A growing number of employees are working from home, either on a full-time or part-time basis, an arrangement that can have significant advantages for employers.
Businesses no longer need to worry about transportation strikes or inclement weather preventing workers from getting to the office – their ability to work from home means no business hours are lost.
Employers that do offer remote working report reduced overhead costs, increased productivity, better staff motivation, and higher employee retention. Despite the obvious advantages, there are practical and legal considerations that firms should undertake before implementing remote working.
Employers should treat any requests for flexible working arrangements (informal or otherwise) with care. Failure to do so can be costly. Typically, far more women than men seek flexible working arrangements like home working. Therefore a failure, without good reason, by an employer to acquiesce to a request could result in a costly discrimination claim, for example.
When considering or agreeing to a request to work remotely, employers need to bear in mind the following points:
- Attending the office – A specific right to require employees to attend office premises (for example, for team meetings) should be included in the contract.
- Monitoring hours/supervision – Consideration should be given as to how working hours and the quality of the output will be monitored.
- Expenses and tax – Who will pick up the expenses bill? For example, travel expenses to attend the office, heating and lighting costs, insurance premiums. There also will be tax considerations.
- Equipment and IT systems – Who will provide equipment and who will pay for it? Also, use and monitoring of communications systems might need to be adapted for remote workers.
- Insurance – Additional insurance policies may be needed, for example in relation to company equipment used at the employee’s home.
- Confidential information and data protection – Are additional security requirements needed? For example, locking away confidential information at night.
- Right to enter – Employers should reserve the right in the contract to enter the employee’s home, for example to carry out health and safety checks, to install or maintain equipment, or to recover company property at the end of the employment.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees’ places of work are safe and (as far as possible) free from health hazards. This responsibility does not stop just because an employee works from home. Therefore, risk assessments should be carried out.
Some remote workers might find it difficult to maintain healthy work/life balances. They also might become isolated and suffer from not having the same support mechanisms as those in the office (i.e. managers spotting signs of stress and lack of colleague support). Employers need to ensure that appropriate steps are in place to deal with these issues.
Although on the increase, remote working is still likely to be for the minority of employees. However, there are real benefits to employers of remote working and these should be embraced.
Louise Gibson is a solicitor in the employment law department at Howard Kennedy.