Whilst there is no obligation to have a homeworking policy or to allow employees to work from home, many businesses and employees have seen the advantages of homeworking. If this is something you and your employees would like to introduce, it is wise to formalise this in a written policy to make clear how and when homeworking will be permitted.
What obligations do employers have when an employee works from home?
Health and safety - suitable and sufficient risk assessments of the employee’s home, ideally in person, will be needed to identify hazards and assess risks, to minimise or eliminate these. Physical and mental health of employees should be assessed at regular intervals. Mechanisms to assist with this might include an individual contact if an employee wants to raise an issue, and frequent team catch ups.
Equipment – you are responsible, if you provide equipment for employees to use at home, to ensure that it conforms with Health and Safety Regulations, is well-maintained, inspected regularly and is in good working order. Suitable and sufficient light and ensuring safe use of screens is also your responsibility, but workers are responsible for their domestic supply, including electrical sockets. You are still obliged to record accidents an employee has whilst they are working and provide an appropriate first aid kit, which can be minimal, or a reimbursement if an employee already has one.
Data protection – if your employee will be using data which you protect in the office, e.g. data covered under GDPR, establish adequate processes or software to ensure this data is safe before the employee starts working from home with it.
Insurance and tax – whether your business insurance and equipment insurance cover an employee working from home, will need to be reviewed. An employee may also need to check their home insurance policy. There may be tax implications of an employee working from home, particularly if they live abroad and so taking specialist advice on this at an early stage, if you are unsure, is recommended.
Staff working from home are obliged to meet the same performance standards as those attending the workplace. As such, you will be required to ensure that they have the same access to opportunities for promotion and pay rises as those working in the office and that they have the same level of training and supervision.
What is a working from home policy?
This is a written, usually non-contractual, document setting out the details of homeworking.
What are the benefits of having a working from home policy?
A homeworking policy provides clarity on how and when working from home takes place. Further, after 5 April 2022, to claim the tax and NICs exemptions and reliefs relating to office equipment there needs to be a formal home working arrangement in place, where the employee works regularly from home. A policy can help demonstrate this.
Contracts of employment will need to be amended to reflect the change in the ‘place of work’ section, but homeworking policies can retain flexibility to deal with the practicalities not covered in the employment contract or make homeworking temporary, on different terms or conditional on certain factors.
What should be included in a working from home policy?
A homeworking policy can be a useful place to set out best practice and other terms not included in your employee’s contract such as:
Homeworking arrangements: whether the employee’s main place of work is home; they are working from home on a part-time basis on fixed days; or splitting working time between the workplace and home.
How a decision about home working will be made: whether an employee’s role is suitable for home working, whether this will meet business need and how to apply for home working (usually by making a flexible working request). Decisions will need to be made consistently to avoid potential claims including for discrimination and to avoid causing damage to morale.
Conditions attached to homeworking: you may make a successful application conditional upon an employee not having a disciplinary warning, requiring training or performance monitoring and demonstrating that they can set up a suitable and safe working environment at home, free from distraction, to carry out the role effectively.
Whether there will be a trial period – if this is a new way for a particular employee to work or a role to be performed, you might consider a trial period to review if homeworking meets the needs of your employee and your business.
Whether there is flexibility to occasionally work from home: you might see the benefit of homeworking in certain circumstances, such as where a parent must stay at home with a sick child, or an employee has a short-term illness or injury, or travel disruption or poor weather prevent easy travel to the employee’s workplace. In this instance, including reference in your homeworking policy as to how this would be agreed on an ad hoc basis is advisable.
Times when employees should attend the workplace: such as specific times where all employees will work in person as a team, attend training, appraisals, or formal meetings, these should be specifically mentioned. A maximum distance from the office that the employee must live within might be stipulated, particularly if travel expenses are claimed from your business.
Duties relating to health and safety, equipment, data protection, insurance and tax: advising what the employee is responsible for relating to these items when working from home and support offered by your business. If you would like guidance on the division of responsibilities, our employment solicitors can advise.
Termination of homeworking: there may be situations where you or the employee no longer wish for homeworking to continue. How the arrangement can be terminated should be drafted into the policy.
If you do not yet have a homeworking policy or you are unsure whether it is up-to-date or specific enough to be fit for purpose, our employment lawyers can help with drafting or updating a bespoke working from home policy for your business. The way your business uses homeworking may develop over time when you and your employees have experience of what works best. Updating your contracts and policies to reflect the changes made to your practices, is important to avoid confusion and potential claims in the future including for breach of contract and/or discrimination.
It is worth consulting individuals likely to be impacted by a homeworking policy to enhance its likely success in the longer term.
Allowing employees to work from home changes the way their contract is performed and so potentially once you have updated or created a homeworking policy you may need to update employment contracts, existing sickness, data and IT, disciplinary and grievance and benefits policies. Our expert employment lawyers can review all your employment policies and update as required to suit your individual business.
If you would like to read more, our working from home guide can help you further consider whether homeworking is right for your business. If you determine you would like to pursue this, our lawyers can discuss what you would like to achieve and how, to draft a policy which will work for you and your employees and seek to maximise employee engagement and productivity wherever they carry out their work. We can ensure that the important practicalities of homeworking, discussed above, are covered clearly and comprehensively and update contracts and other policies which interact with this, for consistency.