Homeworking and the Coronavirus - How Do I Handle It?Posted in : How do I handle it NI on 18 March 2020
For March 2020, we have asked the employment team at Tughans to provide practical answers to unusual, sensitive or complex work-related queries. We call this feature “How do I handle it?”
The articles are aimed at HR professionals and other managers who may need to deal from time to time with the less common place disputes at work; issues that may, if handled incorrectly, lead to claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal or some other serious difficulty.
I am an HR manager in a medium sized technology company. In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, I would like to ask employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. What considerations do I need to give to this, can I force them to work from home - how do I handle it?
It is usually the case that requests to work from home come from the employee to the employer and not the other way around. However, in these unusual circumstances and as a result of recent guidance from the government on home working, it is becoming a reality that for a lot of employers, whose businesses suit home working, they are asking employees to do just that.
What do you need to think about? Firstly, look at the contracts of employment, do they contain mobility clauses? Effectively, such a clause should allow the employer to ask the employee to work within a reasonable distance of the business, which could include the home. That would give you the contractual right to require the employee to work from home. If there is no mobility clause in the contract, then ordinarily, there would be a risk of a breach of contract claim by the employee if you forced them to work from home, however, in this current and extraordinary climate, it would probably still be seen as a reasonable request to ask the employee to work from home. Remember that as you are asking them to work from home, then they are entitled to full pay, in return for carrying out that work.
Before you send an employee home to work, you need to think about the following issues:
- Health and safety;
- Paying for use of employee’s own phone/contribution to utility bills;
- Provision of equipment;
- Confidentiality and data protection issues;
- Monitoring of staff
In relation to health and safety issues, remember an employer must take reasonable care to ensure it is providing a safe system of work and place of work for the employee. You will need to carry out a risk assessment to satisfy yourself that it is safe for the employee to work from home and it may be necessary to adapt the home to make it safe. If you are not satisfied that it is safe for them to work from home, even taking account of adaptations or changes, then it may be that you would have to rethink asking them to work from home, as it may not be a reasonable request.
What about equipment? If the employee is using their own mobile phone, for example, then you should pay for their calls which relate to work and also contribute towards other expenses such as utility bills like electric and heating of the home. If you are providing equipment, most home working employees will need a laptop, phone and possibly printer, you will need to consider what each employee will need to carry out the job and also ensure that your company security systems are in place in relation to that equipment.
Note also the importance of the employee’s duty of confidentiality when working from home, around client information and also, very importantly data protection obligations, which even when the employee is not working in the office, will continue to apply when they are working remotely. Make sure you have a comprehensive homeworking policy in place which covers all of these issues.
How will you monitor your employees at home? Some employers will already have systems set up for those who are already home working, such as monitoring of emails and output, but for others, this is a brand new way of working, which will not have been tested before. You will have to place your trust and confidence in your employees to carry out the work. Remember, most people who have the ability to work from home, will want to work from home and to support you in these difficult times, rather than face the alternatives, which could include lay off, short time working and even redundancies.
[Updated] Coronavirus Awareness in the Northern Ireland Workplace (this is a free course)
This course will help raise awareness of the coronavirus and provide information for all employees on how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This course will also provide you with guidelines on how to protect yourself and your colleagues in the workplace.
[New] Protecting Data when Home Working in Northern Ireland (limited time offer available)
Data breaches are often accidental and the result of staff carelessness. The fear and panic surrounding the coronavirus (Covid-19) have produced a perfect ‘high stress’ environment for cyber criminals.
It is vital that all of your employees – from customer service to marketing and sales, many of which will be home working now - know how to protect your organisation’s confidential data from cyber attacks and fully understand their obligation under data protection legislation to protect the data they handle.
More on Coronavirus
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.