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What Employers Need To Know About Home Working

From new contracts to employees and being distracted by the household chores, Emma Roberts takes a look at what employers need to know when employees want to work from home.

Why the rise in homeworking?

On the face of it, everyone benefits. Apart from the obvious attraction to employees of no travel costs, an improved work-life balance and not having to dress or worry about your appearance meeting other’s expectations, it can suit employers too: fewer overheads, more productive and motivated workers and retaining skilled staff who might otherwise leave due to family commitments and health concerns. 

However, there are reasons why employers may be reluctant to embrace homeworking:

  1. Less control and damage to team-working and culture.
  2. Homeworkers require a different management style and may not be able to be given the same level of support.
  3. Not trusting staff to “pull their weight”.

Contracts and contact time

Contracts will need to be rewritten and consent to the variation obtained to avoid a claim or dispute down the line. Where will their place of work be? You will likely want to require the homeworker to come to the office for appraisals, meetings and training.

How will you ensure someone’s domestic, family or other commitments doesn’t overlap with work? How do you monitor when and where someone is? It is often assumed they will mirror office hours but if there is flexibility then rest breaks and maximum weekly working hours will have to be respected. With nobody to oversee them, the contract needs to make it clear homeworkers must regulate themselves.

Terms and conditions for homeworking

Terms and conditions should be no less favourable than those given to comparable employees – there is a risk of discriminating against those who work from home for a specific reason – many are women with family commitments. Many homeworkers are part-time too.

There is no general legal obligation on an employer to provide the equipment necessary for homeworking, but a duty may arise to make reasonable adjustments under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 in the case of someone with a disability.

What are the risks?

All staff have an implied duty not to disclose confidential information. In practice, it is difficult to police what happens at home. Are computers properly password protected? Will sensitive papers be secure and inaccessible to others in the home? How is information transferred safely between office and home – both electronically and physically. What disaster recovery plans are in place for the loss, destruction or damage of information? 

Who provides, maintains, and has access to computer equipment? This is especially important to avoid the risk of malware and viruses being introduced to office networks. A well drafted and enforced policy can mitigate some of the risks and be used as evidence in any disciplinary proceedings or defence to a Tribunal claim.

Health and safety for homeworkers

One of the major practical headaches for businesses is dealing with health and safety. An employer is responsible for an employee’s welfare, health and safety, “so far as is reasonably practicable” so suitable and sufficient assessments of homeworkers will be needed to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk.

Unless the business takes specialist advice or learned from their mistakes, health and safety issues aren’t always obvious:

Some homeworkers may have difficulty with the boundaries between work and home life, leading to an increased risk of stress. Without supportive colleagues around, there is potentially isolation. Employers need to monitor work and stress levels and try to integrate homeworkers into the team where possible.

Equipment supplied by the employer must be suitable for its purpose, maintained in good working order and inspected regularly. You should also ensure that suitable and sufficient lighting is provided wherever work equipment is used.

Though most will be low risk, accidents must be reported, and first aid facilities provided.

How should employers approach requests to work from home?

Employees with 26 weeks’ service can make a request under their statutory right to apply for flexible working. Far more women than men apply and in rejecting a woman’s homeworking request an indirect sex discrimination claim could develop unless the refusal can be objectively justified. Under flexible working legislation, the reasons behind a rejection are relatively easy to establish.

It is a lot for an employer to weigh up and for many, the burden might be enough to tempt them to refuse a request. If they get it wrong, they run the risk of an aggrieved and unhappy employee or an expensive Tribunal claim.

If you need help and advice regarding home working, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0113 350 4030 or at emma.roberts@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and litigation practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
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Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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