Ten top tips on homeworking: Legal and contractual considerations

As the coronavirus crisis deepens, the latest advice from the UK Government is that people should work from home wherever possible. I am therefore posting some sets of guidelines for employers on the subject of homeworking, based on tip sheets published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Today’s post covers the legal and contractual aspects of homeworking that companies need to address.

1. Review your homeworking policy

Make sure it addresses how employees will be supervised, how the organisation and line managers will communicate with them, and how performance and output will be monitored. The homeworking arrangement may be confirmed by a consent form, a detailed homeworking arrangement, or amendments to the employee’s contract.

2. Confirm employee rights

You must treat homeworkers the same as office-based staff, giving them equal access to development and promotion opportunities. Consult the relevant trade union, if any, to ensure equal treatment for these workers. In the current context, it may be prudent to expressly state that any changes are temporary and that the employee will, if applicable, return to office-based working once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

3. Confirm contact methods and regularity

Advise homeworkers to establish when and how they will have contact with their manager. Reporting in at regular times can also help combat isolation and stress.

4. Providing equipment

There is no obligation for employers to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home. However, given the latest Government advice, employers should do what they can to enable homeworking. It is prudent to list the equipment that has been supplied in the homeworking agreement, consent or policy. Remember that provision of equipment could be a reasonable adjustment for some disabled employees, and may be the safest option at this time for those with existing health conditions or pregnant employees.

5. IT and broadband

You should confirm in the contractual arrangements whether your employee is expected to cover the broadband cost (plus heating and lighting), or if you will contribute towards these costs and, if so, to what extent. You should also confirm any IT support (likely to be remote at this time) and responsibility for repair or replacement if the employee’s equipment is used.

6. Think about health and safety obligations

Employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare, even when they are working from home. You need to make sure that your homeworkers are knowledgeable about health and safety, and that they comply with your organisation’s health and safety policy.

Employers may remind staff that they should ensure a suitable and safe environment where they can focus on work. Remind employees that they should continue to comply with your sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work.

7. Carry out risk assessment

Employers should usually conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including those employees working from home. However, at this time, undertaking physical risk assessments of each employee’s home will not feasible, so you could use electronic risk assessment questions instead.

It is the employee’s responsibility to address any flaws in the home revealed by the assessment. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also puts some responsibility on the homeworker to ensure that they and members of the household are not endangered by work activities undertaken at home.

8. Review working time and length of period

Will employees need to be available for work during strict office hours, or work a set number of hours per day? There may be more flexibility over working hours in a work-from-home arrangement, but you should still comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998, including those concerning the working week and daily rest break. Instruct managers to look out for signs of overwork.

9. Clarify salary, benefits, insurance, tax

Salary and benefits should obviously remain the same during a period of homeworking, although changes to expenses may be appropriate if normal travel expenses and allowances are no longer needed. Usually it is the employee’s responsibility check that no issues arise with their mortgage provider, landlord, local authority, HMRC tax office or home insurer when working from home. In this unprecedented situation it is hoped that any issues, for example increases in house insurance premiums, would be minimal, but it is prudent for employees to check. The employer may need to check that its insurance covers business equipment in the homeworker’s premises.

10. Data protection

Employers should make sure that data protection obligations are maintained. An employee using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers should remind employees about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding, etc.

If you have any questions about the legal aspects of homeworking, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.

My next post in this series will explain how to conduct effective online meetings.