With many shifting to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic business owners can look to top tips from law experts to ensure they are legally providing employees with everything they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sharp rise in the number of people working from home since March 2020 and remote working has quickly become the norm for many, as businesses continue to shift their practices and operations to adapt to lockdown measures.
From ensuring employees have the correct information and equipment, to monitoring workload and mental health, there are a number of requirements that employers should have in place for staff to ensure they can carry out their work from home safely and efficiently.
The legal experts at JMP Solicitors have outlined five necessary obligations that employers are legally required to do to look after the mental and physical wellbeing of staff whilst working from home.
Ian Howard, managing director at JMP Solicitors, says: “Business owners are obliged to ensure that the correct health, safety and work practices are in place for employees that are working remotely – in the same way that they would need to in a normal working environment.
“Under UK health and safety legislation, employers are required to ensure a safe workplace for all staff, including those working from home, and so as experts, we have compiled the main priority requirements to help ensure that business owners are doing things right to protect their workforce.”
Employers have a duty to ensure staff have the appropriate equipment to carry out any work from home. This does not necessarily mean they are required to provide a new laptop or desktop computer, for example, but if the employee does not have a personal one, then adequate equipment must be provided.
Also, when it comes to saving work data on a device, an employer should outline how and where files should be saved to protect security. This will usually mean saving data to a file-sharing server so that everyone can access it, and so that it is protected by key security measures.
Employees should avoid storing work files directly onto a laptop, personal mobile phone or computer, as this puts the business at risk if there is a security breach or a device is lost or stolen.
2. Work environment
It is the responsibility of an employer to carry out a risk assessment on a home office environment to check that the set up is comfortable and safe.
This can be done using video calls, photos or by filling out an online questionnaire or taking part in a short virtual interview to assess a work routine and space.
When starting work in an office environment, employers are required to provide information about how to work comfortably – including how to set up a desk, chair, computer screen and keyboard to ensure there will be no bodily harm caused in any way, and the same awareness and caution regarding these measures still applies when working from home. This helps to avoid common issues that arise from poorly set up work environments, including back problems and headaches from staring at a blue-tinted screen for too long,
It is therefore important that an employer encourages the set up of a safe home office environment, providing guidance about how to do this, and allowing staff to take regular breaks away from desks.
For any concerns about equipment, work practices, mental and physical wellbeing, training, IT or other technology issues, an employer should provide employees with the necessary information for who to contact regarding these matters, so that staff are able to continue working efficiently and comfortably.
4. A working from home policy
Though not a legal requirement, it is highly recommended that an employer creates and implements a working from home policy, to provide guidance and clear information as to what is and what is not expected from employees working from home, as well as what their obligations as an employer are. This will help to avoid or resolve issues that may surface later on, by clearly outlining what is expected from both parties in advance.
This document should include details about equipment provided by the employer – including what happens if that equipment becomes lost, stolen or broken, and details of where staff can access help for any issues – be it HR or IT-related, and how and when an employer will perform a risk assessment on home working environments to ensure these are safe and practical, amongst other points.
If staff are worried that an employer does not have a home-working policy in place, they can speak to a line manager or HR manager and express concerns. If employees feel that physical and mental wellbeing is becoming an issue, or that they don’t have adequate resources to carry out work due to a lack of care from an employer, then they may wish to seek legal advice.
5. Regular communication
It is important that an employer stays in regular communication with their staff, whether this is by telephone or email – to monitor performance, workload, and health and safety.
This will help to quickly eliminate any concerns from both parties, allowing them a chance to agree upon any changes to work practices or systems, to ensure staff are getting the guidance and care that they are entitled to whilst working from home.
As an employer is responsible for managing workload, as well as looking out for signs that staff may be suffering from stress, it is crucial that staff know who to talk to if issues like these arise.