What 'Working From Home' Rights And Rules Mean For Employers25th Aug 2020
Don’t Get Sued By Your Home Workers
Working from home is great for employers and employees alike: it’s Covid-safe(r), less stressful and more productive.
No more congested commutes. No more timewasting traffic jams. Less diesel-damage to the environment…but it’s not all a bed of roses.
There are still pitfalls for employers. Your employees and workers may be out of sight but they should never be out of mind. Otherwise you risk expensive legal consequences…
Your Employees’ Right To Work From Home
Covid-19 has made working from home the default option for millions of people. Employees expect to be able to work remotely if the nature of their job makes it possible. And for those with underlying health conditions, their very lives may depend on it.
So if you refuse an employee’s request to work from home, you’d better have very good (and tribunal-proof) reasons.
The Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996 gives employees the right to apply for flexible working. This right includes their working hours, where and how they do their work. You must consider each request fairly, on its own merits and in line with the ACAS code of practice.
Only employees (rather than workers or the self-employed) can apply – and only if you’ve employed them for 26 weeks of more. All employees have the right to apply, including parents, carers and women returning from maternity leave.
Get it wrong and you could face an employment tribunal. Your employees can complain if you:
- don’t handle their flexible working request reasonably
- fail to tell them your decision within three months
- reject their request for any reason other than those allowed by law
- treat the request as ‘withdrawn’ when you don’t have the right to do so.
You can reject flexible working requests if:
- there are planned structural changes
- it would mean burdensome extra costs
- quality, standards or performance would suffer
- you won’t be able to recruit extra staff (or redistribute work among existing staff)
- you would struggle to meet customer demand
- there would be a lack of work during the periods the employee proposes to work flexibly.
It pays to get advice from our employment law solicitors before taking action. A quick phone call could save you from an expensive mistake. Find out more here.
Ensuring Employee Health And Safety
Think of all the health and safety rules that pertain to your workplace. Those obligations don’t all suddenly vanish just because you’ve just told your employees to work from home.
They may no longer be in the office but they’ll have left a trail of red tape in their wake. Ignore it at your peril.
You’ll need to carry out a lone worker risk assessment. This includes ensuring that their desk and chair angles are not going to damage their posture (especially if you have provided the desk and chair concerned).
And what about lighting? Is it good enough to help your employees avoid eyestrain? You never truly appreciate good office lighting until you suddenly have to struggle along at home with humble domestic bulbs.
Don’t forget portable appliance testing (PAT). Regular testing is not mandatory but you do have a legal obligation to ensure that any electrical equipment which has the potential to cause injury is safe to use. Defective equipment is a big cause of personal injury claims from those working at home.
Risk assessments and testing have the added benefit of helping you to maintain detailed records of what was loaned out to whom during your big Covid-19 office evacuation.
It’s one thing keeping an eye on all your office desks, chairs and computers when they’re all in one building – it’s quite another when they’re tucked away in employees’ homes across dozens of postcodes.
A word to the wise: expensive kit is less likely to go missing if you keep proper records.
Help Safeguard Your Employees’ Mental Health
Working from home can be a wonderful change of scenery to begin with. But as the weeks and months drag on, it can have a debilitating effect on your employees’ mental health. Isolation and loneliness can take their toll.
Burnout, stress and depression are very real dangers. The effect can be slow, subtle and insidious – like the tide coming in. Sufferers may not realise they’re at risk until it’s too late.
Good, responsible employers should do everything they can to help ensure their workers remain happy and healthy mentally as well as physically.
Poor mental health can be classed as a disability, putting employers at risk of legal action if they:
- fail to address the issue
- discriminate against the employee(s) or worker(s) concerned.
Data Breaches And Other IT Issues
Your IT department will have a tougher job dealing with employees working from home; it’s less easy now they’re no longer in convenient, centralised offices.
Major IT nightmares include:
- data breaches (especially since the arrival of GDPR)
- misuse of social media (and the internet in general)
- employees accidentally downloading viruses and/or potentially unwanted programs
- using their own PC (which may have inadequate virus protection and disapproved apps) to access company data without approval
- ‘shadow IT’ – information is managed outside the company’s IT department and without its approval.
Get Expert Advice On Employment Law
Are your HR practices as watertight as they were before the pandemic? Do not let employees working from home put you at greater risk of employment law breaches.
Contact Coles Miller consultant solicitor Dion McCarthy for expert legal advice on employment law, commercial disputes and litigation.