Coronavirus and Working From Home

19 January 2022
Following the Prime Ministers announcement on 19 January 2022 the advice to work from home has ended and those who were working from home are encouraged to return to the office.

Coronavirus and Working From Home: the Government are strongly suggesting that anyone that can work from home should do so. At the end of this article you will find a link to download a copy of my homeworking policy for you to implement that provides clear guidelines about who is eligible and also establishes how you expect them to perform while they’re working remotely.

Current government advice is for everyone to try and stop unnecessary contact with other people – ‘social distancing’. This includes:

  • working from home where possible
  • avoiding busy commuting times on public transport
  • avoiding gatherings of people, whether in public, at work or at home

Employers should support their workforce to take these steps. This might include:

  • allowing staff to work from home wherever possible
  • agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example changing start and finish times to avoid busier commuting times
  • cancelling face-to-face events and meetings and rearranging to remote calling where possible, for example using video or conference calling technology

Working From Home

Since the lockdown was announced it has been reported that the percentage of those working from home has increased from 5% to almost 50%, with many employers being pleasantly surprised at how smooth the transition into home-working has been.

The latest Government guidance is to work from home if you can do. In light of this, working from home will continue for the forseable future to be common practice. Indeed, many employees may request to continue working from home, or at least to work from home for part of the week and requests to do so may be harder to refuse in the face of clear evidence that an unexpected period of home working has gone smoothly.

Where work can be done at home, you should:

  • ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working
  • arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
  • pay the employee as usual
  • keep in regular contact with the employee
  • confirm the arrangement in writing

Rejecting A Request For Home Working
The statutory Right to Request Flexible Working includes 8 business grounds for refusal of a request for home working. However, the greater cost and litigation risk for refusing continued home working will be linked to potential claims for indirect discrimination. The highest risk area will be claims for indirect sex discrimination, but also indirect disability discrimination / discrimination arising from disability. In order to justify such claims, you should ensure that you have legitimate, objective reasons for rejecting requests to continue home working. These should be recorded in writing and retained.

Work From Home Policy

Some staff members may have already approached you about the possibility of working from home. If you’re open to it, then you’ll need to draft some ground rules, but where do you start? To help you out I’ve provided a sample homeworking policy template. You can refer to it to see what will be involved in allowing staff to work remotely, as it’s a bit more complicated than making sure they have a working laptop and internet connection.

On the flip side, you may find employees pushing to return to office based work. Some employees may feel they are losing out on valuable social interaction with their colleagues and some may feel that they are losing visibility within their organisation, potentially hindering skills development and career advancement. It may be that employers find themselves in the unusual situation of having to justify continued home working, rather than the reverse. In these circumstances, issues around health and safety are likely to come into play.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an employer direct people to work from home (where that is possible) as a precaution?
Where it is possible for employees to carry out their work from home, this will be a reasonable instruction by the employer. The employee will continue to receive their normal pay.

Can an employer direct people not to attend work if they suspect they should be self-isolating?
If there is an identified risk that an employee may have been exposed to COVID-19, then it is reasonable, in light of an employer’s duty to protect the health and safety of other employees, that you would wish to keep that employee away from the workplace until the risk has passed.

If you send an employee home for a reason falling within government self-isolation advice, it is likely that you should treat the employee as being on sick leave and pay them SSP or (if applicable) contractual sick pay. Alternatively, if the employee is able to work from home you should allow this and continue to pay normal pay.

What about self-isolators who are not displaying symptoms?
Is it reasonable for an employer to instruct an employee who self-isolates for 14 days because they are living in a household with someone with symptoms but are themselves asymptomatic to go on sick leave? On the flip side can an asymptomatic self-isolator insist they be allowed to work from home?

In such a case, the employee is deemed incapable under the Government guidance. Does such an employee need to be treated as on sick leave and so paid in accordance with the SSP? Probably. Or can they work from home (where this is possible) and receive full pay? Possibly by agreement. The best scenario, if the employee could work from home, is to ask them how they would prefer to proceed in the short term and then review the situation with them regularly. These are uncertain times.

Can I expect an employee who is caring for a dependent to work from home?

Potentially, yes.

Assess the situation carefully. Just because an employee is also caring for children doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unable to do their work. It might be worth implementing a trial period where you can observe the arrangement and evaluate if it’s working.

Time off for dependents only covers a short amount of time and if the employee is unable to work from home, and unable to make other arrangements for the care of their child you should try to agree that they take annual holiday or a period of unpaid leave.

Remember there are a number of key workers whose children will be able to remain in school.

Top Tips

Home working is be a new concept for many business owners here are my tips to ensuring business continuity whilst working with a remote workforce during this pandemic:-

Virtual Meetings
Today’s technology makes working from home really simple. You are going to find services like Dropbox, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Microsoft Teams (to name just a few) really useful right now. These services offer a wide range of capabilities from simple one-on-one meetings to virtual rooms of thousands of participants. They also have many interactive features like chat boxes, breakout rooms, screen sharing, and recording capabilities. Zoom was one of the leaders in the video conferencing industry but recent security and privacy concerns have tarnished that reputation somewhat. If you don’t already have suitable software check out this list of best video conferencing software for business.

Be Flexible
Some of your employees will be self isolating whilst others will have full houses with younger children been home-schooled and older children and spouses or partners also working from home. Employees in both situations will face challenges and the more flexibility you provide, the better your employee will perform.

Remember, home working is probably a new concept for your employees too. If you are very rigid in what you want them to do and when you want them to do it, it will be harder for them in their personal lives and they will feel that they are not trusted. If they are writing a report does it really need to be written between Monday and Friday and 9am and 5pm? I’ve worked from home for many years and I often choose to work on a Sunday and have a day off during the week, so long as the project I’m working on is delivered to the client by the deadline we’ve agreed it really doesn’t matter when I do the work.

As you and your employees settle in to this new way of working you will find you get more out of each day as your employees spend their commuting time doing other activities. You may even find home working becomes the new way of working in the future.

Working From Home Policy

My Working From Home Policy that provides clear guidelines about who is eligible and also establishes how you expect them to perform while they’re working remotely. Attached to the Working from Home Policy is an Agreement that you can adapt to confirm the working from home arrangements with your employee and covers:

  • Reporting relationship
  • Pay
  • Job duties
  • Hours of work
  • Rest breaks
  • Sickness
  • Visits to the employees home
  • Performance management
  • Visits to the employees home
  • Equipment and materials
  • Telephone and internet accounts
  • Stationery and postage
  • Security
  • Health and safety issues
  • Insurance

To download the Working From Home Policy complete your details below and an email containing the document will find it’s way to your inbox:

Download the Working From Home Policy Now!

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Coronavirus and Working From Home