Working from Home – Legal and Contractual Considerations

With working from home being a key means for many workers and organisations to keep going during the coronavirus outbreak, I wanted to remind you of some areas that still need to be considered:

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  1. Review your homeworking policy. Make sure it addresses how employees will be supervised, how the organisation and line managers will communicate with them and how performance and output will be monitored. The homeworking arrangement may be confirmed by a consent form, detailed homeworking arrangement or by amendments to the employee’s contract.
  2. Confirm employee rights. Homeworkers must be treated the same as office-based staff, with equal access to development and promotion opportunities. Consult the relevant trade union, if any, to ensure equal treatment for these workers. In the current context, it may be prudent to expressly state that any changes are temporary and that the employee will, if applicable, return to office-based working once the situation ends. 
  3. Confirm contact methods and regularity. Advise homeworkers to establish when and how they will have contact with their manager; reporting in at regular times can also help combat isolation and stress. 
  4. Providing equipment. There is no obligation for employers to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home, although, given the latest Government advice, employers should do what they can to enable home working. It is prudent to list the equipment that has been supplied in the home working agreement, consent or policy. Remember that provision of equipment could be a reasonable adjustment for some disabled employees and may be the safest option for those with existing health conditions or pregnant employees at this time. 
  5. IT and Broadband. Employers should confirm in the contractual arrangements if the employee is expected to cover the broadband cost (plus heating and lighting) or if the employer will contribute towards these costs and, if so, to what extent. The employer should also confirm any IT support (likely to be remote at this time) and responsibility for repair or replacement if the employee’s equipment is used. 
  6. Think about health and safety obligations. Employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare, even when working from home. Employers need to make sure that homeworkers are knowledgeable about health and safety and that they comply with the organisation’s health and safety policy. Employers may remind staff that they should ensure a suitable and safe environment where they can focus on work. Remind employees that they should continue to comply with your sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work. 
  7. Carry out risk assessment. Employers should usually conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees those working from home. However, at this time undertaking physical risk assessments of each employee’s home will not feasible and so employers could use electronic risk assessment questions instead. It is the employee’s responsibility to address any flaws in the home revealed by the assessment. The Health and Safety legislation also puts some responsibility on the home worker to ensure that they and members of the household are not endangered by work activities undertaken at home. 
  8. Review working time and length of period. Will employees need to be available for work during strict office hours or work a specified a set number of hours per day? There may be more flexibility over working hours in a work from home arrangement, but working time regulations should still be complied with, including the working week and daily rest break. Instruct managers to look out for signs of overwork. 
  9. Clarify salary, benefits, insurance, tax. Salary and benefits should obviously remain the same during a period of homeworking, although changes to expenses may be appropriate if normal travel expenses and allowances are no longer needed. Usually it is the employee’s responsibility to check that no issues arise with their mortgage provider, landlord, local authority, Revenue or their home insurer when homeworking. In this unprecedented situation it is hoped that any issues, for example increases in house insurance premiums, would be minimal but it is prudent for employees to check. Employers also need to check that insurance covers business equipment in the homeworker’s premises. 
  10. Data protection. Employers should make sure data protection obligations are maintained and employees using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers should remind employees about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding etc. 
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Note: many thanks to CIPD Ireland for providing the information