As the coronavirus pandemic persists, employees are getting used to working from home and many are noticing benefits including avoiding stressful, time-consuming commutes; saving money on travel and food; managing work more efficiently; fewer interruptions; and seeing their children more often.
After the pandemic passes, it is expected there will be a cultural shift towards working from home as a norm and many employees will want to do this, at the very least for part of the week. Equally many employers, having seen the benefits of their staff remote working, are deciding to give notice on their offices and get their heads around running teams of remote workers.
As an employer, you need to make sure that you have the right systems in place to properly support employees who work from home.
Contracts for employees who work from home
Where an employee’s ‘place of work’ is changing to their home address some changes are required to their contract. A new contract may not be necessary but may be simpler if the contract is due for a refresh. If the contract is relatively new and fit for purpose then the new clauses may be added in using a variation of contract letter which the employee needs to agree to and countersign to confirm their agreement.
The new clauses, relevant to homeworking, may include the following:
• where the employee will be based.
• hours of work and the requirement to take breaks.
• that both employer and employee have the right to terminate the homeworking arrangement at any time.
• reimbursement of expenses and/or contribution towards utility costs.
• that the company will supply and insure the necessary equipment. The equipment remains the company’s property and is not to be used for private purposes.
• that the company will supply and pay for a telephone and internet connection for business use.
• that the employee must comply with relevant health and safety and security guidelines. The company will pay any costs involved.
• confidential information and data protection.
• that there is no change to other employment terms and conditions such as pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement and pension contributions.
The home office
A good home office should meet minimum requirements:
• a suitable workspace and a reasonable working environment.
• secure premises and a lockable cupboard or desk.
• compliance with health and safety regulations, including suitable desk and chair and display screen equipment assessment.
• a business telephone line and broadband access.
• a computer with internet and email access, office software and access to a printer. Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can allow your staff to connect to your company network from home.
• adequate insurance. Home contents insurance normally excludes business equipment but most employers’ insurance policies cover any place of business.
Health and safety in the home
Normal office health and safety requirements apply equally to employees who work from home.
An initial risk assessment must be carried out, although this can be done by the employee. Employers need to give homeworkers simple, specific health and safety advice and record what has been done.
Areas to consider are:
• the seating and layout of the employee’s computer workstation.
• electrical equipment – has it been tested and certified?
• extension leads and cables for telephones, computers and printers – there should be no trailing leads.
• adequate lighting levels, ventilation and room temperature.
Planning permission is not normally required
Permission is unlikely to be required if all the following are true:
• only one room is used for homeworking;
• only those who live in the house work there;
• the work does not lead to a substantial volume of visitors, nuisance to neighbours or extra car parking.
Tax and business rates are not usually a problem
Homeworkers can ensure the room used has a secondary purpose (eg as a guest bedroom) to avoid paying:
• business rates;
• capital gains tax on the sale of the property.
Using technology for employees who work from home
It is safer for employees who work from home to save their work directly onto the employer’s system, rather than their own equipment. This reduces the risk of a data security breach and limits the employer’s exposure to the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulations.
You can create a secure virtual private network (VPN):
• this enables employees who work from home to connect to your existing computer network online, from any computer with internet access.
• it gives them access to relevant files and systems on the company network, and to resources on the company intranet.
• a fast broadband connection makes it easy to exchange information
• the major cost, for an existing network, is the connection fee.
Understand the pitfalls
• there is a danger of people gaining unauthorised access to your systems. Your computers should be protected with passwords, firewalls and anti-virus software. All data and files should be saved to your intranet where it can be backed up and protected.
• faster technology costs more money.
• homeworkers may need training.
• employees may not use the technology productively.
• employees may fail to back-up information stored on home PCs and laptops.
If you need any help at all with revising your employment contract, or drafting a variation of contract letter, please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or +44(0)7917878384