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Homeworking - one year on

It is almost a year since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-week national lockdown. So much has changed but the government guidance remains that if you can work effectively at home, you should. Many of us will continue to work predominantly at home even when the government lifts the restrictions. The first lockdown caught us all by surprise, so being unprepared was forgivable, That excuse no longer exists, so, what should you consider?


Obligations


Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a duty on you, the employer to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all your employees.


Acas and the Health and Safety Executive have provided guidance on employers' health and safety obligations to homeworkers at:

https://www.acas.org.uk/working-from-home/health-safety-and-wellbeing

https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm

It has been updated to reflect the coronavirus pandemic.


Risk assessment


As employers, you have a legal duty to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of your employees’ work activities, including those working at home. Remove hazards and minimise risk. Review your risk assessments regularly.


You can't visit employees' homes so you should enable them to carry out a self-assessment of their workspace and equipment. Tell them how to work safely at home.


Ask employees to assess their use of display screen equipment because there is an increased risk for those working at home long term.


Here is a workstation checklist from the HSE:

https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.pdf


You don't know what you don't know


Homeworkers must take responsibility for their health and safety too. Encourage employees to report any physical or mental risks they face so that you can help them to remove or minimise those risks. Ensure that they use and maintain their office equipment appropriately, irrespective of who owns it.


Must you buy office equipment and pay towards homeworking expenses?


No, it isn't mandatory. You're not legally obliged to contribute towards the increased expenses of employees who are working from home, such as increased electricity costs. However, you should consider whether to provide equipment. Some employers have allowed employees to borrow equipment from the office; some have sent employees items such as ergonomic chairs, desks, and IT equipment; others have agreed to reimburse employees for their expenditure on office equipment upon receipt of evidence. Doing this would help demonstrate that you are satisfying your duty to your employees’ health and safety.


If you supply equipment to employees, ensure that it is suitable for its purpose, maintained in good working order and inspected regularly. Tell your employees how to do it as you can't visit them. Make sure it is covered by your insurance policy or the employee's.


Remember that providing equipment or reimbursing expenses may be a reasonable adjustment under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 for an employee with a disability.

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