Nearly half of employees want home or flexible working to continue as Covid restrictions ease. Rebecca Dennis of Goughs Solicitors offers some tips for how employers can make this work for everyone.
The immediate future for employers who have an office-based workforce is now dominated by the repercussions of the pandemic.
Home working was imposed by necessity and was fundamentally a success.
Recent surveys show that nearly 50 percent of employees wish home working or some form of split working pattern to continue.
Before the pandemic, 18 percent of the workforce regularly worked from home. At this point in time, 40 percent of employers are offering regular home working to more than half of the workforce.
Home working can benefit employers and employees by removing the need for expensive office space as well as the time and pressure of commuting.
However, it is not without risk. Home working poses risks in terms of oversight, corporate cohesion, training, safe working methods and the effects of isolation.
Here are 10 helpful steps to enable your business to deploy hybrid working successfully.
- Create a policy document that sets out which roles are eligible for flexible working, the obligations and procedures that apply in protecting access to confidential information in the home environment, the financial consequences such as internet, heating and lighting allowances, the standard of behaviour and dress code required for video conferencing and the safeguards you will deploy to ensure well-being and cohesion.
- Make sure your employers’ liability insurance is amended to cover home working and ensure that employees’ home insurance allows them to work from home.
- Remember that employees can apply for flexible working in the absence of a dedicated policy. Section 80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996 allows an employee with at least 26 weeks of continuous service to make a written request and statutory guidance dictates how an employer should deal with this.
- Consider a trial period for flexible working. If this proposal is being dealt with under a request for flexible working remember to agree to postpone a final decision on flexible working until the trial period has passed.
- Remember health and safety! Employers are required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the health and safety risks to which employees are exposed whilst at work. This home working demands a risk assessment of the employees’ working environment and equipment, their hours of working and the requirement for rest breaks.
- Beware discrimination risks! If workers are required to work from home instead of being given the option and it transpires that home working is not feasible for that employee for reasons related to a protected characteristic then you could be exposed to indirect discrimination claims. Those employees who rent or live in shared accommodation without dedicated study space may be adversely affected. Similarly, if home working is only made available to more experienced or long-service staff this could amount to less favourable treatment to younger employees. Equally, the refusal of a flexible working request could have a disproportionate effect on female employees who have childcare responsibilities.
- Monitoring remote working employees is likely to pose its own problems. Covert surveillance by monitoring calls and internet usage is possible but likely to demotivate and arguably destroy mutual trust and confidence. Ensure that your home working policy makes clear what monitoring will take place and why.
- Make sure that line managers maintain systematic contact and supervision and encourage team activity wherever possible.
- Amend your contracts of employment once the system for flexible working has been agreed whether as a permanent or temporary measure and review any post-termination obligations that relate to geography.
- Conduct a regular review of working practices.
Rebecca Dennis heads the Employment Law team at Goughs Solicitors www.goughs.co.uk