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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 29th September 2020

On Tuesday 22th September, in a retightening of earlier restrictions designed to address rising cases of coronavirus in England, the Prime Minister asked office workers in England once again, to work from home ‘if they can’.

He noted exceptions: ‘those in ‘key public services and in all professions where this is not possible, such as construction and retail, should continue to go to into work.’

He added later that people should keep going into work if it is important for their job, mental health or wellbeing.

In July, the PM had urged the country to return to work and on 1st August had given employers the go ahead to ask employees to return to Covid-secure workplaces.

Large numbers of office workers had in reality continued working from home, despite the government’s calls to return. Many employers too are considering or making plans for a move to flexible, longer or permanent home working for their staff.

Wherever you are in your workforce planning, this ‘homeworking pack’ will help you review, update your policies and practices easily, allowing your staff to work from home as efficiently as possible. 

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. 

It goes without saying, but if you haven’t already done so, write to your employees.

Write to your employees

With a change to a work situation, 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

This 3 minute you tube video created by a physiotherapist demonstrates correct home workstation set up for good posture also helpful as a reminder.

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. 

Phishing attacks sky rocketed during the pandemic, with significant numbers targeted at home workers. (At the height of the lockdown Google was blocking 18 million coronavirus scam emails every day, EU data breaches quadrupled in March 2020 as remote workers were targeted by hackers. 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 tips to consider, and review from time to time with your existing staff and new joiners, who are working from home

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. 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 – 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 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 – ironically, homeworking has proved a golden opportunity to break the habit of communicating by email alone. Companies have been encouraging teams to pick up the mobile to make calls, and of course online video meet up platforms. Take  5 or 10 minutes to have a general chat and make it a daily habit. Virtual “tea-breaks” work well. 

Whatever technology is used, the point is don’t allow vacuums in communications to arise. 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.

Some firms have created ‘wellbeing platforms’; breaking areas down into mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, thought leadership and combining childcare with homeworking, inviting staff to contribute.

Training & upskilling. Many employers took the opportunity in lockdown to train and upskill their teams using the online resources, (Microsoft Excel topped the list of training courses taken during the pandemic). Continuing training programs, and promotions, when staff are homeworking is good for morale, and for moving forward.

Below are some helpful additional resources, tips and reminders on managing remote teams and all aspects of effective homeworking.

Additional homeworking resources

  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 focusses on returning to work as lockdown eases, but includes useful homeworking 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 | 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. The globally crowdsourced Remote Work | Survival ToolKit, was 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 their top picks for remote working platforms and tools. They helpfully explain which is best for what and why.  

The information set out in this article is correct at date of publication (22nd September 2020). The effect of coronavirus on businesses means things change fast, and so it is important to obtain legal advice to ensure you are properly protected.

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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.