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Essential webinar series for employers: Homeworking – the future?

As part of our series of webinars to support our clients during the current pandemic, on 2 July 2020 we hosted a webinar looking at the future of homeworking.

Introduction

Whilst the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing, businesses are now beginning to re-open workplaces and think about their needs both on a short, medium and longer term basis.

In anticipation of this and in order to continue supporting our clients during this difficult time, we are running a series of webinars to offer practical advice for those now contemplating the next phase of managing their businesses during the current situation.

This was our fourth session in this series and focused on the employment issues arising out of the rise in homeworking. The key takeaway points are set out below:

Changing contracts

  • The government’s advice is still, where employees can work from home they should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
  • Given the success of working from home arrangements during the pandemic, many employers are looking to implement more flexible working arrangements going forwards.
  • It is important that employers and employees clearly agree the terms on which an employee will work from home to avoid disputes down the line. This will usually involve agreeing a variation to the employee’s current contract of employment.
  • The extent of the changes needed will depend on the level of flexibility required. However, as a minimum, employers should agree the number of days to be worked from home, any requirements to attend the office at certain times and what, if any, equipment will be provided.
  • Employees should also check with their mortgage provider, landlord and/or home insurance provider to ensure that there is nothing preventing them from working from home.

Data Protection issues

  • Maintaining confidentiality and keeping personal data secure while working from home will be the main considerations for employers.
  • The ICO has issued helpful guidance: Working Securely From Home
  • In particular, employees should be encouraged to follow the organisation’s policies and procedures on data protection, should be told to retain and destroy documents securely, be encouraged to use strong passwords and password protect documents and to be vigilant about keeping work conversations confidential.

Health and Safety issues

  • Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, including providing them with a safe system of work.
  • In addition, employers have a duty to conduct risk assessments to identify risks to the health and safety of employees, to implement measures to minimise those risks and to keep the risk assessment under regular review. This will apply equally to homeworkers as to those staff who come in to work at the employer’s premises.
  • Risk assessments can be carried out by employees on their own home workstations, but employers should check and review the assessment and advise of any measures which should be put in place to minimise identified risks.
  • Where equipment is provided by the employer, this should be checked regularly to ensure it is safe. Employers should consider agreeing with the employee both the frequency of such checks and how they are to be carried out, for example, whether it require access to the home.

Tax implications

  • Employers are not obliged to provide equipment to employees or to reimburse them for expenses incurred in homeworking, other than where an employer’s health and safety obligations result in a need to provide certain equipment to ensure a safe system of work or to enable the employee to effectively work from home. Employers should also be mindful of their duty to make reasonable adjustments where an employee has a disability.
  • It is important that the employer and employee agree and set out in writing what resources the employer will provide and what the employee is expected to provide as well as who the equipment belongs to and how and when it can be removed.
  • Some expenses and equipment may be eligible for tax relief but there are strict rules regarding when this applies with which employers will need to familiarise themselves.

Making homeworking effective

  • Homeworking will not be suitable for every role or every employee. Employers will need to decide whether it is appropriate on a case by case basis.
  • Building trust between the homeworker and their manager will be key. Having agreed protocols about supervision, 1-2-1s, meetings and teamwork will help with this as will agreeing how work will be measured and reviewed.
  • Clear lines of communication will also be important for ensuring that homeworkers are seen as part of the team and don’t miss out on opportunities within the organisation.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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