Work and Wellbeing · 15 April 2020

How to manage home working during the COVID-19 outbreak

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Francesca Mundy is a senior legal editor and lawyer at online legal platform, Sparqa Legal, below she offers readers practical guidance on working from home during lockdown.

Due to coronavirus, numerous non-essential businesses have been forced to close. They are now required to ensure their staff are working from home wherever possible. Below are some key considerations businesses may need to take into account during this period.

1. An official home working policy

Although you are not legally required to have an official home working policy, it’s best practice to put one in place so that both you and your staff are aware of what is expected of them during this uncertain period.

It will also help to ensure that all staff members are treated consistently and that you avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.

For businesses that already have a home working policy, it is important to check that it is fit for purpose in light of the current circumstances. If any immediate changes are required, make sure to notify all your staff of the amendments.

2. Consider flexible working

Nurseries, schools and colleges across the country closed on 20th March 2020 until further notice. This means that many of your staff may now be looking after their children whilst working from home.

There are different options open to your staff, for example some may choose to use their annual leave to cover childcare, whilst others might be entitled to parental leave or leave to care for their dependants.

Employers can also consider offering affected staff members a flexible working arrangement to help them to manage their responsibilities as a parent and employee. For example, you could allow your staff to spread their workload across more days in the week, or you could agree to either reduce or alter their core hours (eg to allow them to work in the evenings). Given the current uncertainty, it may be appropriate to deal with flexible working requests on an informal and temporary basis.

3. Health & safety assessments

As an employer, you still have health and safety responsibilities towards your staff whether they are in the workplace or not. Whilst home working is likely to be low risk, you must still carry out a risk assessment on the suitability of your staff member’s home working space.

In light of recent government measures, it will be inappropriate and impractical for you to carry out a risk assessment at your staff member’s home, so consider asking them to send a photo of their workstation instead.

4. Insurance coverage

Employer’s liability insurance should already extend to homeworkers as standard practice, but you should check the wording of your policy to confirm this. You will also need to make sure that any business equipment you have provided to your staff members is covered by your insurance when it’s off your premises.

Note that you are not legally obliged to provide any equipment to your staff whilst they are working from home, but if you do, make sure you set out which items will be provided and on what terms (eg who is responsible for maintenance) in your home working policy.

Also bear in mind that your staff members will also need to check that their own insurance policies cover working from home.

5. Protecting confidential information

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The security of confidential information and personal data can be difficult to supervise when your staff are working from home, but your data protection standards must be maintained.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your data protection policy is up to date and decide whether it is necessary to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment before allowing homeworkers to process any personal data.

Staff should also be reminded of their confidentiality and data protection obligations, and, if appropriate, you should consider providing additional training on how to store and transmit information securely.

6. Communicating with your staff

When your staff members are working from home it is important to build a relationship of trust and to establish clear lines of communication as you will not be able to have the same day-to-day supervision of their work.

Set guidelines for checking in so staff members know how and when they are expected to be in contact with you. Wherever possible, you should also manage staff performance consistently and in accordance with your usual policies and procedures. If you foresee any departures from this, or if you need to alter how you assess performance, make sure this is communicated clearly to your staff to avoid any confusion.

7. Employee wellbeing

When staff work from home, the boundaries between work and home life can become blurred.

You should remind staff that they are not expected to work beyond their contractual hours and to take regular breaks throughout the day. Not only are they legally entitled to breaks, but they can help provide structure to the day and support their wellbeing.

Make sure you also keep in regular contact with your staff to see how they are coping. This can prevent your staff from feeling disconnected and ease any feelings of isolation whilst they are working from home with fewer daily interactions.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Francesca Mundy is a Senior Legal Editor and Lawyer at Sparqa Legal, having previously worked as a disputes solicitor at a City law firm. Francesca has experience advising clients across a range of commercial and regulatory issues, and has spent the last two years at Sparqa Legal focussing on writing practical employment law and data protection guidance for SMEs and start-ups.

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