Home working - what are the legal obligations for employers?Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 5 October 2018
Q: I am seeking legal obligations for UK employers wherein an employee requests to work at home full-time and this is granted. In the UK are things like desks, furniture, internet, etc., obliged to be paid for by the employer even in the circumstances where this home working arrangement is at the request of the employee? Secondly, what about liability and normal health and safety obligations that arise in our workplace? Does the employer need to ensure that the home is a safe workplace or face liability if something goes wrong?
Seamus: We've seen the rise in terms of home working and certainly, look, there's clear benefit in relation to both the employee and the employer in terms of the right for home working. It helps the employee. It improves productivity. You have a happier employee as the employer. The bottom line is that the employer is required to protect the health and safety and the welfare of homeworkers who are employees in the same way that they are obliged to do it if they come into the office.
So, a risk assessment—and I'm probably answering the second part of the question first here—a risk assessment should be carried out of the work activities and appropriate measures taken to reduce any sort of associated risks for that.
Scott: I'm going to anticipate that the employer doesn't have to pay for the desks and the tables and whatever. What they do have to ensure is if somebody is being allowed to work from home, they have adequate materials and desks and equipment that won't injure themselves. You need a proper desk. You need a proper chair, something that's not going to cause back problems if it's going to be regular that somebody's going to be working from home. So, if you're going to allow it, you have to make sure they've got the equipment. I suppose it then comes down to who's getting the benefit here.
Seamus: We were having a quick chat before and Lynsey was saying that it's a 15-minute job in terms of going to someone's house and checking that you're satisfied with the desk and the chair that they're working at and that it's not going to cause any difficulties.
In respect of payments in terms of internet and things like that, you do come across that and certainly I've come across contracts where the employer will pay for the broadband line at home, but for a lot of people, I think the sensible and reasonable way of looking at it is that the employee sees it's getting a benefit and the employee sees they are being permitted to work from home.
It's to their own assistance in terms of maybe their childcare and all sorts of issues. The vast majority of employees will say, "I've got a broadband line already and I'm just going to feed off that." They'll take a sensible view in relation to it.
Scott: But their employer—if you're looking at safety and certainly access to the system, you'd need a VPN, a virtual private network in order to cover yourself from a GDPR...
Seamus: GDPR and everything has changed. Absolutely. There's definitely more of an onus to make sure that everything is protected in terms of that. But most of the time, that can be fairly easily done without overcomplicating. Obviously, where you have employees that are maybe doing more of a physical role and they're able to do that from home, you need to be careful. There's specific guidance in and around the likes of providing protective equipment.
Scott: Peace workers and stuff like that as well.
Seamus: Yes, you know, in terms of that. Most of that can be dealt with, I think, on a fairly sensible basis. It is an interesting one in terms of—it's something Hannah have I have both come across a fair bit is policies and procedures for home working.
What we find is a lot of employers will be very hesitant to have a policy and procedure on home working because they're almost afraid that if they have a policy and procedure that everyone is going to make an application I'm going to benefit from. For me, it's always better to have the policy and procedure in place and everybody's working off the policy and procedure and it's applied uniformly across the board.
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