Working from home is a popular choice, often meaning greater productivity and suiting those with family commitments better. But out of sight should not mean out of mind.
An employee who is not office-based can raise exposures and there is a clear case for risk managers to take an active role in both producing guidelines on the working from home policy and monitoring such arrangements.
Indeed, there are many issues to be taken into account before the go-ahead should be given and both employer and employee should know where both parties’ responsibilities lie.
Trust me – I’m a home worker
Since 30 June 2014, almost all employees with at least 26 weeks service have the right to ask for flexible working and this can include working from home. Employers will probably have a meeting with the staff member and then have three months to consider the request.
They can reject it, but there needs to be clear business reasons for doing so, such as an inability to reorganise work to allow the home working, a detrimental impact on quality or to meet customer demand. Yet, it may make sense to take a reasonable approach – perhaps to allow some regular agreed home working days.
Although the numbers of home workers is rising – the Office of National Statistics puts the figure at 4.2 million - there is no doubt that many firms do like to keep an eye on their people.
Trust is a factor and there may well be concerns that someone will abuse trust and fail to do enough work or misuse any supplied equipment.
On the other hand, employees who want to work from home and are able to, may well feel an enhanced sense of loyalty towards their employer and perform even more effectively than if they were office-based – home working can be a win-win on both sides.
Put it in writing
Any permanent change in working conditions should appear in the work contract and risk managers should be aware of which employees are home-based. It is also crucial to remember that just because someone is working from home, the employer, broadly, remains responsible for their safety under all relevant regulations.
Risk manager’s checklist
So, there should be checks made on a number of key areas, including:
- Does the employee have an appropriate and safe workspace? This should be properly assessed for hazards and suitability in terms of the desk, seating and equipment. Is there adequate broadband and telephony capability?
- Data protection and confidentiality – this is a vital issue, not least given the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation. Home based workers must be clearly aware of how to keep data safe and to avoid potentially dangerous activities such as using personal email accounts to send sensitive documents. There should be clear rules around who has access – i.e. just the employee – and on encryption and password security.
- They should also store documents securely at home and shred these if necessary, along with having clear guidelines on how to stay compliant. There should also be a use of social media policy.
- Although they may work largely from home, employees may still need to attend the office in person and also to take part in training as required. They should receive adequate management support and be in regular contact with necessary channels in the business, such as their line manager and HR.
- Insurance arrangements - in terms of employers’ liability and any impact on the employee’s home and contents cover – should be checked.
Working from home does not suit everyone – it may not be possible in practical terms and some may prefer to be part of a team in a single location. But, it is a preferred way of working for an increasing part of the workforce and making sure there is sufficient attention paid to risk, means avoiding the stresses of the daily commute should remain an option for more in the future.