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Coronavirus: home working and your obligations to employees

It is not news to anyone, that right now we are in the middle of an unprecedented period of disruption, and many of us are following government guidelines and working at home. Home working is a concept that we are all familiar with in theory, but potentially not in practice, and not for the timeframe that we could be facing.

In light of the rapid changes, what should businesses and their employees alike be aware of, when working from home? 

Health and safety obligations

Legally, employers have a statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, wherever this is possible. There are more detailed regulations that set out what employers can do to comply with the above statement, and these generally dictate that a risk assessment should be carried out to reveal any potential hazards or required equipment. 

Whilst this does extend to home working, given the abrupt nature in which most businesses are having to adjust operations, practically this is going to be hard to comply with. Employers should be, at the very least, ensuring that they talk continuously with their employees about these issues, recording any findings, and setting them up for safe home working in so far as is possible at this moment in time.

In normal circumstances, employees can only be compelled to work from home if their contract of employment allows for this. Circumstances are, currently, far from normal. In the absence of an express home-working clause, a mobility clause may be sufficient to cover working from home. Failing that, employee agreement is necessary; and, in the circumstances, is likely to be easy to obtain.  

Communication

Following on from the above, given the nature and speed of the changes, communication between employees and employers is of the upmost importance. It is crucial at this time, not just to maintain a satisfactory client-facing service, but for employee morale, that teams consistently communicate and find new ways to engage. 

This may be through more frequent team video calls, by providing relevant news (and not just work-specific) updates to clients, or by participating in virtual training. The tools are already available, and arguably, the businesses that do best throughout this period will be those that make use of them in new and sustainable ways; ensuring their employees are able to work efficiently, and allowing their clients to see how successfully they are able to adapt. 

Wellbeing

Lastly, but potentially the most key, is the need for a strong focus on wellbeing. There is a lack of clarity on what to expect in the coming weeks, and this alone is hard for all of us to digest. We have already seen mass campaigns projected across social media platforms encouraging users to engage in communal workout sessions, stay at home challenges such as book clubs and “keepy-uppy” exercises, and many companies have started to take these on board. Video call coffee breaks, or a virtual lunchtime yoga class are amongst some of the ideas we have seen working well, and they demonstrate that teams are trying now, more than ever, to feel connected and remain positive. 

There is no doubt, that when the dust has settled, this pandemic will have revolutionised the way that businesses operate and will have changed many attitudes towards home working. Let us use this time in the best way that we can, to support, innovate and most importantly, stay connected.

Contributors: Emily Broderick and Sarah Maddock

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at March 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

 

 

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