With the constant forward march of technology, home working is being considered by businesses as a way for their employees to work, whether on a permanent or temporary basis. The media have reported that many London employers are encouraging employees to work from home to avoid congestion during the Olympics.
There are a number of issues for an employer to consider and think through before diving straight into arrangements for home working. We consider the main issues below:
- What does the contract of employment say?
The first thing to consider is what does the contract of employment say. Does it include a mobility clause to allow the location of work to be altered? If not, and agreement cannot be reached about home working arrangements, then further advice will be necessary before progressing any further.
It is also worth considering whether additional clauses are necessary to cover some aspects of a home working arrangement, such as provisions covering security of company equipment or requiring attendance at meetings on occasions. Any changes to the contract of employment are likely to require consultation with the employee(s).
If an employer only plans the home working to only be in place for a temporary period then it is still worth setting out arrangements in a letter, specifying how long the arrangements will be in place and ensuring the employee(s) agrees to that.
- What equipment does the home worker need?
Most employees are going to need the usual equipment to operate from home such as computer, internet access telephone and printer. The question then becomes who is going to supply and pay for these?
Many employers provide the equipment and contribute to internet/telephone costs. The arrangements should always be set out in writing. It is also worth considering how support can be given should the equipment provided become faulty or if software becomes out of date. In addition, employers should ensure adequate insurance protection is in place for the equipment provided. The home worker may need to check their own home insurance policies as well. It can be risky if employers expect employees to have the equipment as employers cannot then ensure software is up to date or that information is protected.
- Data protection matters
Employers must always be mindful of data protection and should ensure that home workers are aware of this issue. It is worth setting out (in the contract of employment or in a policy) what is expected of home workers in terms of keeping information secure and confidential. For example, employers could specify that confidential documents in the home should be secured in a locked filing cabinet. Employers should have contingency plans for worst case scenarios such as computers or documents being stolen from the employee’s home.
- Is the home working environment suitable?
Employers still have health and safety duties to home workers. It is advisable to visit the home to risk assess the workspace and ensure electrical equipment is tested for safety. It should be made clear to an employee (and preferably set out in their contract of employment) that it may be necessary to visit their homes on occasions to fulfil obligations. Employers may also need to check their insurance provisions to see if home workers are covered.
- Things that can go wrong
The obstacle many see in regard to home working is that employees cannot be seen working and therefore may ‘slack off’ and not be as efficient. However, many employers find that home working shows business benefits. Home working can work when the expectations of both parties are set out clearly from the beginning. This involves setting out the expected tasks and targets and monitoring these. Regular communication from managers and colleagues is also important to keep motivation high, feelings of isolation low and to ensure the home worker is engaged in the business. This makes any ‘slacking off’ much easier to manage as the evidence of poor performance will be obvious and can be addressed by formal performance management procedures.
Finally it is also important to address what happens when the employment relationship comes to an end, however that occurs. This will include ensuring employees are happy with arrangements for the return of company property and confidential information, whether that is by a representative of the business coming to their home to collect it or requiring the employee to drop it back.
By addressing the issues around home working upfront and ensuring both employers and employees are aware of the arrangements and expectations, home working can be a winning formula.
Would you like advice on issues and documents for home workers? We are happy to help – please contact us on 01243 836840 or [email protected] .