Remote/Home WorkingPosted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 11 September 2020
"If we agree to let employees continue working from home for some or part of the week going forward, are we obliged to pay for more appropriate office furniture, for example, desks, chairs, etc.?"
Seamus: Yeah, we've touched on this before in our prior webinars. But I think, I mean given the length of time that has passed now from the commencement of working from home, you know, issues will arise in relation if there's no sort of seemingly stop line to this and we're going to continue on in that position. I think it is worthwhile for employers maybe to look at risk assessments in the rind, health and safety, and, you know, whether there is essentially the equipment available there and that it is in good working order for the employees.
You know, it's the typical things that we all had, where working from the dining room chair might cause sort of back issues. And maybe for the first weeks in lockdown we all sucked that up and accepted the situation. But I think, you know, there's no finish line here, it's maybe for the foreseeable future that we're going to be having these arrangements in place, employees might now start to be saying, "Well, look, I'm going to need proper equipment, proper, you know, furniture at home and things like that," whether it's desk or chairs. I think it's prudent to look at that on a risk assessment basis, now that we're no longer sort of flying by the seat of our pants with all of this. And, you know, that liability aspect, whenever we touched on it previously, we did say that liability does, you know, stretch beyond the office or the place of working. If the person is injured at home while they're working or suffers an injury, the employer could be liable for that.
I think it's also important for maybe people that are working with specified or special equipment. You know, if they're working with glue guns and soldering irons and things like that at home, obviously those precautions need to be taken. And I think just because it's been happening for a number of months, it's not an opportunity for the employer just to ignore it and continue on.
Certainly I do recall that I had a couple of queries at the start of lockdown, where employers were frustrated by employees making demands in terms of desks and chairs and things like that, because, you know, we were all in such a panic. And, you know, really talking through the client advice and saying, "Well, look, you know, if there is an issue with the chair, I think you're better facilitating and looking at trying to get another chair in. Maybe, you know, have the chair at work brought home to facilitate that and things like that." But where we're in this sort of hybrid position, where we're in and out of the office, I think it's important where we don't see a close line that there is a risk assessment done and that, you know, proper decisions are made.
Scott: Okay. Well, it does become the workplace. And certainly if you've got people like, you know, Google, I think, and Facebook and so on are saying, "No need to come back to the office until 2021." Well, if you're working with substandard equipment for the guts of two years, then there's a pretty good chance you're going to get a bad back. Otherwise there wouldn't be a requirement to provide proper equipment in the workplace. You know, it stands to reason that you need the proper screens and mice and all that kind of stuff that you've got.
There's a few other questions coming in just on that point.
"If an employee has purchased a desk and chair for working at home without seeking prior approval, is the company liable for full or partial costs? Now the employee has asked for payment."
I suppose they should have got permission beforehand.
Seamus: Yeah, I think that would be my view on it, is that anything, any expenses should be, you know, previously agreed with the employer and authority granted before those purchases are made. I mean I think it depends on the type of work that you're doing. You know, we all made do with working from home, and I have no doubt the vast majority of employees have, you know, worked on their dining room table or on their kitchen table. Not ideal, but it's where we're at with the current situation. If they've gone ahead and purchased equipment without authority or without permission to do so or any agreement for it to be reimbursed, I think I would be hesitating as an employer to pay any monies out without a proper discussion or investigation in and around that.
Scott: Yeah. Yeah, I suppose it might impact on their output if you don't. But nonetheless, it's one of those ones they should have done. And,
"If we permanently change working arrangements to work from home for two or more days per week, do we need to change their contract?"
Presumably it just goes back to the '96 order and the requirement to send them an update within a month.
Seamus: Yes. That would be the usual position. I mean if it is going to be permanent on that basis and you're happy that it's permanent, then you should update the terms and conditions, and you can do that in writing.
Scott: Okay. Well, let's move on to a slightly different one. I know there's a number of questions there, folks. We won't get to them today. We'll try and get to them the next time that we're here with you on the 2nd of October. But we've had a thing there where we asked the poll questions about redundancy. And for those that came along late, you're listening to Seamus McGranaghan from O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors, and I'm Scott Alexander from Legal Island. We posed a question at the beginning about how many of the audience were anticipating making redundancies in the next three months. And it was fairly heart warming, I suppose, I'll still purr, 20%, or thereabouts, were expecting to make redundancies. So 80% of the audience at that time weren't anticipating redundancies. But we know there's lots out there.
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