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The employer has an obligation to provide a safe place of work. This extends to the home environment where employees are WFH

Introduction

It is now nearly 2 years since first Covid lockdown, and businesses are still operating in a model that requires significant flexibility and ability to change how and where the workforce is based.

As this article “goes to press” Government advice has changed from operating under “Plan B” (which was for people to “work from home where they can”), to Plan A which involves people being encouraged back to the office. Whether this will remain the case is unclear, it will depend on any new Covid variants or outbreaks, and we may well see the return of different rules in place for different regions within the UK with different guidance given by local governments.

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Hybrid is here to stay

Whilst the Government is encouraging employers to ensure that their workforces return to the office (to encourage growth in small businesses adversely affected during the lockdown restrictions), not every employer is following Government guidance. Whilst some financial institutions are keen to get people back in the office; others (particularly high-tech firms such as Meta) are taking their time – although Alphabet has just committed to a new London HQ at vast expense.

And returning to the office does not mean 5 days a week.

Some companies have announced that “working from home” will be the new normal, only requiring employees to come into offices as needed. Others are going to set days in the office: but 9.00 – 5.00, Monday – Friday is definitely now not the norm.

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Is the employee working at a suitable desk? Do they have a suitable chair? Are they taking the necessary breaks?

Employer responsibilities for those WFH

Leaving aside the specifics as to “when people should work from home” and the thorny issue around mandatory vaccination, employers need to be aware that where their employees are working from home, the employer still has a responsibility to their employees regarding the working environment.

Under Health and Safety law, the employer has an obligation to provide a safe place of work and safe systems of work. This will extend to the home environment where employees are working from home.

There are plenty of things for the employer to consider. Is the employee working at a suitable desk? Does he/she have a suitable chair? Is the employee taking the necessary breaks and exercising during the day? Is the employee doing unreasonably long hours?

There has been evidence that employees “working from home” overcompensate in terms of hours work, often doing longer hours to compensate for perceptions that working from home is akin to a day off.

What about the mental health of people that may be (or feel) isolated for long periods of time?

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What about the mental health of people that may be (or feel) isolated for long periods of time?

Things to start thinking about now

Whilst circumstances will be different for different employers, here are some things to think about:

  • Have you checked that the employee has proper equipment at home to work comfortably and safely? Maybe, do an audit to check. Some employers do workplace checks (desk ergonomics) – are these necessary for home working?
  • Are employees being guided to take breaks from work, watch their working hours? Maybe consider checklists for employees to make sure that they are advised on this.
  • Are employees being encouraged to come forward as necessary if there are issues at working from home? Do they have sufficient opportunities to interact for mental health purposes?
  • Are you arranging suitable interfaces with colleagues to ensure employees remain effective in their jobs?
  • From a business perspective (as opposed to employee health and safety) are the systems of work safe for the company? Is company confidential information at risk from poor security at employees’ homes?
  • Should an employer be spending money to bring an employee’s “home office” up to scratch? If may be that an employer has a liability if the place/system of work for an employee is not safe.

These are a few things to think about for employees that are going to be spending at least a part of the working time at home.
If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact the My Inhouse Lawyer team to talk through any issues you may have.

David Robert Principal at My Inhouse Lawyer
Written by David Roberts
Principal at My Inhouse Lawyer

One of our values (Growth) is, in many ways, all about cultivating a growth mindset. We are passionate about learning, improving and evolving. We learn from each other, use the best know-how tools in the market and constantly look for ways to simplify. Lawskool is our way of sharing with you. It isn’t intended to be legal advice, rather to enlighten you to make smart business decisions day to day with the benefit of some of our insight. We hope you enjoy the experience. There are some really good ideas and tips coming from some of the best inhouse lawyers. Easy to read and practical. If there’s something you’d like us to write about or some feedback you wish to share, feel free to drop us a note. Equally, if it’s legal advice you’re after, then just give us a call on 0207 939 3959.

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