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Covid-19 Home working pack: policy and guidance for employers

Homeworking pack for Employers subtitled Homeworking policy Risk Assessment and Practice guidance illustrated with hand washing inside line drawing of house

Article updated Tuesday 12th May 2020. Please refresh your page.

Table of Contents

The Prime Minister has announced plans to very gradually restart the economy and ease lockdown restrictions in England. Continued social distancing will remain at core the plan to get the UK back to work, as well as making workplaces ‘covid-secure.’  People in England who can’t work from home, for example manufacturing and construction workers, should ‘be encouraged to return to work’. But the Government has requested that those ‘who can work from home should continue to do so for the foreseeable future’. 

So it’s important now to prepare your business and teams for a longer period of homeworking.  We have put together a home working pack with some practical for guidance for employers, for where we are now, bearing in mind that continued homeworking wherever possible is part of the Govenrnment’s plan.  

The pack contains: 

  • A Homeworking policy covering temporary homeworking in COVID-19 to add to your staff handbook and issue to your teams.
  • A Risk Assessment which can be completed by the employee and includes questions assessing technology, data security & confidentiality and additional information for higher risk cases, for example expectant mothers. The Government will be asking businesses to carry out risk assessments as a crucial part of making workplaces ‘covid-secure’ as it eases lockdown restrictions. Carrying out risk assessments for continued homeworking fits into this this comprehensive plan).
  • A list of useful sites and resources, in one place. There is a wealth of information online covering every aspect of homeworking. At the bottom of this article are listed the sites we know Employers and HR practitioners are finding useful, and some to provide a little uplifting inspiration.

    This article “Ten key things for effective remote working, from Jane Sparrow at the Culture builders”, has some helpful quick-check reminders on how to manage remote teams, including your line managers who are managing others in turn. 

First things first. Write to your employees.

Write to your employees

With a change to a work situation, however temporary, it is preferable to set this out in writing and get this agreed with the employee/s concerned.

It’s certainly time, if you haven’t already, to communicate formally with your teams who are working from home, and who may be doing so for a longer period.

Below are elements you need to consider, and we suggest cover, in a letter to your home workers. Include the home working policy and risk assessment that you can download here and amend when you send the letter.

The letter represents a change to the worker’s contract so needs to be customised for the relevant home worker. Get in touch if you need more advice and guidance on getting this right for your particular situation, or if you need a template letter to start from.

Why is it so important to send a formal letter to home workers?

On a very practical level of course, responsible employers want to do everything they possibly can to ensure the health & safety of their people during the pandemic, whether working from home or at the office.

Employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including those who work from home, under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974: As part of these duties:

  • Employers are required to carry out a risk assessment to identify hazards and take steps to remove these. This risk assessment can be done by the employee and submitted to the employer for review.
  • Employers must keep a record of the findings of the risk assessment and keep the risks under review.
  • Employers are responsible for any equipment they provide to be safe and suitable, and must provide appropriate eye tests, on request.
  • New and expectant mothers are owed a special duty of care under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
  • Employers should check they have appropriate insurance cover for homeworkers, including statutory employer’s liability insurance, and insurance covering any equipment or materials, and
  • Treat employees fairly and consistently whether at work or home working.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance for employers on protecting home workers. This page is part of the overall guidance from HSE on protecting workers in the Covid-19 pandemic. HSE will be enforcing the new rules for Employers and workplaces as return to work gets underway so keep an eye on this website for the latest information and advice for employers.

Homeworking policy

Update your company ‘Working from home policy’ in the Staff Handbook and reissue it. A Homeworking policy sets out the basis for working from home, the assessment criteria, the necessary arrangements and how home working will be managed going forward.

Contact us for help customising this template Homeworking policy for your particular situation.

Homeworker’s risk assessment

This risk assessment should be sent with the letter and homeworking policy to the homeworker. It can be completed by the homeworker and includes questions assessing technology, data security & confidentiality and additional information for higher risk cases for example expectant mothers. It also includes a critically important final question so easily missed by employers.

Setting up effective homeworking

The Health & Safety Executive have produced a working from home toolbox and video here and a display screen equipment (DSE) checklist here

We found this 3 minute you tube video from a physio demonstrating correct home workstation set up for good posture also helpful.

Systems and data security for home workers

Protecting data security and data confidentiality in a homeworking setting.

Businesses still have a legal responsibility to ensure that they have sufficient data security and data protection practices in place for homeworking as well as health and safety considerations for employees. There are increased risks from:

malware attacks
data breaches
use of down devices, and
adoption of new technology which has been poorly implemented, secured or assessed may arise

Employers are responsible for data security and protection of personal information. This remains the case when any member of your workforce is homeworking.

Employees must try to maintain the same standards of data confidentiality and security at home as they would normally do in the office. 

The Government warned of increased cyber security attacks in its daily press conference on 5th May. Phishing attacks have sky rocketed during the pandemic, and significant numbers are being targeted at home workers. For example, Google is blocking 18 million coronavirus scam emails every day, EU data breaches quadrupled in March 2020 as remote workers were targeted by hackers. UK Action Fraud reported an increase in phishing emails relating to Covid-19 with a loss of £800,000 by victims in one month in February. Hackers targeted the UK’s furlough scheme just hours after it went live.

Do warn and train your staff to avoid a disruptive security breach and IT misuse from these attacks.

Employers may want to think about:

  • Putting an IT and Systems in Homeworking Policy in place to manage your remote team and keep your data secure.
  • Asking your employees to complete a working from home assessment Offering employees (including those furloughed) online training or webinars on data security and confidentiality while working from home
  • Reviewing access to internal systems, security of employees own devices and updated anti-malware and virus protection across all devices. 

For more information and advice on data security and confidentiality, and what to do once your risk assessments are in, contact Karen Heaton at www.dpo4buiness.co.uk who works closely with The Legal Partners when we advise clients on these issues.

Practical tips for homeworking to share with your staff

Some of your people will be accustomed to working remotely, away from a single office location, and some may not. One of the things that people find challenging working away from their usual office and  particularly for everyone in these difficult times, is a sense of isolation. The biggest challenge for HRs and line managers in the current situation is managing the levels of stress and anxiety in their teams who are working remotely.

Some practical tips to consider, which we have seen clients adopt with success.

Define your space –  have a dedicated area for work, however small, to separate work life from home life. Ideally in a separate area, but otherwise any quiet area.

Sitting correctly –  In an ideal situation, every employee should have a fit-for-purpose work chair and desk as well as desk equipment set up professionally. Do your best in the circumstances. Make sure you have checked in with your team on these elements.

Working in natural light, sitting with correct posture in the best chair possible, ensuring laptop screens are positioned at eye height and using external keyboard & mouse wherever possible, are all important elements to get right. Check in with your teams on these aspects, and use/share the links in the section above.

Take regular short breaks- This can be hard to do, but every 20 minutes, look up, stretch, walk about, reach out to a colleague, open a window and get some fresh air. Make time to eat lunch properly. 

Establish a routine – establishing some familiarity in unfamiliar circumstances can help people stay productive and to feel in control, happier at work. Set regular hours and stick to the schedule. 

Plan the day – set a plan for each day and where possible stick to it.
 
Work-life balance – many people have family, caring responsibilities and household set ups that make keeping to their usual work hours difficult, and make just working from home a challenge. Discuss with people individually what working from home means for them, adapt working structures and agree a way forward. 

Staying in touch – While normal interactions are so constrained, now is a golden opportunity to step away from the emails, and instead encourage your teams to pick up the mobile to make calls, or use online video meet up platforms: gotomeeting, zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts. Take  5 or 10 minutes to have a general chat and make it a daily habit. Virtual “tea-breaks” seem to be working well. 

Schedule regular ‘check in, check out’ team conference calls, at the beginning and end of the day. Dedicate part of the call to something not work-related. Ensure everyone is involved and heard, especially those who are not physically visible.

Employers increasingly expect line managers to take responsibility for their team’s health and wellbeing. Be mindful that more junior line managers may well need some coaching in how to do this for their teams. Ensure they know, and have the confidence to have ‘psychologically savvy’ conversations with their team members, how to ask the right questions beyond the “I’m fine” answer. That they are understand what the impact of the current situation may be on the people they manage, take account of this, ask the questions that find out.

Training and Upskilling – As home working will be for many workers longer than just for the lockdown period now is also the time to schedule in the training and up skilling sessions with online suppliers 

Additional resources, tips and reminders on managing remote teams and all aspects of effective homeworking below.

Additional homeworking resources, in one place

 

  1. CIPD | ‘Getting the most from home working‘  page has a series of top 10 tips for homeworking in Covid-19, divided into sections on: 
    working remotely,
    managing remote teams 
    healthy remote working 
    effective online meetings
    legal & contractual considerations (already covered in this article) and related content.

    CIPD have made available a more general, non covid-19 specific, guide  outlining some of the key aspects Managers need to consider when ‘preparing the organisation for home working‘.

  2. Acas | Working from home a short bullet list on much of the above plus setting clear expectations.
  3. Croner | how to make the move to homeworking. Croner have made freely available it’s covid-19 specific summary page on moving to homeworking. Guidance is more geared possibly towards organisations unused to homeworking until recently.  It highlights that trust is essential and that employers will face challenges over supervision, reliability, punctuality, quality, output, consistency, plus health and safety. Raises the questions will the employer contribute to the cost of the employees’ heating, lighting and phone bills.
  4. Mental Health Foundation | Looking after your mental health whilst working from home during coronavirus. Includes tips on scaling the learning curve of  IT & Technology, getting into a routine, keeping up the formal and social flow of work, and guidance for managers of remote teams.
  5. Mind |Supporting yourself and your team.  Simple, very accessible one page read page of reminders for managers.

    also Mind | Guide to wellness action plans  for employees and managers. Simple and accessible, useful for sharing with teams. 

  6. When change feels like you’re in a washing machine. This is how leaders should see their team in times of change. Not our words, but those of coach Sara Traynor in a very useful linked in post on managing people through change, for leaders and managers.  
  7. A lighter, less corporate approach to guidance.  The globally crowdsourced Remote Work | Survival ToolKit, has been produced remotely, by a team of over 100 contributors to help people and their managers thrive whilst working from home during coronavirus. Useful for sharing with teams. Talks about burn out and resilience, what happens when tech fails, and how succeed as a remote worker, and manager.
  8. Moore Legal | best tools for working remotely. From Slack to MS teams to Zoom, Moore Legal have shared in a nutshell, their top picks for remote working platforms and tools (for lawyers, yes) and, the reason we are sharing, they explain which is best for what and why.  
  9. Finishing with a bit of fun, this chap’s take on video conferencing from home: What could possibly go wrong? Ideas for up skilling your teams. 
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For more information or queries about issues discussed in this article, please contact by email.

To speak directly with Richard or any other of The Legal Partners team of specialist business and HR lawyers based at our Richmond UK office, or our partner lawyers in Singapore or Guanzhou, please call +44 203 755 5288

This article explains the main legal issues and common situations to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please get in contact to discuss your particular issue or queries.