Employers have a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of homeworkers. The risks include feelings of isolation, a lack of supervision, issues arising from prolonged use of display screen equipment, working long hours and taking inadequate breaks. Employers need to carry out a suitable risk assessment and consider whether measures should be implemented to protect employees from any risks identified.
There is no general legal obligation on employers to provide the equipment for home working. However, while many employers have allowed employees to take equipment from the office in the shorter term, some employers are now providing a budget to employees to buy equipment for home working. Where equipment is needed to address health and safety concerns, employers are liable to fund the cost of that equipment.
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Employers should be cautious about whether home working disadvantages certain groups. This could occur because of a lack of access to internet, shared accommodation, disability, caring responsibilities, financial issues or other individual circumstances. Diversity and inclusion policies extend to home working and employers should encourage employees to make any disadvantages known so that reasonable steps can be taken.
Disabled employees may be entitled to auxiliary aids as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010. The employer needs to make sure these are provided, at its expense, to the individual when working from home.
Employers also have a duty to protect their employees’ mental health while they are home working. Steps to protect employees’ wellbeing could include advising them to stay active, have a defined lunch break, carve out time to put down electronic devices and ensuring staff take their holidays. Employers should be mindful of anxiety levels and put procedures in place to pick up on any signs of stress. It would also be a good time to signpost what mental health support is available.
Social contact is also important. Organising regular informal check-ins and/or virtual socials with staff can help combat isolation.
For many employees, home working and working flexible hours around other responsibilities has resulted in a blurring of the lines between working and resting hours. While there is currently no legal right to not to be contacted outside of working hours, it is becoming recognised in many European and other countries as a useful measure to provide some protection from employee burnout.
Abi Frederick is managing associate and Paul Norris is trainee solicitor at Lewis Silkin