With a complete easing of UK lockdown on the near horizon, many employers and employees alike are considering how – and more precisely where – work will be conducted post-COVID. Some businesses will undoubtedly require a full return to the workplace but many more are planning for remote working to continue, or for a hybrid of the two to become the norm.
But what does this mean for employers in terms of their obligations to employees, and how will it change once the restrictions of the pandemic have passed? Here’s a Q&A that we’ve created to provide you with the essentials.
Q: Do employers have health and safety obligations to their remote workers?
A: Yes. Regardless of where employees work, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workforce, and that includes when they work remotely. Employers should carry out a risk assessment for all employees who work either part-time or full-time from home. This assessment should detect any hazards and associated risks and, should any be identified, the employer should take practicable measures to minimise them. Obviously, during COVID-19, home visits to undertake risk assessments have been impossible but, if members of your team continue working remotely, such assessments should not be overlooked.
Q: What kinds of risks might an assessment highlight if remote work is computer or telephone based?
A: For remote employees working largely at a screen or on a phone, the associated risks could range from feelings of isolation to physical issues related to prolonged computer use and inadequate breaks. Here are some measures employers could implement to minimise the impact of such risks:
- Check that each employee considers that their remote work can be undertaken safely.
- Ensure new team members, and those who are junior or with less experience, receive adequate supervision on an ongoing basis.
- Establish and agree working hours, level of required communication and break times.
- Establish a clear route for employees to report mental wellbeing issues and schedule regular check-ins with all remote workers.
Q: What are the employers’ obligations where employees use laptops and computers at home?
A: The Health and Safety Executive highlights several recommendations for employers whose employees work remotely and use a screen for prolonged periods as part of their role. Temporary remote working, such as during the pandemic, did not require a full workstation assessment to be undertaken but as restrictions lift and workers remain remote, this guidance may change. It would be prudent, therefore, for employers to provide remote workers with a checklist for ascertaining any sub-optimal remote set-ups.
Q: Are employers obligated to provide equipment for remote workers and pay additional remote working expenses?
A: The answer is no and no. Clearly, though, if your remote workers are unable to work effectively due to a lack of appropriate IT, it’s in your best interests to be as supportive as possible. Employers are, however, responsible for providing equipment and flexibility to employees who are identified as being at risk or disabled. In all cases, both employees and employers should consult their insurance policies to ensure equipment is covered and remote working permitted. In terms of additional expenses, such as heating, lighting and broadband, employers are under no legal obligation to reimburse for such costs. If an employer decides to allow for such costs as part of an expenses policy, tax and NI implications should be investigated thoroughly.
Q: Should employers be monitoring remote workers?
A: This is a double-edged sword. Employers are duty bound to ensure that employees comply with rest breaks and other working time obligations. But, on the other hand, overly intrusive monitoring can be demoralising, unjustified and cause a breakdown of trust with the employee. In order to maintain the level of monitoring as proportionate and reasonable, technological solutions such as ‘lone worker apps’, which place some of the responsibility with the employee, are becoming increasingly popular.
If any of your workforce is to remain working remotely for all or part of the week, then please get in touch with us for the latest advice and solutions. We’re here to help the transition to the new norm be as seamless and productive as possible. (708 words)