Aims of the policy
With technological developments making homeworking a more practical option, employers are facing an increase in applications from employees wishing to carry out some or all of their duties from home.
This guide aims to provide guidance on the procedure that should be followed by employers dealing with requests from employees wishing to work from home, and the policy that should be followed in relation to homeworking.
Who is the policy for?
Under the flexible working rules that were introduced by the Employment Act 2002, employees with more than 26 weeks’ service who have a child under the age of six (or a disabled child under the age of 18) have a statutory right to request a variation to their terms and conditions of employment in respect of (among other things) working from home. Once such a request has been made, an employer is not under a legal obligation to grant it but is required to consider it seriously.
Employers also need to consider requests for homeworking from employees who are not eligible to make an application under the flexible working rules, in order to avoid a potential discrimination claim (see below).
Once a homeworking arrangement has been incorporated as a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment, the employer must also be aware of their legal obligations to the homeworker, and ensure that these duties are reflected in their homeworking policy.
Requests under the flexible working rules
Having received a request for homeworking from an eligible employee, it is essential that the employer follows the statutory procedure. This means holding a meeting with the employee within 28 days and notifying the employee of the decision in writing within 14 days of the meeting.
If the request is refused, the grounds for refusal must be stated and sufficient explanation must be given as to why those grounds apply. A refusal must be on one of the permitted business grounds set out by statute. Find out more about this statute at A similar procedure must be followed in the event that the employee appeals against the decision.
Failure on the part of the employer to follow the prescribed procedure means that the employee will be able to challenge the employer’s decision in an employment tribunal.
Approval – trial period
If the request from a homeworker is approved, employers should implement a ‘trial period’ policy, to assess whether homeworking arrangements are suitable for both parties and should reserve the right to end the arrangement if it is not proving satisfactory.
Place of work
It is important to establish whether the homeworker’s principal place of work should be their home, or the business premises.
The policy should make clear whether the homeworker is required to attend the business premises from time-to-time, and if so, the extent to which they may choose to use the business premises as an administrative base.
Health and safety
Employers’ responsibility for their employees’ welfare, health and safety extends to employees working from home.
Before the homeworker commences their duties, the employer must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at the homeworker’s place of work, to ensure that it is suitable for its purpose. The employer must also ensure that the workplace is maintained and inspected regularly.
Hours of work
The employer must ensure that the homeworker is aware of their hours of work, and whether they must be available at set times during the day.
The employer must also ensure that the homeworker takes the appropriate breaks. This may be achieved by implementing a ‘core-hours working pattern’ to the home-worker’s day, incorporating a provision for rest periods.
Annual leave/sick leave
An adequate system of record keeping for reporting sickness absence must be in place to ensure that homeworkers take their full statutory entitlement to statutory leave.
Likewise, the employer must ensure that an adequate system for reporting sickness is in place to deter abuse of the system, and to enable the employer to monitor the homeworker’s well being.
The employer must consider which equipment is required for the homeworker to carry out their duties, and must be responsible for servicing and maintaining this equipment.
The employer should specify that the equipment should be used solely for business purposes, and ensure that appropriate insurance policies are in place.
The employer should also reserve the right to enter the employee’s home for the purposes of maintaining and servicing equipment.
The employer must ensure that all equipment supplied to a homeworker is covered by the employer’s insurance policy, or ensure that adequate steps are taken to ensure that the employer’s equipment is covered by a valid insurance policy.
The employer should specify which expenses the employee may claim, such as travel expenses and utilities.
Discipline/confidentiality and data protection
The homeworker should adhere to the same standards of behaviour that are expected at the business premises, including adhering to the employer’s data protection and e-mail policy.
Whereas the statutory right to request to work from home applies only to employees with childcare responsibilities for a child under six (18 if disabled), sex discrimination legislation protects all employees and workers. A refusal to allow an employee to carry out their duties from home may constitute sex discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Employers should therefore be capable of justifying on objective grounds a requirement that the employee work at the employer’s premises.
An employer must also consider the suitability of homeworking if it would prevent the employee from suffering a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled colleagues. A failure to do so may result in the employee bringing a claim under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The employer’s homeworking policy must also offer the same level of benefits to part-time workers, who have a statutory right not to be treated less favourably than full-time workers unless such treatment is objectively justified.
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