The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined our understanding of flexible working and has seen a huge rise in remote and latterly hybrid working. Workers have become well used to spending a large amount of their working hours in their own homes and with more and more organisations announcing permanent home working or hybrid working policies, this is likely to continue to be the case going forward.
As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers based in your work place. However, managing these responsibilities is challenging when someone is not under your physical supervision. In this article, we discuss the potential pitfalls and the safeguards your business should have in place when allowing employees to work from home.
Although many organisations will have hurriedly updated or put in place home working policies at the start of the pandemic, now is a good time to review them to ensure they are still fit for purpose and are in line with future plans when it comes to remote working. We have all learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to working from home over the past year and a half and it is important that these learnings be reflected in policies going forward.
Firstly, an employer should make an assessment on the following:
- Which roles can and can’t be performed from home wholly or partly, how do those roles interact with others and your external stakeholders like customer;
- Who may or may not want to work from home full time or part-time, some might find the home working life full of unavoidable distractions and feel happier when they have colleagues nearby for support and mental wellbeing value; and
- Any concerns and how best to handle them, which is consistent with the business needs and yet even handed and fair as between staff members.
This will allow you to determine whether some or any home working actually suits your business and give you an idea on what home working arrangements could look like going forward.
Before agreeing to any home working, you should be aware that an employee's pay and other terms and conditions of their employment stay the same, as working from home is still covered by the law on working hours. There may also be associated costs (initial and continuing), such as training, providing computer equipment and office furniture.
After an agreement is reached, an initial health and safety risk assessment should be made but the employee can do this.
It should consider but not be limited to:
- The seating and layout of the workstation;
- Testing of electrical equipment;
- Physical dangers such as trailing leads; and
- Lighting levels, ventilation and room temperature (e.g. dry-eye syndrome or repetitive strain injury)
You may also want to consider scheduling virtual check-ups and progress updates to ensure that home workers are working diligently and are not encountering any problems whilst working from home.
From an employee perspective, they should be made aware of the negative health effects of social isolation and be given tips to avoid things such as prolonged time at their desk without rest breaks and exercise, which can lead to burnout.
This should include the following:
- Use technology such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to maintain social interactions and build workplace relationships;
- Maintain a certain level of physical activity;
- Establish a working routine and build in breaks;
- Set working boundaries; and
- Reach out to line managers for support.
emRemember this is new territory for most businesses and you will inevitably encounter problems along the way. However, it is important that you face the new hybrid world of work, manage expectations and take legal advice where necessary.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article with one of our employment lawyers please do get in touch.