A guide to temporary homeworking due to coronavirus

The government published its coronavirus action plan on 3 March 2020. As part of its phased response, action includes encouraging more home working.

To help businesses prepare, we’ve put together this guide outlining the key points for implementing temporary homeworking and making it work for your business.

I don’t know if homeworking is a reasonable consideration for my business – how do I decide?

If potential homeworking is a precautionary measure and not medically advised, there’s no absolute right for an employee to be allowed to work at home. It’s a question of what’s reasonable for your business.

Assessing how practical it is for the job to be done at home will help decide if home working is appropriate. It may be that, on assessment, it’s not practical for the job to be completed at home, for example, because specialist equipment is needed which is only available at the main place of work.

If this is the case and the employee had been medically advised to self-isolate, then they would have to be classed as off sick. If potential homeworking was just a precautionary measure and not medically advised, then the employee could simply continue to work as normal.

If there are duties that can’t be practically carried out at home, you will need to consider whether it is workable for these not to be completed in the short-term.

If you’re looking to try and transfer such duties temporarily to someone else, then you would need to discuss and agree this with the employee and be able to justify it. In particular, you would need to consider whether there would be any loss of status. Given that this would only be a temporary situation in exceptional circumstances, hopefully no employee would object.

Will employees be classed as ‘homeworkers’ during this period - will home become their usual place of work?

No. Homeworking due to coronavirus will be a temporary measure and your employees’ contractual ‘normal’ place of work would remain at its usual address, e.g. your head office.

However, your communications with your employees would confirm that on a temporary basis, and because of the current risks raised by the coronavirus, you have agreed with them that they will work at home.

You should agree how long it’s expected the temporary homeworking will last but confirm that you can end the homeworking at your discretion. If the homeworking arrangements had been put in place following medical advice to self-isolate, then if they came to an end, the employee would have to go on sick leave for the remainder of the isolation period. If the homeworking was just precautionary and not medically required, the employee would simply return to their normal place of work.

Because the coronavirus situation is so unusual, temporary homeworking would not establish any kind of precedent that the employee now works from home. However, if homeworking is successful, you should bear in mind that this may weaken any future argument that homeworking is not feasible on a permanent basis e.g. if the employee puts in a flexible working request to work one day a week from home.

My employees haven’t worked from home before – what do I need to consider?

There are a number of considerations which we’ve put into a simple checklist. Addressing these before homeworking starts will help to ensure any Health & Safety and employment issues arising from homeworking are being well managed.

  • Can duties be practically carried out at home?
  • Can duties be carried out within the same timescales as their usual place of work?
  • Do any adjustments need to be made to the job to alleviate strains or challenges that might arise from homeworking?
  • What information will be provided about breaks?
  • What support needs to be provided to homeworkers?
  • What equipment is needed to allow the employee to work at home?
  • How often will you contact homeworkers and how?
  • How will work output be measured and if relevant, monitored to make sure productivity isn’t unduly affected by homeworking?
  • Can homeworkers safeguard confidentiality and compliance with data protection regulations?
  • Are your peoples’ contact details up to date? E. g. address, home and mobile contact numbers?
  • Create a clear communication plan – how often will you make contact with colleagues, manager? Will you use emails to communicate? Will an amended email signature be required, or will you use out of office messages?
  • Remote collaboration – consider introducing new software to aid joint working e.g. GoToMeeting or Skype for Business
  • IT resources – do you have the means for people to work at home securely e.g. access to server, VPN software?

It’s really important to consider steps to maintain lines of communication throughout the period of homeworking. Many people who are used to working in a team environment may find remote working a challenge and potentially demotivating. Simple steps like a daily morning catch up call from their manager, on either a group or individual basis, can help with this.

I’m providing additional equipment for homeworking – what if it’s stolen or damaged?

You should remind homeworkers to take care of equipment provided to them to allow them to work from home. It would be sensible to ask them to sign an agreement acknowledging receipt of the equipment, reminding them of their obligation to look after it and allowing you to deduct monies from their wages for any damage.

Consider whether there are any particular instructions you need to provide concerning the equipment - for example how to transport it if it’s delicate and any security precautions e.g. not leaving a laptop on display.

You should also consider whether your insurance will cover an employee taking this equipment home.

Are there any Health & Safety considerations for homeworking?

Yes. As an employer, you have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of employees whether working from home or in the workplace. There’s also a legal obligation to assess the risks to those who use display screen equipment (DSE) such as computers, laptops, mobile devices, etc. Where you identify a risk, you must put measures in place to reduce the risk.

In the case of homeworking as a precautionary measure due to coronavirus, consider taking a practical approach to these requirements. The most practical way to comply with the DSE Regulations and assess a ‘workstation set-up’ is to ask employees to self-assess their at-home workstation. If you’re already a Citation client, we have a DSE self-assessment form to help with this.

This may be a set-up similar to an office, but it could also be a kitchen or dining table. The employer should then review the outcomes of the assessment and address any issues that prevent the employee from setting up a suitable workstation at home.

You should then have a discussion with your employee about practical solutions you need to make homeworking a possible.

It’s not expected that employers should provide expensive equipment such as chairs or tables especially as such items usually take a few weeks to be supplied and the need to self-isolate will be temporary.

If there are employees who have already been provided with alternative equipment in their usual place of work e.g. ergonomic desk, chair or mouse consider whether the employee can take these for use at home.

Some employees may have a diagnosed medical condition that requires they have a different workstation. For homeworking as a temporary and precautionary measure, if you can’t find a suitable workstation cannot be replicated at home, temporary homeworking may not be feasible and the employee could simply continue to work as normal.

If the employee had been medically advised to self-isolate and they are not able to work from home for this reason, then they would have to be classed as on sick leave.

Can I ask my employee to work from home and use their own computer/mobile?

This would be a point of discussion with the employee. It’s likely that they will have to use some of their own resources to work at home, for example, broadband, electricity, central heating.

However, you can’t force them to use their own equipment. It may be that the employee would be happy to work at home on a temporary basis and therefore would fine with using their own equipment. This may the case if the alternative is to go on sick leave because they’ve been medically advised not to attend work.

It’s unlikely that there would be any real cost to them in using their equipment – unless they would incur additional phone charges – but you could speak to them about a temporary additional payment to cover this if it would help secure their agreement.

You should also consider whether this could lead to any perception of unfairness. For example, if an employee has financial struggles and doesn’t own appropriate equipment, they may feel resentful if they have to continue to work at the ‘riskier’ office compared to their wealthier colleagues who are working at home using their own equipment.

You would also want to consider whether there would be any security issues arising from the use of their own equipment, for example, a heightened risk of a computer virus.

You should also check there are no Health & Safety concerns to them using their equipment. For example, if they only have a laptop with no separate screen, which would not be comfortable to use all day.

Do I have to provide extra equipment for the correct workstation set up?

As homeworking to prevent the spread of coronavirus is a temporary measure, both employers and employees should work together in agreeing what makes a suitable workstation at home.

As part of planning in the event of introducing home working, consider the cost and availability of additional equipment, IT hardware and software to facilitate home working.

If employees usually work from printed documents and can’t complete their work otherwise, plans for sending printed documents to the employee’s home could be arranged rather than providing a printer. Of course, as stated above, if this becomes impractical for any reason then you would need to consider either a temporary change of duties or if the homeworking becomes unfeasible, bringing the arrangement to an end.

Otherwise, encourage employees to work from electronic documents and expect that in some cases, this may slow down the work e.g. proofreading long and/or detailed documents.

If the work activity requires continuous use of screens for an hour or more, consider whether extra equipment is needed to aid comfortable use e.g. a separate keyboard, laptop riser, mouse.

How do I manage breaks for homeworkers?

You will want to consider how to incorporate the employee’s normal breaks into the working day. However, when an employee is at home it is harder to monitor the work they complete, and you may also want to consider what you can put in place to measure your employees’ output.

The hours of work including breaks should be agreed before home working starts. Employees should be encouraged to take regular short breaks away from the screen of 5-10 minutes every hour. This includes completing other tasks such as reading documents or making hand-written notes.

Questions about temporary homeworking? 

If you’re already a Citation client and you need advice on the HR, Employment Law and Health & Safety implications of your workforce temporarily working from home, remember you’ve got 24/7, 365 days a year access to our advice line. Just call our experts on 0345 844 4848 any time of the day or night.

Not yet a Citation client? Simply leave your details in the form opposite and one of our friendly team will be in touch to talk through your business needs.

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