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2nd April 2020

COVID-19 : Practical issues of working from home

2nd April 2020

COVID-19 : Practical issues of working from home

Charlotte Farrell

Posted: 2nd April 2020

T: 023 8048 2134

E: Email Me

This blog looks at the practical issues of working from home an employer needs to think about to make home working a success for the business and their staff.  Although many businesses already accommodate home working, for many more it is a new and potentially scary concept. Both employees and managers have had to adapt to this new way of working which looks like it may last for a lot longer than the initially proposed three week period. See also our blog “COVID-19 : The legal issues of working from home“.

What are the practical issues of working from home an employer needs to think about?

Below are the primary practical issues of working from home that we believe employers need to think about:

How can employers keep in touch with staff?

Keeping in touch with employees is vital when working from home; both for managers to keep in touch with their teams and team members to keep in touch with each other.
There are several different technology platforms that can help with this; Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facetime and Whats App calls. Not to overlook the traditional options of telephone and email.

Employers should consider putting in place guidelines for staff to follow during this period. It is easy to default to sending an email when not sitting next to someone. Employers might want to consider explaining the situations in which they would recommend a telephone call or video call. For example, if you would normally go and speak to a colleague in person about something you should call rather than email. If you would normally go for lunch or a coffee with a colleague each week, consider having a virtual coffee morning with them instead.

This doesn’t just have to be to get work done either. Employers should consider using technology for staff to socialise and to maintain morale. As long as employees are comfortable to use it, What’s App groups are a great way for teams to keep in touch with office banter and general support outside the work place.

Managers should also keep in touch individually with employees, so they can discuss any personal issues or concerns outside of the team.

How can productivity and expectations be best managed?

Setting clear expectations for staff working from home and ensuring productivity levels are maintained will be a key challenge for employers. Employers are likely to want to take into account the unusual circumstances when dealing with these issues. However, it is fair and reasonable for an employer to want to make sure employees are actually working whilst at home.

Employers could put in place home working policies to address this. Businesses could consider regular team telephone calls or one-to-one calls to discuss work load and any key issues. Every business will be different and should consider how they measure productivity and performance in the office and how this can be best translated into the home environment.

What happens if an employee is on maternity leave or long term sickness absence?

It is important not to forget employees who are already away from the workplace for other reasons. For example those on family friendly leave or long term sickness absence.

It is important to follow any requests employees have made about how they want to keep in touch during their leave. If they agree, employers should consider inviting them to join any group chats or team forums and include them in circulation lists for key emails. If any changes are proposed to terms and conditions of employment during this time, it’s important they are not forgotten.

If an employee is due to return to work after a period of extended leave, employers will need to consider how this can be managed. Employees may need new equipment to work from home, training on new systems or dedicated time with colleagues to catch up on any changes to the business or the work they do.

How should new starters be supported to join the workplace?

It is a particularly difficult time for new starters to join a business. Employers should attempt to integrate them fully into the team, and conduct a thorough induction process remotely through online training and conference calls to bring the new starter up to speed. Employers will of course need to be patient during this induction. It might help to set up a “buddy” for any new starters so that they have a key contact for any queries and issues and think outside the box to welcome new employees.

How can businesses ensure their data protection obligations are met?

For many businesses, a key issue will be how to comply with their data protection obligations and avoid inadvertent breaches. Please see my colleague Ryan Mitchell’s blog “Working from home during Coronavirus: 5 top compliance tips“.

How does home working affect an employer’s health and safety obligations?

Employers still have health and safety obligations towards their employees when working from home. Employees should be reminded that they should take regular breaks away from their work station and monitor their working hours. It is easy to lose track of time when working from home. Employees should also be encouraged to notify their manager if they have any concerns about their workspace or require any equipment to assist them in their role.

How should grievance and disciplinary issues be dealt with whilst home working?

Normal disciplinary and grievance procedures will continue to apply to staff working from home. It may, however, be harder to identify any issues. It is vital that managers are regularly in touch with their team members and any issues are addressed in the same way as they would have been in the office.

The way a disciplinary or grievance process is carried out will need to be adapted to be conducted remotely. Witnesses may need to be asked to send a written witness statement or answer questions on the phone. Disciplinary hearings may need to be held by video or telephone call. Processes which have a fixed time frame for responding may need to be varied to allow for the unusual circumstances. But businesses should not be tempted to delay any ongoing processes until the COVID-19 social distancing rules are lifted.

What happens if someone becomes ill when home working?

The normal employment contract continues to apply whilst working from home. If an employee needs to self-isolate due to COVID-19 and is unable to work from home they will need to notify their employer they are sick. They can self-certify for 7 days and can get an “isolation note” by visiting NHS111 online to cover any additional days. SSP will start from day 1 for any COVID-19 related absence. However, self-isolation on its own does not prevent employees working from home if they are not actually unwell themselves.

If an employee becomes unwell with something unconnected to COVID-19 they must follow the normal sickness procedures and their right to SSP will start on day 4.

Key questions for employers to consider and communicate to employees

The issues that arise with working from home will be different for all businesses. However, some key questions employers should consider when asking employees to work from home are:

  • How can teams stay in touch?
  • How is team morale monitored and support offered to those who need help?
  • How can success be shared to keep staff motivated?
  • How can arrangements for supervision and training be put in place?
  • How will staff access vital equipment and services from the business if required?
  • How will productivity be measured?
  • How can any compliance and regulatory requirements be met?

Employers might want to send guidance to staff on all these issues, as well as putting in place a Homeworking policy, to make the company’s rules on home working clear.

If you would like further guidance in relation to working from home, please contact a member of the Employment team.

This blog was co-written by Adam Wheal, trainee solicitor, and Charlotte Farrell, solicitor.

Our dedicated “Coronavirus – Legal advice and guidance” page contains advice and guidance on matters affecting, businesses, employers, self-employed, employees, planning legislation etc. and is regularly updated as and when new guidance comes in from the government or other regulated bodies.

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Charlotte Farrell

Posted: 2nd April 2020

T: 023 8048 2134

E: Email Me