Coronavirus: Homeworking

Many employees are still working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The following FAQs look at the main issues for employers in relation to homeworking in these circumstances.

Contents

Homeworking policy

You should have a homeworking policy setting out your approach to the issues associated with homeworking in light of coronavirus. If you already have a homeworking policy, you may need to adapt this or consider producing a separate 'temporary COVID-19 homeworking policy'. We have an example temporary homeworking policy.

Our main Homeworking page has detailed FAQs aimed at long-term homeworking, and includes a long-term homeworking policy and a homeworking contract of employment.

Who is responsible for meeting the costs associated with homeworking?

In a normal homeworking arrangement, you would agree with the employee at the outset who will provide equipment and be responsible for meeting any other costs associated with homeworking, perhaps in line with any homeworking policy you have - the position for long-term homeworking is discussed on our main Homeworking page.

However, in the current situation, many employees will not have worked from home before. If this is the case, and you are now asking them to work from home, you should provide the equipment they need for this, such as a laptop / computer; mouse; keyboard. You should ensure they have all the equipment they need to work safely - so, for example, if an employee needs an ergonomic mouse for health and safety reasons, you should meet the cost of this.

Clarify your position as regards other costs, such as heating, lighting, electricity, internet charges or printing. Employees may be making savings as a result of reduced travel costs, which could potentially be offset against any such additional expenditure. Our example temporary homeworking policy includes different options. Be consistent in your approach, unless an employee's circumstances (such as a disability) mean it is appropriate to adjust your policy. If you are offering additional payments in respect of homeworking expenses, consider your tax, national insurance and reporting obligations.

Insurance, mortgage and rent agreements

You should obtain confirmation from your insurer that your employers’ liability insurance covers homeworking. This should also cover you against claims by a third party. 

Does your insurance cover the homeworking equipment?

Check with the homeworker whether:

  • There are any restrictions on working from home in terms of their mortgage/lease. If so, they should obtain written permission from the relevant parties to work from home.
  • Working from home will affect their buildings and contents insurance - they may at least need to notify their insurer.

Can employees use their own equipment when homeworking?

It is usually preferable that employees don't use their own equipment for work purposes. If you are asking employees to use their own equipment, consider, for example:

  • Data protection risks - you should carry out a data protection impact assessment.
  • How can you separate company and personal information, and minimise any access you have to an employee's personal information?
  • How can you protect confidential company information? How can you protect personal data? How can you prevent other individuals in the household from accessing these?
  • Is the device vulnerable to hacking?
  • What security measures can you install on employees' devices? Do they have proper virus protection?
  • What if a device is lost or stolen?
  • What if the equipment breaks, and you cannot retrieve information?
  • If an employee leaves, will you ask them to wipe information from their device?

See the Information Commissioner's: issues you should consider if staff use their own device.

Ideally, you should have a 'bring your own device policy' setting out how you will manage the relevant issues.

Data protection and confidential information

You will need to ensure that homeworkers can process and store data in line with your data protection obligations. You will also want to ensure that confidential information is protected. Communicate your standards clearly, including on IT security, maintaining confidentiality when working in a shared space (particularly during telephone or video calls) and appropriate storage and destruction of documents if these are printed. You may need to provide additional IT equipment and introduce specific policies on data security and confidentiality when working from home.

More detailed guidance is on our main Homeworking page.

You can also find further information at: 

Homeworking: working hours and breaks

Whilst working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, employees should continue to work their normal contracted hours, unless you have agreed to vary these, for example, to assist employees with childcare responsibilities (see also our Coronavirus FAQ: Childcare issues).

You should advise employees (via a temporary home working policy, or other written communication) that whilst working from home it is their responsibility to regulate their working time and take the breaks to which they are entitled. Our page Rest periods and rest breaks sets out the minimum rest periods and breaks to which workers are entitled.

Homeworking: health and safety - general  

As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers as for any other workers. This means that you have a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure their health, safety and welfare. 

As such, you should assess the physical and mental health risks associated with homeworking, and implement control measures to reduce these risks.

You should take steps to, for example:

  • Reduce the risks (such as musculoskeletal aches and pains) associated with home workstations - see below.
  • Remind workers to regulate their working time and take adequate breaks - see above.
  • Manage mental health issues - see below.

In particular, consider the risks posed to particular groups who may be at higher risk or require additional equipment in order to carry out their work safely from home e.g. new or expectant mothers or those with known disabilities / medical conditions. You have specific obligations regarding the health and safety of new and expectant mothers, and may need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

Retain documentary evidence 

Retain documentary evidence related to your management of homeworking, such as:

  • Policies and communications issues to workers
  • Advice issued (to groups, or individually) regarding taking regular breaks, and home workstation set up 
  • Completed home workstation assessments (where required)
  • Documents regarding the supply of equipment such as monitors, keyboards, footrests
  • Steps taken regarding mental health support, for example, mentor meetings
  • Correspondence / notes from discussions about individual issues.

Homeworking: health and safety - display screen equipment and workstations

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identifies risks including fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache from overuse or improper use of display screen equipment (DSE) or poorly designed workstations or work environments.

'Temporary' homeworking

The HSE states that there is no increased risk from the use of display screen equipment for those working at home 'temporarily', and in that situation you don't need to carry out an individual home workstation assessment for each employee working at home.

However, you should provide those working at home temporarily with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. There is a link to a workstation checklist you could use on the HSE homeworking page. There is also NHS guidance on correct workstation postures which you could issue to workers.

You should advise all workers of the steps recommended by the HSE to reduce the risks from display screen work:

  • break up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
  • avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • get up and move or do stretching exercises
  • avoid eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time.

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors has published infographics (PDF)- Portable Document Format to help people working at home.

Many homeworkers will also be homeschooling their children, and possibly sitting for even longer periods than usual. Factor these other aspects of home life into the advice you provide.  

We discuss below when 'temporary' homeworking is likely to become 'long-term'.

Specialised DSE equipment needs

If workers require special equipment, you should make arrangements to provide this, for example, by allowing them to take equipment home from the workplace (eg. keyboard, mouse), or arranging for it to be delivered to them. In considering the need for special equipment, bear in mind in particular:

Keep your arrangements under review

You should keep DSE arrangements under review, and have regular discussions with workers, to assess whether additional steps are necessary. If a worker reports a DSE issue, or homeworking moves from being temporary to 'long-term', you will need to take additional steps - discussed below.

If a worker reports a DSE issue

Whether homeworking is temporary or permanent, if a worker reports an issue, you will have to manage this. Issues could include, for example:

  • aches, pains or discomfort related to their temporary DSE arrangements
  • adverse effects of working in isolation
  • working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks.

The HSE has detailed information on DSE duties.

When does 'temporary' homeworking become 'long-term'?

This will depend on your organisation's circumstances, and the circumstances of individual workers. The longer working from home continues, the more likely that it will be classed as 'long-term'.

For some workers, who are likely to return to the workplace in the near future, the current period of homeworking will still be 'temporary'.

However, for others, it might be clear that it is now likely to be 'long-term' - perhaps because COVID-19 restrictions mean a return to work is unlikely for some time to come, or because an individual has agreed with you that they will now work from home for a significant further period, or permanently.

If you would like advice on whether homeworking is now likely to be classed as 'long-term' for any of your workers, please contact us.

If homeworking becomes 'long-term'...

If homeworking becomes 'long-term' for any worker, you should carry out an individual DSE workstation assessment to identify risks, and then control these risks (for example, by providing appropriate equipment). If you need to carry out the workstation assessment remotely, you could ask the worker to send a photo or short video of their workstation. You should also provide information, instruction and training to workers on the risks associated with using DSE equipment, including guidance on how to set up their workstation correctly.

The HSE has detailed information on DSE duties.

Homeworking: health and safety - equipment, ventilation, temperature, lighting, first aid, electrical equipment and accidents

Equipment you supply to homeworkers must be suitable for its purpose, maintained in good working order and inspected regularly. 

Your responsibilities as regards ventilation, temperature, lighting, first aid, electrical equipment and accidents are discussed at Health & Safety: Homeworking

Homeworking: health and safety - mental health

Many workers will not have worked from home for a prolonged period before and the sudden shift to homeworking during the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to have involved a significant adjustment, particularly for those with caring responsibilities.

Homeworking without direct supervision can also feel daunting, particularly for more junior members of staff. It could also increase the risks of work-related stress and other mental health issues such as anxiety. In addition, lone workers may be more prone to loneliness and may feel isolated from their colleagues, which can affect stress levels and mental health.

There are a range of things you can do to help reduce the risks that prolonged periods of homeworking can have on workers' mental health and wellbeing. For example:

  • Put procedures in place so you can keep in direct contact with homeworkers and recognise signs of stress as early as possible.
  • Regular team meetings and contact with line managers may help.
  • Clarify how workers can get assistance and guidance if they need it (e.g. via a contact in the HR team or information on your intranet).

You can listen to our podcast: COVID-19, homeworking and employee mental wellbeing. Our main Workbox page on Homeworking includes more detail on managing stress, mental health and wellbeing, and also see the Workbox pages on Stress at Work and Mental ill health.

Homeworking abroad: what are the implications?

Some employees might want to work abroad while workplaces remain closed - with family or based at a holiday home for example. Doing so has potential employment, tax and immigration implications. A checklist of the issues to be aware of is set out in our blog.

Can we carry out disciplinary / performance management meetings etc. remotely? 

You can carry out remote meetings by phone / video call while your employees are working from home.

Ensure the process is still fair and reasonable overall. For example: 

  • Can everyone access the necessary technology?
  • Do you need to make reasonable adjustments on account of a disability?
  • Can evidence be gathered? Is there evidence in a workplace which cannot be accessed?
  • Can evidence be viewed clearly, and can people be fairly assessed and questioned remotely?
  • Apply your usual procedures in terms of fairness, for example, give appropriate notice of meetings and issue written confirmation of decisions as your normally would.
  • If the type of meeting means there is a statutory right to be accompanied, you will need to accommodate this by allowing the companion to join in the call / video, bearing in mind that the meeting might need to be adjourned to allow the employee and their companion to confer.

In terms of recording video call meetings, see our blog: Can employers record video call disciplinary & other employee meetings?

If an employee is on furlough, see our FAQ: Can we carry out disciplinaries / grievances with furloughed employees?

Ending homeworking and returning to the workplace?

The point at which your employees return to the workplace will depend on how current legislation and government guidance impacts on your business. The position may differ depending on where your business is situated in the UK. If you have workplaces in different areas of the country, you will need to consider the appropriate guidance relevant to each workplace to ensure your return to work plans are compliant. 

You should therefore keep up to date with the latest developments on:

  • Which workplaces must remain closed and who must continue working from home?
  • Health and safety for workplaces that are open, or planning to reopen
  • Managing higher-risk employees.

What if staff don't want to return to the workplace? What if we, or employees, want to make homeworking a permanent arrangement?

Our Coronavirus: FAQs for employers includes a section covering: Who can come to work, and how do we manage different scenarios. It has advice regarding a return to the workplace for those with underlying health conditions; who are pregnant; or aged 70+. It also considers employees who live with vulnerable individuals; those with childcare issues; and people who are otherwise concerned about coming to work.

Separately from these situations, however, there may be employees who are enjoying working from home, and who want to continue to do so for some, or even all, of their working hours. Employees with at least 26 weeks' service can make a flexible working request, which could include a request to work from home. Workbox includes detailed advice on managing flexible working requests. You can only refuse a request for flexible working if one of the statutory prescribed business reasons applies (see Flexible Working: Refusing), however, you would need to consider requests in light of the arrangements that have been in place during lockdown. 

On the other hand, as an employer, you may decide that you want employees to work from home (either for some or all of their contracted hours) on a permanent basis. Our Workbox section on Relocation discusses the circumstances in which you can rely on 'mobility clauses' (which state that you can change the place of work) and what to do if there is no mobility clause in the contract.

Our main Homeworking page includes examples of potential pros and cons of homeworking for both employers and employees, and other issues to consider if you are moving to long-term homeworking.