With the uncertain situation brought by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, many employers have adapted by offering flexible and home working for their employees to support business continuity.
In a time where work and life need to integrate in order to protect employees, their families and society in general, remote working is therefore a productive solution for both employee and employer.
It can also present many pitfalls, however, and requires effective planning and management, if it is to work successfully.
A crucial area of responsibility for employers is for the health and safety of workers, and this includes those who are not physically located at the employer’s place of business. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a crucial part of the H&S management of workers an employer is required to do, is to complete a risk assessment of the work activities carried out by homeworkers.
Whilst most homeworkers will be doing low risk, desk-based jobs, employers should ensure appropriate risk assessments are conducted both at the start of arranging the homeworking and periodically thereafter. This involves identifying the hazards relating to the homeworkers’ work activities and deciding whether enough steps have been taken to prevent harm to them or to anyone else who may be affected by their work.
Carrying out the assessment
In planning homeworking, as the employer, you will need to:
- Identify the hazards which may cause harm to homeworkers, or other people, as a result of the work being done in the home. It is important to involve them in the process as they are likely to be well placed in identifying potential hazards
- Decide who might be harmed and how
- Assess the risk and take appropriate action by deciding what steps should be taken to eliminate or reduce the risks, as far as is practicable. For example, there is a greater risk of an accident from trailing cables if there are children in the home
- Ensure that work equipment is fit for its purpose in a home environment
- Ensure workers are suitably trained to work safely
- Keep records of any serious accidents, illnesses or injuries experienced by home-workers
Home workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as that of other people such as family members and neighbours. They must also ensure they use work equipment correctly.
When introducing home-working the following factors should also be considered:
- Ensure homeworkers take sufficient breaks, especially when using device screens
- That they can work safely without direct supervision
- Advise employees to notify their home insurer and, if necessary, their mortgage provider
- And inform the *company’s public liability and employer’s liability insurer
- Ensure those responsible for supervising persons working remotely, are properly trained. Some workers may find homeworking isolating, and working alone, stressful
- Good communications with the homeworker - e.g. regular Skype meetings can help homeworkers feel engaged
In summary when you have employees working from home, you need to think about:
Hours of work - specify when the employee will need to be available for work. For example, will the employee be required to observe strict office hours, have complete flexibility over when they work, or have certain “core hours” when they must be available. Will they be required to account for their time and if so, how?
Expenses - consider whether or not employees will be entitled to expenses for a contribution towards telephone, broadband, heating and lighting costs. Other expenses to consider include postal/courier costs, stationery costs and photocopying/printing cost.
Confidentiality and data protection - this can be difficult to supervise remotely so include an express term to address what is considered confidential information and the necessary protections required (such as passwords and encryption) and make sure data protection obligations are maintained.
Equipment - will the employee require specific equipment to perform their work?
Health and Safety
An employer is responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that employers must conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including those working from home. Whilst most homeworkers will be doing low risk, desk-based jobs, you should ensure appropriate risk assessments are conducted both at the start of the homeworking arrangement and periodically thereafter.
If the employee will be using their own computer equipment, agree what security needs to be in place.
Data protection and security
Carry out a risk assessment of the data protection implications of homeworking. This would include consideration of the following:
- Who might have access to the employee’s computer?
- Is the employee’s home adequately secure?
- What rules do you have regarding encryption, use of passwords, and the transfer of data between home and office?
- What rules do you have in place regarding the retention of data?
*Public liability insurance
Check your employer’s liability insurance covers employees working from home. Make sure your actions (or any lack of action) don’t invalidate the insurance.
The information contained in this bulletin is based on sources that we believe are reliable and should be understood as general risk management and insurance information only. It is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any specific or individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such. If you wish to discuss your specific requirements, please do not hesitate to contact your usual Towergate Insurance Brokers advisor.