Homeworking and an Employer's Duties
Since 30 June 2014, all employees who have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks have the right to ask their employer if they can work flexibly. For many people, more flexible working arrangements could include carrying out some or all of their work at home.
According to analysis published by the TUC, the number of employees who regularly work from home increased by 19 per cent, to 1,521,000, in the ten-year period from 2005 to 2015 and Government research shows that a further four million workers would welcome the chance to do at least some of their work from home. Whilst there are many jobs that cannot be carried out anywhere other than in the workplace, many roles are suitable for homeworking, and such arrangements can be beneficial to a business in terms of cost savings and staff morale.
Establishing a Homeworking Policy
Where homeworking arrangements are practical, in order to ensure consistency employers should establish a policy, agreed in advance with employees and, where they exist, their representatives, setting out the assessment criteria, all necessary arrangements and how homeworkers will be managed.
Contracts of Employment
When an existing employee becomes a homeworker, this will constitute a variation in the terms of their employment contract. It is preferable for any agreed changes to be recorded in writing. As a change in job location is a change to the information which must be included in an employee's written statement of employment particulars, the employer should give written notification of the change to the employee, within a month of the change taking effect.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including those who work from home. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out a risk assessment to identify any hazards relating to the work done by homeworkers and to take steps to remove them or, where this is not reasonably practicable, to minimise them. Checks should include whether the ventilation, temperature, lighting, floor, space, chair, desk or workstation and computer are suitable for the tasks being performed. Employers are responsible for any equipment they provide. Any problems identified in the home itself should be rectified by the employee before homeworking commences. A record must be kept of the findings of the risk assessment and the risks kept under review. The employee is responsible for maintaining a safe environment and must inform their employer if any measures taken turn out to be ineffective.
The Health and Safety Executive has a leaflet for employers on where to find useful guidance on health and safety issues as regards homeworkers, depending on the level of risk involved in the type of work being performed.
Employers who provide equipment to enable homeworkers to do their job have a duty to make sure that it is both suitable and safe and that its condition is maintained. The effectiveness of home technology is vital to the success of the arrangement, so prompt action in the event of a breakdown in equipment or communications is essential. Where display screen equipment is used, the employer must make sure that it is safe and does not adversely affect the user's health. Employers also have a duty to ensure the provision of appropriate eye and eyesight tests, on request, for all workers who regularly work with display screen equipment.
New and Expectant Mothers
New or expectant mothers are owed a special duty of care under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Particular attention must therefore be paid when women of childbearing age are employed. The risk assessment must include risks specific to new and expectant mothers. This is irrespective of whether an employer knows that they have new or expectant mothers working for them.
The employer must supply adequate first aid provision for homeworkers. This will depend on the nature of their work and the risks involved.
Check that you have appropriate insurance cover for employees who work from home, including statutory employer's liability insurance and insurance covering any equipment or materials provided.
It is important to treat employees fairly and consistently, whether they work at home or in the workplace. For example, homeworkers should have exactly the same opportunities for training, development and promotion as workplace-based members of staff.
When considering an employee's request to work from home, employers must take care not to discriminate against someone who has a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The application of a provision, criterion or practice that puts a person with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage compared with others can lead to a claim of indirect discrimination. In addition, it is important to make any reasonable adjustments for disabled staff who are going to work from home. In some cases, allowing a disabled member of staff to work from home will itself constitute a reasonable adjustment.
Employers should make sure that policies on information management and data protection are understood and followed by homeworkers.
Employee or trade union representatives need to communicate with employees who work from home. Employers should take reasonable steps to facilitate this – for example by providing a meeting room in the workplace.
One problem that can arise when people work from home is that they feel cut off from other members of staff. Employers must beware of adopting an 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude in the case of homeworkers. Maintaining effective channels of communication is important. It is also good practice for homeworkers to attend regular review meetings in the office. The frequency of these will depend on the type of work being performed and the demands of the business.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has useful guidance on this topic, 'Homeworking – A guide for employers and employees'. This contains a number of case studies and a useful checklist designed for use when setting up homeworking and when carrying out ongoing checks on the arrangements in place.