Recent figures from the TUC report that in 2015 over 1.5 million employees usually worked from home. This is an increase of nearly 20% over the preceding 10 years.
So why is homeworking so popular? From the employee’s perspective, the main attraction is usually the lack of travel time and expense, and frequently the flexibility it can offer in terms of childcare, or looking after elderly or vulnerable relatives. From an employer’s perspective it can mean that they require smaller, and therefore cheaper premises, and can possibly attract or retain staff who would otherwise be unable to perform the role.
It all sounds great – but are there any pitfalls? In short, yes. The first issue which many employers are concerned about is the lack of control they have over the employees working from home. With some employees whose work can be monitored online that is less of an issue, but for others it can be a concern, particularly where they are paid an hourly rate or salary as opposed to piece work. Employees can also lose out on the companionship of their colleagues, and not feel part of the organisation. There may also be concerns about maintaining confidentiality of information, for example the employee leaving confidential information around which could be seen by others living in or visiting the house. These are all issues which the parties need to consider, and where possible, deal with in the contract of employment.
There are also a number of legal questions which both parties need to consider. For example, if the employer is providing equipment, such as a chair, a computer and screen etc, is it being maintained in a safe condition? Are the various electrical leads a trip hazard? What happens if the employee leaves and does not return the equipment? These are all things which need to be considered and dealt with in the contract. For example, the employer should reserve the right to enter the employee’s home to inspect the equipment or to inspect the work area to ensure it is being maintained in a safe manner – after all, they would potentially be liable if the employee has an accident whilst “at work”, even in their own home. The employer will also need to ensure that their insurance covers these types of accidents, but also covers their equipment. This may well mean higher insurance premiums.
The parties also need to consider how to deal with the extra costs the employee is likely to incur in their home, for example heating, lighting and other utility costs, and possibly decorating any dedicated work area. The normal arrangement is for the employer to agree a contribution towards the employee’s costs, but care needs to be taken that it can be demonstrated that the contribution is proportionate. If it is too high, then part of the payment may be treated as remuneration and become taxable.
The employee will also need to check that there are no restrictions on them using their home as their place of work. They will not normally need planning permission provided that the homeworking is ancillary to the premises’ primary use as residential accommodation, but they will also need to check that there are no covenants or other restrictions on the property. They should also notify their household insurers that they are working from home.
In conclusion, the simple concept of working from home can work – and apparently does for 1.5 million people. However, both parties need to understand the risks and challenges which homeworking raises, and employers will need to ensure that they put in place a contract which is tailored to address the specific issues which apply to homeworkers.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).
Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.