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 may not be fully aware of their legal obligations under these arrangements.

To help you gain a greater appreciation of your obligations have provided answers to some 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.

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

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

The social distancing measures needed to reduce the rate of COVID-19 pandemic have led to a significant rise in mental health issues among the UK population. As an employer you have a general obligation to, so far as reasonably practicable, ensure your employees come to no harm while working. This applies to mental health as well physical health.

As such you should be encouraging employees to take regular breaks and social interaction with other remote working colleagues.

You might want to provide activities that alleviate stress and anxiety. We have seen examples of this by employers 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?

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

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

You 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?

You (and your managers) have a responsibility to ensure that those working from home know what is expected of them.

You should make it clear with your employee:

  • 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.

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

Having group discussions by video conferencing could help to identify best practice and what might be improved.

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 you 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 you should discuss with your employees there is scope, on a temporary basis, for more flexibility in the homeworking arrangement. This could include:

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

It is important that your employees discuss any changes in circumstance regarding care, be it for a child or vulnerable adult, with you. It is there obligation to be available to work and to work. Homeworking is not a substitute for childcare. As an employer you should try and be as flexible as you reasonably can during these exceptional circumstance. You should clear on working arrangements and expectations.