A growing number of organisations are offering staff the opportunity to work from home. Added to that, advances in technology such as fast, reliable broadband connections and falling technology prices are making it easier for employees to work away from the office.
If homeworking is planned and implemented carefully, it can benefit the employer, the employee and wider society. Gains for the organisation include increased productivity; for the employee, greater job satisfaction; and for society, benefits to the environment resulting from a cut in commuting.
Homeworking, however, is not a risk-free option. Common hazards tend to centre on screen work, manual handling activities (eg lifting boxes of paper), slips, trips and falls, electricity-related risks (eg availability of suitable multiple sockets), fire, and suitability of work equipment.
Selecting homeworkers carefully, carrying out regular health and safety checks on their home offices, and ensuring that there are regular and effective communications between homeworkers and their line managers are just some of the points to consider. Most importantly, organisations need to make sure that they have a comprehensive homeworking policy in place that covers the issues outlined overleaf.
The Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states that an employer has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees while at work. This applies equally to employees who work at home.
Under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to employees at work. This involves identifying hazards, identifying who might be harmed, looking at the controls in place and assessing whether further action needs to be taken. The risk assessment should be recorded and reviewed on an annual basis.
Other considerations should include the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act, as well as the ability to retrieve information that is kept at employees’ homes.
As for the employees who work from home, they have a duty to cooperate with their manager and comply with safe systems of work. They also have a responsibility to carry out their work in accordance with their training and to report any work-related accidents, near-misses or other safety concerns to their manager.
An organisation’s liability policies apply in the same way for employees who work at home as they do for other employees. A claim for loss of or damage to any company-owned equipment while it is in the home of an employee will be covered by the organisation, subject to the deduction of an employee’s usual contents excess.
Employees should advise their own home contents and buildings insurer as their homeworking activities might be considered something that their insurers need to be aware of.
Questions and answers
If an employee asks if they can work from home, do I have to consider their request?
As an employer, you need only grant permission for employees to work at home if it is in the best interests of the business and provides an advantageous arrangement for both the employee and the employer. If homeworking is something that you are seriously considering for a number of employees, it is well worth setting up a formal homeworking policy and an employee homeworker’s manual detailing procedures and frequently asked questions.
I want to allow some of my employees to work from home – what are the implications?
The first questions you need to ask are: ‘Can this job be done from home?’, ‘What sort of equipment is going to be needed?’ and ‘Will all health and safety, security and insurance requirements be met?’. It is important to remember that you are still fully responsible for their health, safety and welfare – even if they are in their own home. So if they trip over a cable, injure themselves on faulty equipment or get a bad back from a badly designed workstation, the buck stops with you.
This may mean that you will need to carry out a risk assessment at your employee’s home as all equipment – whether it belongs to the employee or the employer – must meet the same standards as that provided for office-based employees. In particular, IT users must have an adequate workstation, including chair and screen. Correct installation of electrical equipment, adequate ventilation, proper fire precautions and clear emergency exit routes should all be provided.
Do homeworkers have a different employee status to those working on site?
No – and you must resist the temptation to look upon homeworkers as somehow different. They are still employees, and they have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as work-based employees.
What about their employment contract?
You’ll need to update the employment contract to record the proposed change of workplace and that the proposed change will take place for a trial period, after which it will be reviewed. You should also include clauses that state all company equipment and confidential information will be stored securely at home and that you, as an employer, reserve the right to cancel the homeworking arrangements if they cease to be advantageous for both parties.
Can I monitor my homeworkers to ensure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing?
You’re going to need a much more open style of management as you’ll have less control over your employees’ methods of working, so trust has to play a large part.
What happens if I feel that trust is not enough?
Part 3 of the Data Protection Code of Practice says that workers can only be monitored if the advantage to the business outweighs the intrusion into worker affairs – it is, therefore, essential that you carry out some form of impact assessment before embarking upon any monitoring activity. Specifically, your workers must be informed if they are being monitored and you should beware of monitoring any emails that are clearly personal. Any information that you do discover should only be used for the purpose for which the monitoring was carried out and should be kept totally secure. Do not undertake covert monitoring except in the rarest circumstance – ie where it could be used for the detection of crime, where it has been authorised at the highest level of business and where there is a risk that informing the relevant employee(s) would frustrate the purpose of the monitoring.
Advice for homeworkers
This guidance is for all staff who work from home, either on an occasional or a regular basis.
- Remember that all work-related documents are official records, irrespective of where they are physically stored.
- If possible, work directly on your organisation’s server via a virtual private network and a broadband/dial-in connection.
- Save any electronic documents produced at home on a work computer as soon as possible.
- Take security precautions if you store any sensitive work-related information on your home PC.
- Whenever possible, take copies of paper files or electronic documents home, rather than originals. Let colleagues know if you are taking original files home.
- Take care not to misplace work-related information – eg paper files, laptops or memory sticks – on the journey to and from work.
- Use a locked briefcase to store paper documents, memory sticks etc.
- Make use of security features such as passwords for information stored on memory sticks etc.
- Make sure that documents stored at home are subjected to the same retention guidelines as those at work.
- Keep up-to-date with security patches for your computer system and applications.
- Make sure that work files have been deleted before selling or disposing of your home PC.
- Use your private computer to store work information, if possible.
- Bring a paper file home, unless you are sure that it can be stored securely.
- Leave paper or electronic files where they could be accidentally viewed by visitors or family members.
- Use a personal email account for work, if possible.
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