All of my staff are working from home. This is new territory for us. What do I need to be aware of as an employer?

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The Government announced on 16 March 2020 that employees and workers should work from home wherever possible to combat the spread of Covid-19 and to minimise infection rates.   It is therefore vital that employers are heeding this advice and are ensuring that their staff are working from home in non-essential industries.

This is obviously going to be difficult in client-facing roles such as in retail and hospitality where the Government has introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  This will ensure that staff who are on a PAYE system can receive 80% of their salary (capped at £2500) until 31 May 2020 when the scheme will be reviewed.

For those staff who can work from home then they will continue to be entitled to their contractual pay and benefits.   There are also some other considerations for employers to think about and we will take a look at these.

Equipment and logistics

It is important that employers provide their staff with equipment to enable them to work as efficiently as possible.  This includes the use of laptops, phones, mobiles, printers, and stationery.   It is also recommended that employers provide additional IT resources with their IT providers to ensure that there is better support for staff who are working remotely.  Consider the use of electronic signatures and Adobe Reader to make life easier in signing letters and documents.

Health and Safety

Employers owe a duty of care to all of their staff and there are various statutory provisions setting these out.  It is important that staff are reminded to adapt safe practices and methods of working as they would do at work, by ensuring that they do not create a health and safety risks and hazards for example tripping over wires and leads, and ensuring that their seating arrangements are not going to cause health problems.

Another issue is pregnant employees and more vulnerable members of staff and to consider whether any reasonable adjustments need to be considered to minimise risk to them.   It is incredibly difficult for an employer to accommodate all of these things so quickly and therefore communication and dialogue are essential.  In the current climate it is going to be difficult for employers to arrange external risk assessments from professionals with society having to implement social distancing practices and being told to remain indoors.

It is also important to stress to staff the importance of taking regular rest breaks away from their computer screen and to ensure that they have lunch and tea breaks.   Even though staff are at home the Working Time Regulations and still relevant.

Confidentiality and Data Protection

This is another area where employers need to remind their staff of the importance of protecting confidential information relating to the business and its clients.  This can relate to the printing of documentation that is confidential and the risk of it being shared with other family members or housemates who they live with.  Be aware of potential data protection risks with staff leaving confidential information on display on computer screens and in printing off confidential documentation which can be left lying around for others to see who should not view it.

Consider more flexibility

Some members of staff may have childcare responsibilities especially as most schools are currently closed.  They might have to care for elderly relatives who live with them.  Our advice is to be flexible with contractual working hours to ensure that there is more time to deal with tasks or to delegate them to others where possible.

Virtual meetings and engaging with staff

In the current climate there should be no meetings taking place in person.  Use video conferencing facilities such as Skype/Zoom technology to stay in contact with staff and to update them.  Such facilities can also be used for client meetings that can still be conducted remotely.  Communicating with your staff is vital to ensure that they do not feel isolated and that they are being supported at this time.  By doing this staff will feel more connected and engaged with their colleagues.

IT Security

There has been a noticeable number of scams and phishing attacks on IT systems and it is important for employers to bring these to the attention of their staff and to put measures in place to deal with  them.

Insurance

Most employees are probably not insured to work from home.  Employers should notify their own insurers that their staff are working from home to ensure that there is sufficient cover in the event that there is an accident or injury attributable to working practices.   There is no legal obligation on staff to take out insurance at the moment.  In an ideal world this would be required but now that so many staff are now working from home the practicalities of obtaining such cover will be difficult.  It will also be an additional cost to staff and the employer if they fund this.   The longer staff are required to work from home the more this may become an issue.

Mental health and wellbeing

There are concerns that the longer that staff are cooped up at home during the lockdown, the more their mental health is going to suffer.  Some staff might not be doing much physical activity at all with no daily commute  and may feel isolated.  It is therefore important for employers to engage with staff and to keep the door open at all times to discuss their health concerns.

This is a challenging time for many employers and their staff who are working remotely from home and it will be a learning curve for many.   We believe that regular communication is key and to be as open and transparent as possible about any staff concerns.  Once this Pandemic is over, homeworking may well become the norm for many employers and their staff.

If you have any questions about staff working from home then contact Steven Eckett – Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP