Hassle Free HR – Home Working

From the beginning of lockdown up until 17 July 2020, the Government consistently and strongly advised that all employees who could work from home during the Coronavirus outbreak, should work at home, to prevent the Coronavirus from spreading further. Despite this consistent advice, many employers who could agree to home working were reluctant to discuss it with employees or agree to home working arrangements – even though their employees were able to work from home. A reluctance to change combined with a fear of how to trust and manage employees whilst they are at home led many employers to disregard the Governmental advice, even though this could have increased the cases of Coronavirus within the country. However, many employers quickly realised that home working was a positive experience for many and has not resulted in lower productivity or problems with communication. It is now expected that many employers will embrace home working / flexible working in ways they never would have considered before the events of 2020.

On 17 July 2020, the Government stance on working from home changed. The Government advised that employers were able to ask employees to return to the workplace from 18 July 2020 onwards, as long as the workplace was compliant with Covid-19 Secure Guidelines. It was recommended that employers consult with employees before asking them to return to work, to ensure there was clear communication on how to keep the workplace safe and to alleviate employee concerns.

However, on 22 September 2020 the Government again changed their position and reverted back to their previous stance that all employees who can work from home, should work from home. Where working from home is not physically possible, or it is essential that employees remain in the workplace, workplaces can remain open. We anticipate many employers who have made a financial investment to ensure their workplaces are “Covid-19 Secure” may find this change in advice frustrating, but a return to working from home should be considered where possible, even if you have already welcomed employees back to the workplace. Both infection case numbers and hospital admissions are rising, and the Government is concerned the mass return to the workplace could have played a part in this.

Despite the previous advice to return to the workplace, many employers have continued with home working as they consider this to be the best way to ensure the health and safety of their employees. As an employer, you have legal responsibility towards the physical and mental health, safety and well-being of your employees. This commonly refers to making sure the workplace or type of work undertaken will not cause injury or be hazardous or stressful, but it now also includes your responsibility to attempt to protect your employees from Coronavirus. Home working may not be suitable for all or even some of your employees, but we do recommend that you consider it.

Here are our tips for home working:

  • Protect the Company. Whilst the Government is strongly encouraging all employers to support home working, you can only agree to it if it works for your Company. If there are legitimate business needs that prevent you from being able to agree to it, then you can deny requests. You need to ensure home working does not negatively affect your Company. Similarly, if you agree to home working but then decide it isn’t suitable, you can cancel the agreement and ask your employees to return to work as normal. If the employee refuses to return to the workplace, and they do not have a legitimate reason to remain at home, then depending upon the circumstances you can either allow the employee to take a period of unpaid leave, or you can choose to formally manage this situation in line with your disciplinary procedure.
  • Be Flexible. Some of your employees will easily be able to transition to working from home successfully, with no changes to their role. However, other employees may only be able to complete some of their duties or work reduced hours of the day if they are affected by school closures. In any other circumstance, this could be viewed as a reason to refuse home working, but in response to Coronavirus, a flexible approach to how the work is undertaken is advised. If your employees work from home they should receive their normal pay, but if they work reduced hours, their pay should be suitably adjusted, with agreement.
  • Plan Your Communication. It’s easy to become concerned that managing remote employees will be difficult, but with clear and planned communication, many employers are pleasantly surprised and find it easier than expected. There are many different types of video and conference call software available to use, which can be an excellent way to remain connected with employees who are working from home. Face-to-face communication can feel more natural and effective than talking over the phone, so video calls are the next best thing. Regular communication throughout the day can help the team to feel connected and can also help you to “check in” with your employees and their workload. This regular communication can also help to prevent people from feeling isolated, which is important for mental health.
  • Trust Your Employees. It’s easy to assume that home working means less work, but there is a lot of evidence to show that isn’t the case. Reports show that many employees find it easier to be more focused and productive when away from the workplace and the distractions their colleagues can sometimes create. Regular communication will help you to monitor your employees’ performance and if issues are identified, then these can be discussed with the employee, and / or the home working agreement can be amended or cancelled.
  • Confirm the Agreement. When you’ve finalised the agreement with your employee, you should make sure this is confirmed in writing. This agreement then becomes the terms and conditions of the home working arrangement. Your written confirmation can go into as much detail as you would like. It can stipulate what hours your employees should work, how regularly your employees should communicate with you, how specialist temporary software should be used and whether the agreement is subject to review and can be cancelled if it is deemed to not be suitable. These suggestions on what to include in your agreement are not exhaustive.
  • Ensure Health and Safety is Upheld. Whilst an employee works from home you are still responsible for their health and safety. Normally the Home Working environment needs to be suitable and assessed to ensure there are no hazards that can pose a risk to your employee. Ideally, a full health and safety risk assessment would be conducted before an employee starts working from home, but in the current circumstances, where decisions are being made quickly due to Coronavirus, it may be more suitable to have a conversation with your employees to ensure they are aware of safe home working practices. Further information about this area please refer the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

Last reviewed on 28 October 2020