Legal Updates

Following a recent increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, government guidance for England has moved away from encouraging staff to get back to the office. Instead, the current guidance is for office workers who can work effectively from home to do so over the winter. This aligns with the position in the rest of the UK. So with home working set to continue as the norm for office workers, what are the top five issues that employers should bear in mind?

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Work station assessments and equipment

Employers' health and safety obligations to employees apply equally whether they are in the office or at home. The most obvious of these relates to home work stations. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) acknowledges that home work station assessments are not needed for 'temporary' homeworking. Nevertheless, it is prudent to provide basic home work station checklists for staff to complete and return and to discuss arrangements with them regularly to ensure that homeworking is not adversely affecting their health, safety and welfare. There are a number of simple measures in the checklists that can be taken to improve work stations and they are freely available on the HSE’s website. The HSE has confirmed that full work station risk assessments will be required for long-term home working, as well as providing homeworkers with appropriate equipment and advice. As with office equipment, employers are required to ensure that equipment provided for homeworking is safe.

Reviewing or carrying out assessments and implementing control measures will also help to manage complaints and personal injury claims. It would be prudent, therefore, to:

  • communicate the contact details of health and safety representatives if any concerns need to be reported so that they can be investigated; and
  • provide information and training on working safely at home, for example, stress, first aid, and workstation set up.                                                    

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Have you asked home working employees to complete and return work station checklists?
  • Have home working staff been given appropriate information and training?
  • Are you having regular discussions with staff to check they are able to work from home effectively and safely?
  • Have you reviewed your health and safety risk assessments to include long-term home working by staff?

The risks of lone working

Lone working is an important risk factor to consider. The HSE considers that there will always be greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong. Employers should have a system of regular communication with all staff in place whilst they work from home, train staff to spot signs of stress, and communicate emergency points of contact.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Are you satisfied that lone workers have the support they need?

Employers' liability insurance

Employers should check the wording of their employers’ liability insurance policy to ensure it covers claims arising during the course of employment and not just at the physical premises of the employer. As it is an annual policy, it would also be worth flagging current or anticipated changes to working practices as part of the renewal process.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Have you checked your employers' liability insurance covers regular home working?

May employees be allowed to come in to the office?

The government guidance is that office workers who can "work effectively" from home should do so. However, some staff may wish to come into the office, for example because they struggle to work at home for logistical or personal reasons. Provided the employer has completed a risk assessment and is comfortable that it has a COVID-secure workplace, then if employees have a good reason for not being able to work effectively from home, employers can allow them to work in the office. If an employee's mental health will genuinely suffer as a result of working from home, meaning that they cannot work effectively, then this may be legitimate. Employers should also consider other ways in which they can help to support these feelings of isolation, such as regular check-ins, monitoring, employee support networks and manager training.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Are you satisfied that you have created a COVID-secure workplace?
  • Is there more support you could offer home working employees who are feeling isolated?

Preparing a home working policy

If your organisation is planning for a future which will involve homeworking on a longer term basis then you should consider having a detailed homeworking policy. As well as covering health and safety matters, such a policy could also cover managing and supervising employees, tax and insurance as well as data protection and confidentiality. Please reach out to our team if you need any assistance with drafting or tailoring an appropriate policy.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Are you anticipating a move to long-term home working beyond the current crisis?
  • Would a formal home working policy help to draw all the relevant issues together?

If you would like further information on any of the issues raised above, please contact any of the people listed below.

Key Contacts

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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