Homeworking – Considerations for Employers

11 May 2021 
3 minutes
Employment Law

Homeworking, in one form or another, looks to be set to stay for a swathe of employers. Pre-pandemic, the proportion of UK workers who worked from home regularly was relatively low. However, Covid-19 and the resulting government direction to ‘work from home if you can do so’ presented an abrupt change for many employers. What was not even contemplated for many employers in early 2020 is now firmly a reality.

Whilst the term “homeworker” is not defined in legislation, it can be used to describe a number of different working arrangements. The primary arrangements being:

  • Working exclusively at home;
  • Dividing working time between home and an employer’s premises; and
  • Working from home on an ad-hoc basis.

Although the benefits of homeworking have been extolled by many employers and employees alike, there are also drawbacks, one of which being a potentially detrimental impact on employees’ health. This is a factor which employers should be cognisant of going forward, as working patterns begin to settle as we move out of the pandemic.

Recent polling from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent health and educational charity, found that a substantial number of people who shifted to full-time homeworking as a result of the pandemic experienced detrimental impacts on their health. These can be summarised as follows:

  • 67% of individuals felt less connected to their colleagues;
  • 39% experienced musculoskeletal problems; and
  • 37% experienced disturbed sleep.

There are undoubtedly analogous surveys that evidence the benefits and enthusiasm towards homeworking. However, the above should be noted by employers and steps should be taken to mitigate the resulting risks surrounding homeworking. Whilst working from home has the potential to improve productivity and wellbeing; employers should consider how best they can support and manage the process. The mental and physical health of staff is likely to be central to these considerations.

In April 2021, the Republic of Ireland introduced a “right to disconnect” from work pursuant to an official code of practice drawn up by the government’s Workplace Relations Commission. Specifically, it provides “the right of an employee to not routinely perform work outside normal working hours. The code is admissible in Irish courts. There are now calls on UK government ministers to follow a similar model and provide a legal foundation for employees to disconnect. Whilst employment law is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, developments in this area will be followed with close interest.

In the interim, it would be prudent for employers to take proactive steps to reinforce the distinction between home life and working life. A sustainable routine should be encouraged to allow employees adequate wind down and sleep. This will allow employees to feel that they are working from home as opposed to living from work.

Practical Steps

Employers should address a number of practicalities when entering into these homeworking arrangements with their employees. Two primary issues concern contractual provisions and Staff Handbooks.

Firstly, employers may wish to review provisions in their contracts of employment to provide for homeworking. For example, clauses pertaining to; place of work, hours of work, expenses, equipment and confidentiality should be tailored to the new commercial reality of homeworking.

Secondly, now is likely to be an opportune moment for employers to look at developing a bespoke homeworking policy as part of their Staff Handbook. There is no one size fits all approach for such a policy. Any successful homeworking arrangement will ultimately be founded on mutual trust between the employer and employee. However, the policy document itself should be adapted to meet the specific commercial needs and practices of the organisation.

Employers should seek advice before drafting contracts or employment policies. If you need assistance in relation to the issues raised in this article, please feel free to contact the Employment Law team at MKB Law.

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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