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Working from home: what are my obligations as an employer?

As the UK continues its efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, the number of people working exclusively from home is inevitably rising.

With different areas of the country going in and out of various levels of lockdown, and as we all try to adhere to the government’s guidance on social distancing, this is a trend that is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

Despite the change in working arrangements for many employees, the law relating to employee safety, discrimination and employee rights remains the same. So what are your obligations to your employees when they are working remotely?

Wards Solicitors’ highly experienced team of Employment lawyers can guide you through your general and specific duties if you are faced with these circumstances.

What are my general duties for home working?

Employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. This includes providing and maintaining a safe working environment irrespective of where that work is carried out.

Do we need to carry out a home risk assessment?

There may be circumstances where this becomes a specific requirement, such as for disabled or pregnant employees. Although there is no duty to risk assess everyone’s dining room table or sofa, advice and training should be provided to ensure you are doing all you reasonably can to ensure the safety of your employees.

It may be sensible to ask your employees to carry out a self-assessment of their working set-up at home and report back so they can address any issues you pinpoint.

This would help to ensure;

  • They have the right equipment to work safely such as IT equipment, a suitable chair and desk and are not doing anything to damage their physical or mental health, or otherwise placing themselves at risk;
  • The type of work that you are asking your employees to do out can be carried out safely;
  • You ensure that they have training on the importance of things like good posture at the computer, taking regular breaks and getting fresh air;
  • You maintain regular and open communication to ensure that they do not feel isolated and are supported in their roles.

How do I set and monitor my expectations?

Switching from office to home working can be challenging in a variety of different ways, so setting out exactly how you expect work to be allocated, carried out and supervised is critical. You need to talk to your employees regularly and ensure that they understand how to go to if they have questions. This includes providing effective IT support.

Their productivity and output may need to be monitored in more creative ways, but open communication should help to build trust and demonstrate how adaptable the type of work is to a different way of working.

Enabling a work/life balance of your employees is key, not only for their health, but also to avoid the risk of possible legal action which can arise out of breaching your legal obligations to your employees. Therefore, ensuring that they understand how and when to switch off from working is essential.

Finally, make sure that they understand the IT, data protection and grievance procedures and who to contact where necessary.

Are there different rules for pregnant homeworkers?

Pregnant employees have been advised to socially isolate, avoid travelling on public transport and work from home where possible.

As a result, every effort should be made to facilitate this. There is a specific obligation on employers to risk assess the working environment for employees who are pregnant and so you will have to consider very seriously how this can be undertaken, without creating any additional risk of contact if you decide to carry out a home visit. You may find that discussing the potential risks with the employee and ensuring that any are mitigated is likely to be sufficient.

What should I do differently for disabled employees?

A survey in June 2020 by UNISON found that 53% of disabled people working from home during the pandemic said their employer had made no adjustments to support them.

It is a legal requirement to ensure that any disadvantages experienced by disabled employees are removed, where this can reasonably be done.

This might include providing them with additional equipment to enable them to do their job, or adjusting their workloads or working hours to support them.

Get in touch

Talking to your employees directly is the best way to try to assess and remove any risks. Your duty is to ensure that they are working in a safe and suitable working environment and this must not be bypassed.

For help and advice on any legal issues related to managing working from home, please contact Wards Solicitors’ specialist employment lawyers, Joe Nicholls or Matthew Warren.

Contact Joe.Nicholls@wards.uk.com or Matthew.Warren@wards.uk.com telephone 0117 929 2811

 

 

 

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