Establishing a Home Working Policy
Prior to 22nd September, many firms were starting to bring their employees back into the workplace, either full-time or on a part-time rota basis to facilitate social distancing.
However, with the announcement by the Prime Minister that, wherever possible, employees should work from home, the return to work has been delayed, at least for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, businesses planning for the long-term face one of several options – bring all employees back into the workplace, establish a rota system to ensure social distancing in the workplace can be carried out, or move to an entirely home-based working system. Different businesses will prefer different approaches and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
What will be needed, however, is an updated and detailed home-working policy to ensure that everyone is aware of what is required and expected of them in the future. To this end, all employees should be made aware of the existence of the home working policy, and be clear on its contents, before they begin working from home.
What the policy needs to cover
There is not a great deal of difference between home and office-based working. The same work is being carried out, just in a different location. A good policy will cover several important areas:
The policy needs to set out what is expected of both employers and managers, covering such areas as:
The days and hours the employee will be available to work
The format that communications will take to enable them to keep in regular contact - such as company mobile phone, email, Zoom/Skype, Microsoft Teams etc.
The management of the work-life balance, such as taking regular screen breaks and switching off from work at the end of the day
Ensuring information is stored securely, and data protection is maintained
How performance will be measured, and managed
Who employees should contact if they have any problems
Despite the different location, employees who are working from home must get the same rate of pay if they are working their usual hours, and their usual terms and conditions of employment will still apply.
Home-working employees can often feel isolated and alone; this is not necessarily related to lockdown or other social distancing measures but can occur as a result of the change in frequency and type of social connections, and is one of the reasons why some employees opt for a return to office-based working. Therefore, regular communication is important, especially between groups of people who would otherwise have daily contact in the office environment, such as:
Individual employees and their line managers
Employees who need to work together, such as in defined teams or projects
Employees and their HR department
Employers need to make sure staff working from home follow the maximum weekly working hours limit set out in the Working Time Regulations (1998) regarding their working hours, and adhere to compulsory rest and screen breaks, as all of these things still apply as though the employee was working in the office.
Health and Safety
It can be easy for employees to forget to take regular screen breaks when working from home. However, the employee must be reminded of their duty of care towards themselves under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The employer will need to complete a DSE risk assessment of the employee’s homework station, along with any relevant home working risk assessment.
Home working expenses
As a result of working from home, an employee may occur additional household expenses such as an increase in their utility bills electricity, heating, telephone calls and broadband. Therefore, the employer needs to factor this into their working from home policy to be clear whether the company will contribute towards these additional costs.
IT and Data Security
The working from home policy should also explain the rules around the use of IT equipment that the employee is to take home for the purpose of home working, including the responsibility for setting up that equipment - will the employer pay for a contractor to complete the setup or will the employee be required to set their equipment up themselves?
It should be made clear what the procedure will be in the event of an IT problem occurring while working from home, and how this should be reported. It is important to remember that any broadband or internet problems which occur at the employee’s property are outside the employer’s control.
Employers will need to check their business insurance to ensure they are covered for employees working from home, and also for the company equipment that the employee will be using.
For the employee, the working from home policy should remind them that it is their responsibility to check that there are no issues with them working from home, with their:
home insurance provider
contents insurance provider
mortgage provider, landlord or tenancy agreement
This has been a quick guide to the basics of a home working policy. Many policies will need to be individually tailored to the requirements of the specific employer. We would encourage you to speak to a legal adviser to ensure that your policy is correctly worded and drafted and does not inadvertently leave you open to a claim in future.
Kiri Thompson, Hr Advisor at rradar