director, ourHRpeople:

“A good homeworking policy allows issues and requests to be dealt with in a uniform, non-discriminatory way. It sets out clear processes and promotes consistency.”

A good place to start is the legal requirements that employers must have in place for their employees. You should always consult an expert when building such a policy where possible.

To start, think about each of the following subjects:

Eligibility for homeworking

Legally it is up to the employer who they allow to work from home and they must look carefully at how home working could impact their business – positively and negatively. During the pandemic, benchmarks may have to move, looking at ability to complete work successfully at home, safety of the home working environment and historical employee behaviour. By clearly outlining who is and isn’t eligible to work from home, you simplify the process of accepting or denying homeworking requests. Employers need to balance business requirements with employees’ needs, aiming to be practical, flexible and sensitive.

Homeworking requests

Communicate a clear and legal process for requesting to work at home, the criteria that will be considered, the process of accepting or declining the request and how this ties in with your flexible working policy. Will there be a trial period of homeworking or any other criteria? Document any changes as an informal arrangement, subject to the needs of the business.

Agile working

It is likely that both employer and employee will prefer to work in an agile way with certain days in the office for core cover and some days working at home or on client site.

Flexible working

Employees who have worked for 26 weeks or more can make a formal flexible working request. They may be able to demonstrate that they have successfully worked from home during lockdown without a drop in productivity. Employers need to give logical reasons backed up with evidence if they can’t support a request for longer term homeworking.

Data Protection

The security of your clients’ and company’s data is much harder to control with a home based workforce. You have no say in who accesses their home working environments, or if their computers or filing cabinets are locked when they leave the premises. A complete rethink of current procedures will be required and clear data protection measures and guidelines should be in place to adhere to data protection obligations.

Insurance

Employers should check their current policies to make sure that their employer’s liability insurance extends to cover homeworkers or if they need to take out extra policies.

Expenses

Employees may decide employees can claim expenses for costs incurred while working from home, such as bills for lighting, heating or internet. Most do not, although they do allow printing and stationary costs, and travel to meet clients. Employees may also be able to access a flat rate tax relief in relation to homeworking expenses.

Health and Safety

Employers must undertake risk assessments looking at home based employees’ equipment, electricity, first aid, accidents and homeworking-related stress. During a pandemic, it is difficult for employers to conduct their usual health and safety assessments for homeworkers but they do still owe a duty of care to their employees to ensure their health, safety and welfare. Implement any changes and adjustments needed for employees to work from home and check in regularly to address issues and prevent isolation.

Employers need to monitor the time employees spend working, especially those who have not opted out of the 48 hour working week under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

There is no legal obligation for employers to provide the equipment required to work from home, but if they do provide it, they are responsible for it. Employers will want to ensure the ‘home office’ is well set up and is not likely to cause injury. Employees should only use the equipment for the work it was supplied for.

Performance management

Both employers and employees will agree how and how often to keep in touch and how performance will be managed. A homeworking agreement is also a good idea for employers and employees to sign, stating expectations, duration and conditions of the new homeworking arrangement.

Concerns about the workplace

Where an employee raises concerns about a ‘serious and imminent danger’ to their health and refuses to come into work because of fear of contracting COVID-19, and homeworking is not an option, advice should be sought.

How many of these points do you need to work on?

For further information, H&S or a homeworking policy template, policy development, or advice, get in touch –  info@ourhrpeople.co.uk

This content was correct at the time of publication. Always check your government website for the latest developments.

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