If an employee asks if they can work from home, do I have to consider their request?

As an employer you need only grant permission for employees to work at home if it is in the best interests of the business and provides an advantageous arrangement for both the employee and the employer. If homeworking is something that you are seriously considering for a number of employees, then it is well worth setting up a formal homeworking policy and an employee homeworker’s manual detailing procedures and frequently asked questions.

I want to allow some of my employees to work from home – what are the implications?

The first things you need to ask are: ‘Can this job be done from home?’, ‘What sort of equipment is going to be needed?’ and ‘Will all health and safety, security and insurance requirements be met?’. It is important to remember that, as an employer, regardless of where the employee is working, you are still fully responsible for their health, safety and welfare – even if they are within their own home. So if they trip over a cable, injure themselves on faulty equipment or get a dodgy back from a badly designed workstation – the buck stops with you.

This may mean that you will need to carry out a risk assessment at your employee’s home, as all equipment, whether it belongs to the employee or the employer, must meet the same standards as that provided for work-based employees. In particular, IT users must have an adequate workstation, including chair and display screen. Attention needs to be paid to adequate safety precautions when equipment is used for homeworking. Correct installation of electrical equipment, adequate ventilation, proper fire precautions and clear emergency exit routes should all be provided.

Do homeworkers have a different employee status to those working on site?

No – and you must resist the temptation to look upon homeworkers as somehow different – they are still employees, and have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as work-based employees. However, it is sensible to design training sessions or a manual specifically for homeworkers to add-ress such issues as the procedures for dealing with equipment faults or other problems.

What about their employment contract?

You’ll need to issue variations to the employment contract which should record the proposed change of workplace and that the proposed rearrangement will take place for a trial period after which time it will be reviewed. You should also include clauses that state that all company equipment and confidential information will be stored securely at home and that you, as an employer, reserve the right to cancel the homeworking arrangements if they cease to be an advantageous arrangement for both the employee and the employer.

Can I monitor my homeworkers to ensure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing?

You’re going to need a much more open style of management as you’ll have less control over your employee’s method of working and so trust has to play a large part. However, what happens if you feel that trust is not enough?

Part 3 of the Data Protection Code of Practice says that workers can only be monitored if the advantage to the business outweighs the intrusion into worker affairs – it is, therefore, essential that you carry out some form of impact assessment before embarking upon any monitoring activity.

Specifically, your workers must be informed if they are being monitored and you should beware of monitoring any e-mails that are clearly personal.

Any information that you do discover should only be used for the purpose for which the monitoring was carried out and should be kept totally secure. Do not undertake covert monitoring except in the rarest circumstance – ie, where it could be used for the detection of crime, where it has been authorised at the highest level of business and where there is a risk that informing the employees would frustrate the purpose of the monitoring.

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