Temporary Home Working as a Response to Corona Virus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Introduction

Where a business does not have formal home working arrangements in place for employees but is now faced with the need to put such arrangements in place quickly and expediently, they will need to consider a range of issues to allow this to happen effectively.

Even if formal arrangements are in place for existing homeworking staff, the urgent need to expand homeworking to a wider pool of employees will require a pragmatic and efficient approach by all parties.

Below is a list of factors which need to be considered, as well as guidance and links to documentation which may be of assistance.

Employers are advised to communicate, in writing, with staff, setting out the issues and practical implications of the temporary home working arrangements. The communication should enforce the fact that the arrangements are temporary, due to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, and that they will be reviewed regularly and may be ceased with little or no notice.

As well as a general communication it will be essential to liaise with each employee individually to assess their situation. Their ability to effectively work at home will depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The role they perform and whether that work can take place in a home setting;
  • The facilities that the employee has available to them at home;
  • The health status of the employee and their immediate family/others they live with or care for;
  • Whether the employee or their partner is pregnant;
  • The employee’s childcare responsibilities and potential arrangements they may have in place should nurseries/schools close.

Workload

By breaking down the role and/or reviewing the job tasks the employee and line manager can identify which business tasks can be performed at home and those that cannot.

It is unlikely that all an employee’s tasks can be carried out at home and therefore the business will need to recognise that staff working from home will not be performing to their full capacity/efficiency. The employer will need to decide what is considered an acceptable level of productivity for homeworking to be applicable.

Employers will need to assess the length of time that employees can work from home before the employee’s work productivity is seriously affected.

Employers will need to consider arrangements for work to be delivered to and collected from the employees’ home if needed, and clarify who is responsible for this arrangement and how/when this will take place.

Data Protection

If the employee’s job involves dealing with confidential or sensitive information, the employer will need to assess, with the employee, what steps are needed to ensure that all working arrangements are secure and any documentation to be held in the home will not be subject to breaches of confidentiality. Additional training in GDPR Policy may be necessary.

Communication

Employers and employees need to consider all communication options available to them, and agree methods and a timetable of appropriate communication.

Maintaining a sense of continuity will be important for employees, for example embracing virtual meetings and encouraging video calling can help replicate normal in-person conversations.   Employers should, consider short but regular team meetings to check in on the well-being of the team, address any concerns and keep workflow on track.

Equipment

Requirements

Employers will need to identify what equipment can be provided by the employee and what must be provided by the employer. This will be different for each employee, dependant on their circumstances, but may include:

  • Telephone/ mobile phone;
  • Broadband/internet connection/wireless;
  • IT equipment including PC, laptops, printer, fax;
  • Furniture including desk, chair, lockable drawers etc;
  • Consumables, such as printer paper and ink, and stationary.

If an employee will need to use their own personal equipment for work purposes, employers should discuss and clarify as soon as possible who will be liable for any loss, damage, repair or replacement of such equipment.

Installation of new equipment or software

In such unprecedented times it may not be possible for a full installation by a company representative so employers and employees need to identify what needs to be put in place in the immediate situation and who can do so. Employees need to be aware that they need to take reasonable care of any company equipment and only use it for Company business, in line with any relevant IT/Phone policies.

Problem resolution

Employers should consider how and when support/advice will be made available to employees to deal with either IT problems or other specific work queries. This will need to be communicated to employees.

Training and support

Employers must identify any employees who need additional training or support to work from home or to use any remote working systems. This includes any employees with reasonable adjustment needs. Employers will also need to identify who will carry out any such training or support.

Health and Safety

Employers will need to ensure employees understand that, whilst working at home, they must take reasonable care to ensure that they work in a safe working environment. Employees should be advised that they are responsible for day-to-day health and safety issues, for reporting any concerns to the employer and for reporting any accidents immediately to the nominated person set out in the Employer’s Health and Safety Policy.

Guidance for employers on homeworking, from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can be found here https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg226.pdf

Risk Assessment

It is usually advisable for a full risk assessment of the home workplace to take place prior to the commencement of home working. Under the current exceptional circumstances, this may not be practical or possible, therefore the employer may require self-assessment of the some aspects of the workplace with support and guidance provided by line management to allow immediate commencement of the arrangements.

If the homeworking arrangements extend, it would be advisable for a full risk assessment to take place, using a trained assessor. Online or external providers may be able to provide such a service if this is not available within the employer workforce.

Any necessary steps identified from these risk assessments must be undertaken to ensure the employee has a safe workplace.

Display Screen Equipment risk assessment – https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.htm

A full detailed home working risk assessment can be provided by Clover HR

Electrical equipment

Employers must ensure that company electrical equipment provided to employees to use at home have been checked for safety. Employees should be advised that they are responsible for any other electrical equipment used by them in their work activities and will continue to be responsible for the safety of electrical sockets and wiring in their home.

Insurance

Employers will need to consider what the insurance implications are for both themselves and the employee.

These may include:

  • The cover relating to company equipment supplied to employees in their home;
  • Who is responsible for the employee’s personal equipment used for work purposes;
  • Employer’s Liability policy in respect of injury arising out of and in the course of employment at home;
  • The employee must check his or her home and contents insurance policies and any mortgage/rental agreements to make sure they do not prohibit homeworking or invalidate the policies. They should contact the providers to discuss temporary arrangements.

Expenses

The employer may already have arrangements in place to detail what expenses are covered and what are not. However, during these temporary arrangements the employer may need to consider if they will contribute to some of the costs of the employee’s home working – for example; electricity, telephone, broadband for those staff who are working temporarily from home.

In the absence of any specific policy it would be advisable to confirm the employees that any reasonable expenses incurred by the employee may be reimbursed at the Company’s discretion, to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Hours – Working time/hours

It will be important for the employer to communicate whether the employee is expected to continue to work their core contracted hours, where appropriate, or whether there can be flexibility as to when those hours are worked.

In the event that there are no fixed hours, it may nevertheless be appropriate to agree with the employee that they will be available at set times (core hours) so that contact can be made.

Employees should be reminded of the need to ensure that appropriate work breaks are taken.

Sickness and Holidays

Employers should remind employees normal procedures would continue to apply in relation to the booking of holidays and the reporting of sickness absence. Where an employee is unable to work at home due to sickness, they will be required to make contact with their line manager to advise them.

Wellbeing

Home working can be isolating and challenging under normal circumstances. During such exceptional circumstances as are presently faced, employees who traditionally spend their working day with others, may find they are faced with the double challenge of dealing with their fears and anxieties, without the support of their colleagues.

Employers should be mindful of this fact, taking every opportunity to check on employees who are working at home and promoting networking and communication amongst employees.

Where an employer has access to wellbeing services, they should increase communication and promotion to ensure all staff are aware of the services on offer. Where such services are not provided by the employer, they can promote the spread of accurate information by directing staff to the government and NHS websites.

If you would like to understand more about home working or require advice on other people management matters please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

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