Covid-19 & Working From Home: Legal Considerations

The following blog is part one of a three-part series that has been guest written by Ross Harling of www.dx.company. The author was a long-term CIO & since 2014, has been an EU evaluator for business innovations and disruptive technologies. This series is based on the author’s past experiences of ‘Home Working’ projects, good and bad. Its purpose is to provide ‘good faith’ guidelines & practical ways to avoid the regular beartraps, it is NOT a substitute for legal advice.  

Technology will work, but Legal & Human parts may fail 

Just a few weeks after the first Coronavirus outbreak UK Business Leaders must, often for the first time, make homeworking arrangements for some or all their staff. Whilst the health and wellbeing of your staff is the paramount consideration, the impact of sudden home working implementation will be felt by managers, supervisors, customers, as well as the employees, directly involved 

To mitigate health risks your company should of course strictly adhere to Public Health England guidelines, bearing in mind these may be subject to frequent change. Whether the reason for home working is emergency self-isolation because of catching the virus or precautionary separation from colleagues, regulatory matters may jeopardise your legal position; and you may encounter some unusual organisational change issues. In conclusion, we also look at existing contributions that HMRC can make to the costs involved.  

Home Working Obligation 

Whilst Coronavirus may be the reason for deciding on home working, you also need to be aware of regulatory obligations. After 26 weeks of employment, all staff have a statutory right to request flexible working (including home working) and you must handle this request in a ‘reasonable manner’. In normal times this means you have some weeks to assess the advantages and disadvantages, discuss the request formally with the employee, make your decision and offer an appeal process.  

Given that you agree to such a request, then you must change the terms of the employee’s contract accordingly. And finally, be aware that if you do not handle the request in a reasonable manner, then your employee can take your company to an employment tribunal. 

Employer’s Liability 

Another statutory obligation is the Employers’ liability insurance. This insurance is a legal requirement and covers your business for compensation costs if an employee becomes ill or injured as a result of work they do for you, irrespective of the work location. It’s legally required for all businesses with one or more employees. 

You should either carefully read your insurance documents and/or check with your insurer or broker as to cover for both Home Working and catching the Coronavirus as a result of having to work in circumstances where an employee was at risk of becoming infected.  

Health and Safety 

For your premises, additional cleaning tasks may need to be undertaken. As an example, the disinfection of work areas where asymptomatic or confirmed employee usually works and takes breaks, including their work equipment and items like personal crockery. You may also need to make sure personal protection equipment (PPE) is available for affected staff members and cleaners. Finally make sure of safe disposal of both waste materials and the cleaning equipment, such as mops, sprays & brooms 

For a Home Working Employee, your H&S responsibilities do not finish at your premises. You need to ensure that your staff are working in a safe environment that is properly organised for home working.  

Usually, this would involve a home inspection visit but at a minimum, you should provide a checklist for review and signature by the staff member(s). The checklist should include both technical and non-technical aspects such as:  

  • Where will the home working be conducted? Is that area separated from regular use by other family members?  
  • Is there adequate lighting? Are there safe electrical connections without long extension cables? Are there any trip hazards in the immediate vicinity? 
  • Is the chair and desk/table being used for home working suitable for long work periods? 
  • Is there a lockable drawer/cabinet where any company confidential media can be secured? 

Continue to part two: Organisational Considerations of Covid-19 and Home Working

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Ross Harling Ross Harling

01 April 2020

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