There's no two ways about it, working from home looks like it’s here to stay. As of 2020 over 4.2 million people swapped the office space for their own place and that figure is only set to keep rising.
Adapting to the changing work dynamic has led to employers feeling unsteady on their legal feet, unsure about the responsibility they have over their remote workforces.
From health and safety to data protection, we have your back. We’ll make sure you're fully equipped, and your team has the tools it needs to prosper while working from home.
How should your employee contracts legally reflect working from home?
As an employer, it’s important your contracts reflect the changing work environment.
Where possible, updating your contracts is essential. Doing so will provide an initial framework and legal structure for you and your employees. Standard employment contracts will not cover the home working protections your staff and business need.
To welcome those who are already under contract to the new workplace changes, we’d recommend creating a working from home policy document, which you can share around the organisation.
What should your working from home contract reflect?
An outline of the place of work
You will need to include a provision in the contract that states clearly where your employee will be working and that it will be their home. Alongside this, make it clear that this is subject to change, for example if the employee moves house.
It is also wise to include that the employee can come into the office when required. This gives you and the employee the flexibility for meetings that require them to attend in person, or other on-site demands.
The hours of work you expect your employees to perform
Like regular contracts, working from home legally requires you to state the hours your employees will be working. Will your employees still be working a standard 9-5, or will it be more flexible? Will there be overtime required?
Many homeworkers will not stick to a standard 9-5, so it’s important you outline the core hours they will need to work. This will help make sure that all staff are always there when they need to be to keep the business running smoothly.
Whether you will be covering any expenses
How will you manage your employees’ expenses going forward? Not being in the office means your employees will be using utilities more than usual. They’re likely to face higher electricity and gas bills, which wouldn't be the case if working in an office.
Will you help cover electricity, internet, stationary or any required travel expenses?
You should be aware that expense promises made pre-working from home such as travel will still have to be fulfilled. With this in mind, it is vital that you outline what employees can and cannot claim for as part of their contract.
Employees can claim tax exemptions to help with the extra utility costs such as heating, metered water bills and upgraded broadband connections. To be eligible, an employee must be remote working as part of their contract on a regular basis for all or part of the working week.
For more information, you can visit the government's working from home tax exemption page and share it with your employees.
An employer’s right to enter
This is one that can go under the radar, but it is important to know, as you may need rights to enter an employee’s home.
In future, you may need to send someone to install new company equipment and maintain it. Also, when the employee leaves the company, you will need to retrieve that equipment.
Without a right to enter, set out clearly in an employee’s contract, you may have legal challenges should you need to enter their home for this purpose.
How you will incorporate on-site staff benefits into working from home
If your organisation offers on-site staff benefits as part of a standard contract, you must offer these to homeworkers too.
This includes access to the workplace gym, canteen and refreshment offers—such as on-site bar and snacks.
Failure to offer these incentives across the workforce can result in a breach of contract and discrimination charges.
Your health and safety obligations for employees working from home
Outside of the contract there are other legal requirements that you should be aware of. The first of these being your employees’ health and safety in their workplace.
Although it may look and feel different with your workforce at home, you still have a legal duty of care towards your staff.
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that safety checks and a risk assessment are carried out. This will mean assessing whether their workstation and the environment around it is conducive to work, much the same as you would in an office.
However, it is up to the homeworker to maintain the safety levels once the checks are complete and communicate if any of the original assessments turn out to be wrong.
How does working from home affect data protection and security?
Another legal issue you will have to navigate is data protection and digital security.
Your remote workers will be handling sensitive data outside of the office, where their actions cannot be fully monitored.
Outside of the office, your employees are not just at risk of hacking or fraud, they are also human! That means they may well misplace or lose things. Think a laptop left on a bus or a USB drive left in a coffee shop.
This anxiety will make it tempting to keep a close eye on your employee, but you have to be mindful of their right to privacy.
How to keep data protected while employees are working from home
To stay compliant you should make everyone's responsibility clear. Your company should carry out a risk assessment of the various data protection implications of home working and how employees should handle sensitive data.
This assessment should include a section on remote security and encryption. Try and make sure all devices your employees will be working from are encrypted.
Alongside this, look at who has access to sensitive data and decide what access regular employees need to carry out their day-to-day tasks.
Finally, think about using a VPN to limit access to sensitive data to those who are connected to your workplace servers. This is important if you know some of your employees will work in public spaces such as trains and coffee shops.
Keep connected with Breathe
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It’s perfect for looking after a workforce that’s working from home.
Author: Andy Stewart