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How to manage staff working from home during the coronavirus outbreak

Written by Francesca Mundy on Tuesday, 07 April 2020. Posted in Commercial law, Legal

Amongst the stringent measures introduced by the government in response to the recent coronavirus (COVID- 19) outbreak, was advice to businesses that staff should work from home wherever possible.

How to manage staff working from home during the coronavirus outbreak

Amongst the stringent measures introduced by the government in response to the recent coronavirus (COVID- 19) outbreak, was advice to businesses that staff should work from home wherever possible. Whilst some companies may be well versed in how to manage staff working from home, for others it will be new territory. You will want to ensure that despite having less regular contact with your staff, your business can carry on as normally as possible. 

To get you started, we have pulled together some top tips for employers when managing staff working from home during the outbreak. 

Consider flexible working 

Nurseries, colleges and schools closed on 20th March2020 until further notice. This means that some of your staff may now be caring for children whilst they are working from home.

There are different options open to your staff, for example some might choose to use their annual leave to cover childcare whereas others may be entitled to parental leave or leave to care for dependants.  Bear in mind that, if staff are not able to work because of childcare responsibilities, you may be able to place them on furlough leave and claim a proportion of their wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Claims can be backdated to  March 2020 to cover staff who have been on unpaid leave since then. 

Employers can also consider offering affected staff members a flexible working arrangement to help them to manage their work and parental responsibilities. Given the current circumstances it is likely appropriate to deal with flexible working requests on an informal and temporary basis. 

Put an official home working policy in place

Although you are not legally required to have an official home working policy, it is best practice to put one in place so that both you and your staff are aware of what is expected of them during this difficult period. It will also help to ensure that all staff members are treated consistently and that you avoid claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

For businesses that already have an official home working policy, it is important to check that it is fit for purpose in light of the current circumstances. If any immediate changes are required, make sure to notify all of your staff of the amendments. 

Insurance coverage 

Employer’s liability insurance should already extend to homeworkers as standard practice, but you should nonetheless check the wording of your policy to confirm this. You will also need to ensure that any business equipment you have provided to your staff members is covered by your insurance when it’s off your premises.  Note that you are not legally obliged to provide any equipment to your staff whilst they are working from home, but if you do, make sure you set out what items will be provided and on what terms (eg who is responsible for maintenance) in your home working policy. 

Bear in mind that your staff members will also need to check that their own insurance policies cover working from home. 

Health & safety assessments 

As an employer, you still have health and safety responsibilities towards your staff whether they are working on your premises or at home. Whilst home working is likely to be low risk, you must still carry out a risk assessment on the suitability of your staff member’s home working space. 

Given recent Government measures requiring people to stay at home wherever possible, it will be inappropriate and impractical for you to carry out a risk assessment at your staff member’s home, so consider asking them to send a photo of their workstation instead. 

Protecting confidential information 

The security of personal data and confidential information can be difficult to supervise when your staff are working from home, but your data protection standards must be maintained. Your responsibilities include ensuring that your data protection policy is up to date and considering whether it is necessary to conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment before approving the processing of personal data by homeworkers. 

Staff should also be reminded of their data protection and confidentiality obligations, and it may be appropriate for you to provide further training on how to store and transmit information securely. 

Ensuring employee wellbeing 

When staff work from home, the boundaries between home and work life can become blurred. You should encourage staff to take regular breaks throughout the day and remind them that they are not expected to work beyond their contractual hours. Not only are your staff legally entitled to breaks, but these can help to provide structure to the day and support employee wellbeing. 

Ensure you also keep in regular contact with your staff to see how they are coping. This can prevent your staff from feeling disconnected and ease any feelings of isolation whilst they are working from home with minimal daily interactions. 

Communicating with your staff

When your staff members are working from home it’s important to build a relationship of trust and to establish clear lines of communication as you will not be able to have the same day-to-day supervision of their work. Set guidelines for checking in so your staff know how and when they are expected to be in contact with you.

Wherever possible, you should also manage staff performance consistently and in accordance with your usual policies and procedures. If you foresee any departures from this, or if you need to alter how you assess performance, ensure this is communicated clearly to your staff to avoid any confusion. 

The content in this article is up-to-date at the date of publishing. The information provided is for information purposes only, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice.

About the Author

Francesca Mundy

Francesca Mundy

Francesca Mundy is a Senior Legal Editor and Lawyer at Sparqa Legal, having previously worked as a disputes solicitor at a City law firm. Francesca has experience advising clients across a range of commercial and regulatory issues, and has spent the last two years at Sparqa Legal focussing on writing practical employment law and data protection guidance for SMEs and start-ups.

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