Julian cole portrait.

Julian Cole

Senior Solicitor

Phone 01264 353411

Email jcole@bsandi.co.uk

With working from home being the new norm for many employees for the time being, businesses everywhere are having to adjust to a completely new way of operating.

Homeworking isn’t a new concept, so it’s something most employers will have come across. In ordinary times, it is a type of flexible working that employees with at least 26 weeks’ service have the right to request, and many do so in order to better balance their work and home lives. Employers are only able to refuse the request on certain, specific grounds.

But we’re not in ordinary times. The situation in which employers and employees now find themselves has blown many of the usual workplace norms out of the water, with enforced homeworking being the order of the day. However, the checks and balances that have always been key to successful homeworking remain.

One of the challenges for many employers over the last few weeks has been the logistics of getting people set up to work remotely. Laptops, connectivity and secure access to servers will have been top of the agenda, with employers keen to make sure that work can carry on and its confidential information and communications are protected. Insisting that employees who are using their personal computers for work purposes do not store any documents on those devices may be a wise move. Equally, should you be addressing concerns that other people living with the employee could have access to information (a particular issue perhaps if the employee is or has a lodger, or otherwise shares with non-family members)? Does the employee have a lockable cabinet for storing paperwork?

Health and safety should not fall by the wayside, as your duty of care towards your employees continues during a period of homeworking. It is worth reminding them that they should have a good desk and chair (you could even think about carrying out a risk assessment remotely) and that they report any accidents or injuries to you. The terms of an employee’s employment contract, and of your company policies, remain in full force. That means that they should follow your sickness absence notification procedure, for example, as well as working their usual hours with the same level of commitment as usual.

But one of the major things that employers should be sure to keep a very close eye on is employees’ mental health. Homeworking has always had its own challenges in terms of blurring the lines between work and home life, with employees sometimes over-working and not taking sufficient breaks. Factor in the isolation that many people will be feeling at the moment, and there is a real risk of harm being done to employees’ emotional wellbeing.

Open lines of communication are key. Employees should be in regular (remote) contact with their managers, team and the wider workforce. While that will be crucial to making sure that business carries on with as much normality as possible, it is also an important part of keeping up morale and helping people feel connected. It’s not all about project meetings and client work; if employees are to emerge unscathed from this period of mass homeworking, employers need to think outside the box. Online team challenges? Virtual coffee breaks? Post-work online get-togethers on Friday afternoons? These are the types of things that could really make a difference, and keep employees safe, motivated, and healthy.

To talk to us about homeworking, or any employment law issue, contact Julian Cole on 01264 353411 or email info@bsandi.co.uk. We will be happy to help.

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