The Trade Unions Congress has reported that since 2007 over half a million more people work from home, bringing the total number to over four million.
We look at some top tips for employers when considering requests from employees to work from home.
Many employers are still wary of letting their staff work from home and the Trade Unions Congress urges them to try it out: "Modern home-working is good for the economy as it increases productivity, helps businesses hold on to talented staff, and allows people with caring responsibilities or a disability to access the labour market."
In addition, new legislation on flexible working is due to come into force at the end of June which will enable any employee (with at least 26 weeks' service) to make a request for flexible working, for any reason. As a result, employers are likely to see an increase in requests for home working.
Employers should have in mind the following factors when considering whether to accept any requests to work from home:
- expense - will it be cost effective for the business? Employers will need to consider whether they should cover the costs of telephone and internet usage from the employee's home and even lighting and heating costs. There may also be increased home insurance premiums as a result of the employee carrying out business from their home and so employers will need to consider whether they are willing to reimburse the employee for this cost. On the other hand, the employer may need less expensive office space if a large number of its employees work from home
- equipment - will the employer need to provide additional equipment to enable the employee to carry out their role effectively?
- supervision - is the employer satisfied that the employee can be properly supervised? As well as ensuring effective management of the employee, the employer needs to ensure the employee is taking appropriate rest breaks (the Working Time Regulations apply to home workers too). Equally, the employer should monitor the risk that the employee may feel isolated and should facilitate the employee's attendance at team meetings and events to make sure they continue to feel a part of the team. A trial period may be useful if the employer is concerned about this from the offset
- confidentiality - the employer will need ensure its confidential information is protected, particularly where the employee will be handling personal data. The employer will need to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place which may include anti-virus software, locked cabinets or use of encrypted email.
- health and safety - employers should be aware that they are still liable for the employee's health and safety when working from home. A risk assessment should be carried out to highlight any risks beforehand. The employer should ensure its health and safety policy covers home workers and may also wish to consider factors such as whether appropriate child care is in place for children who may be in the home during working hours;
- grievances and tribunal claims - in dealing with requests, employers should consider whether the employee has a 'protected characteristic' which has led to the request to work from home and if so, whether they could be at risk of treating that employee less favourably (and opening themselves up to a discrimination complaint) by refusing a request, or whether they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee. Additionally, whilst employees who make a request to work flexibly are not automatically entitled to work flexibly, they may have a claim against an employer if there has been a procedural failure in considering the request (for example, where it was not dealt with 'in a reasonable manner')
After considering the above factors, employers would be wise to capture their thoughts in a home working policy. Any permanent changes to an employee's working arrangements can be made via a side letter or by way of amendments to the employee's contract of employment. With careful thought, home working can be a cost effective and useful tool for retaining talented employees that they may otherwise lose due to age, inability to access the workplace or simply because they have had enough of city life and a lengthy commute.