Last month, we looked at the benefits and drawbacks of agile working. This time, we’ll examine what the law says about putting agile working systems into place.
Key issues for employers
Employers need to consider several key areas when they institute agile working for some or all of their employees:
Health and safety
Regardless of where the employee is actually working, their employer is responsible for their health, safety and welfare, subject to the caveat “so far as is reasonably practicable”. This means risk assessments need to be carried out on work activities that the employee carries out at home. Consideration should be given to
specialist equipment and its health and safety implications,
first aid arrangements and
Data protection and security
Whilst data protection can be relatively easily controlled in an office environment, with firewalls, virus protection and other security measures, the employee’s home computer might not be so secure. When the issue of confidential information is thrown into the mix, things become even more complicated.
Employers will need to look at the home environment, including the computer equipment being used and the people who have access to it. It may be that the equipment and the location in which it is stored and used need be secured to ensure no unauthorised access is gained to confidential information.
Similarly, the employee’s home as a building should be assessed – if there is a break-in, would the information held on computers be secure?
Insurance and consents
Insurance is often overlooked when considering home working. The employer’s liability insurance may not actually cover employees working from home – if this is the case, it needs to be updated as soon as possible. If insurance does exist for home working, employers need to ensure that they do not inadvertently invalidate it through their actions or lack of action.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the employee’s mortgage providers may need to be consulted regarding any home working that takes place.
Whilst employers will be keen to ensure that their staff work as productively at home as they do at the office, they need to remember that there is a fixed limit on an employee’s working week (currently 48 hours) – steps need to be taken to ensure that workers don’t exceed this, either because they want to or because they think their employer wants them to.
Within that 48-hour limit, there will be hours when the employee is specifically expected to be at work. Whilst office-base employees can clock in and out, the situation is different with home workers; the employer will have a variety of different working time models at their disposal:
complete flexibility over when they work,
certain "core hours" when they must be available.
Whilst avoiding the charge of excessive monitoring of the home worker, the employer may wish to be able to monitor the employee’s use of their time, unless they have trust in their staff. Although they may start out with a low level of monitoring and a high level of trust, it only takes one abuse of the system for increased monitoring to be introduced. What effect will this have on relations between the employer and employee?
The move to agile working is a big one and often proves a step too far for employers if introduced en bloc. It may prove easier to implement if brought it either for a trial period or for particular groups of employees so that its success (or otherwise) can be monitored and assessed.
Employers should also ensure that they reserve the right to revert to an office working arrangement should it be deemed necessary.