Employer and employee obligations for homeworking

Hundreds of thousands of UK workers have made the move to homeworking follow the Government’s ‘stay at home’ guidance and have been fulfilling their work duties from home for weeks. 

However, the sudden change to homeworking means that some employers and their employees may not be fully aware of their legal obligations under these arrangements. 

To help you gain a greater appreciation of each party’s requirements and rights, we have looked at and provided answers to seem key homeworking questions. 

As an employer what are my health and safety obligations when it comes to home working?

You cannot monitor employees 24 hours a day while they are working at home or even carry out regular health and safety risk assessments, but you are still expected to meet certain obligations when it comes to health and safety.

As such, where possible, you should:

  • check that each employee feels the work they’re being asked to do can be done safely at home and that they have the right equipment
  • keep in regular contact with employees to make sure they do not feel isolated or under supported
  • make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for an employee who has a disability.

Where a change is needed, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure it is carried out properly. However, it is not the sole responsibility of employers to ensure that health and safety rules are observed and employees must tell their manager about any health and safety risks and/or any homeworking arrangements that need to change as a result of health and safety concerns.

Health and safety typically focuses on physical health, but what are my expectations regarding employees’ mental health?

The social distancing measures needed to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection has led to a significant rise in mental health issues among the UK population. Employers have a general obligation to ensure their employees come to no harm while working. 

As such they should be encouraging employees to take regular breaks, for example, to avoid sitting at a computer for too long.

They may also wish to, but are not required to, provide activities that alleviate stress and anxiety, this may be achieved their internal communications. Examples include hosting quizzes, holding lockdown bake-offs and video conferencing.

My employee requires certain equipment/technology to fulfil their role, am I required to provide this?

Employers are responsible for all equipment and technology provided to employees that allows them to work from home. As such, they should:

  • discuss equipment and technology requirements with employees and agree what is needed
  • support the employee to set up any new equipment or technology.

Employers should also regularly assess how systems and temporary arrangements are working and make improvements if necessary, to ensure employees are supported. 

The performance of an employee appears to have been affected by home working, what should I do?

Employers and managers have a responsibility to ensure that those working from home know what is expected of them.

As such they should agree:

  • hours of work
  • how they will communicate
  • how their work-life balance will be managed
  • rules around storing information and data protection
  • how performance is managed and measured.

Employers should recognise that some employees may find homeworking difficult or struggle to organise themselves while working at home. Employers should discuss this with employees at the earliest opportunity and put practical steps in place that are designed to improve their performance. 

How does homeworking affect pay and the terms and conditions of employment?

If an employee is working from home, they must still receive the same rate of pay, as long as they are still working their regular contracted hours.

During this period, their usual terms and conditions of employment still apply, apart from their place of work. It is also important that employers ensure staff follow the law on working hours and take breaks. 

My employee is having to juggle childcare and working from home, what are the rules regarding this?

With schools and nurseries closed and other family members unable to look after children, many working families may be finding it difficult to balance childcare and working from home. 

If this is the case, then employers and employees may be able to agree a more flexible homeworking arrangement. This could include:

  • working different hours
  • agreeing to a reduced working week
  • reducing work targets
  • being flexible about deadlines, where possible.

It is important that employees discuss any change in circumstance regarding care, be it for a child or vulnerable adult, with their employer so that they can agree on working arrangements and expectations. 

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