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Making the shift to home working – practical steps for the firm

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 7th December 2021. Revised 9th December 2021.

8 min read

Home Workstatiopn mikey-harris-kw0z6RyvC0s-unsplashA firm that’s oriented around a central headquarters and offices is a very different beast from one that embraces flexible working and working from home. There are some practical things that all firms must do when moving to home working. Here we discuss some of the changes needed to the terms and conditions of contract and employee handbook.

Type of Contract and Working Hours

Most contracts are written as if the employee is going to work a fixed day from 09:00am to 5:30pm for example. Many firms are open to employees working flexibly. But it’s not that easy to define in a legal document. An example might be that “you will work a 35-hour week around a core time of 10:00am to 3:00pm, with other hours as agreed from time to time with your line manager”. Flexibility inevitably means ambiguity and managers will need to work hard to agree working arrangements with employees, case by case.

Job Location

Most contracts to date will likely define the place of work as the firm’s headquarters or other office or works. When employees were asked to work from home, this should have been done by letter. The letter should have set out the terms of this arrangement. Most importantly, it should have been noted that this was a temporary arrangement.

Many firms, however, reissued the terms and conditions to make the home the permanent place of work. And they are now regretting this when employees refuse to return to the office.

The place of work is the location that the employee travels to for work. If they are now to be based at home, employers must realise that the employee is no longer obliged to travel to the office. As a result, the employee would expect to have travel and subsistence reimbursed whenever they come in for meetings.

There are also a host of other significant issues, and we’ve blogged about those often. Our blog titled A manager’s guide to homeworking is probably the most comprehensive.

Sickness absence and injury

When an employee works in an office or other works, they go there and somehow clock in. If they are ill, they typically telephone their manager and report sick. The absence is obvious. Few employees will work when very sick, though many will still travel in if just feeling ‘a little under the weather’.

Sickness when working from home is a whole different ballgame.

Employees who work from home will work most days, even if they are sick. Most will put in a day’s work, though their productivity will be down. Managers will need to decide how to regard this. Instantly, for example, the sickness statistics will improve, though productivity will be degraded. This may skew reporting and needs discussion with employees about what to report.

Job Description

Whilst a good job description should adequately describe accountabilities and responsibilities that will sustain regardless of job location, many job descriptions describe location-specific ‘duties’. If this is the case, managers should take the opportunity to re-draft and re-agree job descriptions that set out results rather than what’s to be done. Then it won’t matter where the employee does the work.

Salary

There’s a huge debate about equity and fairness when it comes to a split workforce. For example, is it fair that an employee who struggles in to work, paying travel costs and giving travel time, is paid the same as someone who had no travel? Surely, the home-worker benefits hugely?

But then the home-worker sets aside a part of their house to the firm’s activities and pays heating, lighting, and Internet connection for eight hours a day. Surely, they should be able to claim those costs from their firm?

Managers will need to think through these issues and adjust contracts and expenses policies.

Overtime working

Managers will need to set up an online method of logging overtime. And since the employee won’t physically be in the building, the manager will need to build the trust needed such that reporting of overtime is accurate and all approved.

Probationary period

Managers making judgements about whether new employee performance has been adequate will need to think about how performance is judged for remote workers. This also applies once the probationary period has been completed.

Staff benefits

Staff benefits like a gym close to work and a cycle to work scheme will be worthless for home-workers. Managers will need to review all the benefits for those travelling in to work and for those working from home and any hybrid cases.

Return of company property

This is a general clause intended to remind the employee to return keys and the likes if they leave. Managers will need to think through how employees working from home take possession of company property to be able to do their job – and hence what they’ll need to return.

It may also be that since the firm is liable for employee health and safety, it may want to supply suitable desking, computer screens and other electronics. And of course, much of this would simply be scrapped and written off if an employee leaves.

Health and safety

When a firm asks an employee to work from home, it extends its responsibly for health and safety to that home.

Most employees can simply be asked to complete a health and safety self-assessment. We would also recommend that all managers do a home visit annually to make sure that the employee has suitable facilities and that the work and family affairs can be kept separate.

Note that all electrical equipment will need to be PAT tested by a qualified tester – and the employee will need to agree to this. We recommend that a sentence will need to be added to the employee handbook about allowing a tester access to the home.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality can be managed easily when all employees come to the firm’s premises to work. But things get more complicated when some employees work from home. There’s then no control over who sees their screen, what they print off and the likes. The need for trust rises.

It may well be that all employees need to be trained to work from home. This training can then cover confidentiality, data protection, information security and intellectual property.

Governing law

There should be no change to governing law if the firm’s premises and the employee’s home are in the same country. But there is a trend now for employees to work from their second home abroad, or in another UK nation. It is very possible that managers will have employees in France, Greece, or Poland, for example.

This is a big subject. Managers should be aware that there are significant issues with employees working abroad.

Lateness

When an employee is supposed to turn up at the firm’s premises at a specified time and not leave before a specified time, late arrival or early departure is obvious.

When an employee is working from home, lateness or early departure is much more difficult for a manager to sense. Managers will need to think though how they will build the necessary trust such that employees will report ready for work truthfully.

Good working practices

Often there’s a write up in a firm’s employee handbook about how the employee should behave and dress when at work. This is particularly relevant when the employee will meet customers.

The idea of an employee as an ambassador for the firm is just as relevant when the employee meets colleagues and customers online. Any texts discussing this may need adjustment to accommodate working from home.

Accidents at work

It’s simple to ask employees to report accidents and work-related illness when they are at the firm’s premises. But when they are working from home, they need to be encouraged to make reports. The firm’s liability extends to the home.

It may be that an intranet or other online system will enable this reporting.

Smoking and drugs & alcohol

We recommend that the ban on smoking is extended to the home – or at least to the home when the employee is participating in online meetings. A total smoking ban is meaningless when the employee is working from home.

The same applies to drugs and alcohol. Many managers have had to resolve issues where employees were inebriated while in online meetings. Managers need to think through how they will enforce home working drugs and alcohol policies.

Summary

It’s simple. All contracts of employment and employee handbooks need to be reviewed considering that the employee will be working from home. At the very least, letters should be sent out to employees setting out the changes. Letters can be used regardless of whether changes are temporary or permanent - but they shuld always state that 'these are a changes to your terms and conditions of employment'.