It remains an employer’s legal duty to monitor and protect the health, safety and welfare of workers even when they are working from home, writes Vanessa Sanders.
Consequently, employers must implement policies and procedures which are reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their workforce while at work and of others who might be affected by that working activity.
How would you feel if your employee were sitting on a beach with their laptop or in a coffee shop?
This means, as an employer, you need to consider how individuals will work from home, what needs to be provided and how you will monitor their health and safety.
When the decision is made to allow an employee to work from home, it is imperative to carry out an initial risk assessment of their proposed working arrangements to identify the potential hazards for each individual home worker.
This is an on-going obligation, not a one-off requirement. All aspects should be discussed with a record maintained. Check-lists are very helpful, as these can be used as guidance for discussion and copies provided for reference.
For instance, when employees work remotely in the long term and you exert little control of enforcement of breaks and the furniture and screens they use, you need to manage their risks.
In particular, to reduce any equipment or workstation-related hazards, you should maintain regular communication reminding staff to:
- Take regular breaks from the screen;
- Avoid sitting awkwardly at their desk;
- Stand up and walk around;
- Let fresh air into the room;
- Work in an area free from distractions if possible and, if not, to minimise such distractions;
- Talk to someone if they are feeling isolated.
Remember, your employees may be away from day-to-day contact with colleagues and even family and friends. While it is not your responsibility to arrange a social life, it is important to keep your eye on the effect of adding in remote working.
Early signs of stress might include:
- Taking time off unexpectedly;
- Becoming uncommunicative;
- Showing lack of motivation;
- Making mistakes and losing confidence;
- Uncharacteristic emotional reactions.
Where is home-working exactly?
It is important for any employee working from home to be given guidelines on what is acceptable as a place of work, as other locations of their choice are difficult to direct if there is no policy. How would you feel if they were sitting on a beach with their laptop or in a coffee shop?
Health and safety remains your concern in terms of normal risks to eyesight, bad posture and breaking away from screen time, but there are risks to your business in terms of confidentiality and productivity.
If you permit staff to work anywhere – either specifically or because you have failed to direct where they cannot work – breaches of confidential or sensitive information will need to be considered.
We have all heard meetings discussed on trains or overheard business conversations in public places. Do you need to remind staff formally to avoid calls or virtual meetings in public spaces and to encrypt sensitive documents?
To avoid breaches of GDPR, ensure remote staff access and process any protected data using secure server connections only. Forbid them from downloading any sensitive information onto their own hard drives, if these are unprotected, whenever they take a laptop out of their office.
Working in a café may provide a break away from the monotony of your own four walls and may even be encouraged for short periods providing that adequate security is in place; but what if employees wish to work further afield or take their laptops on a trip?
Are they on holiday or at work? If you offer freedom to decide where and when employees work, you need to monitor productivity and to inform employees that this will be required.
Remind staff that non-work activities should take place outside of working hours and they must ensure there is a line drawn. Employees should use annual leave to cover leisure activities and pursuits, use sickness leave for illness and clearly identifiable working time for work.
Clarify through policies and regular communication that disciplinary action will be taken for any breaches and apply these consistently.
Vanessa Sanders is a partner with Stanbridge Associates, accountancy, finance and tax advisory medical specialists