End of plan B: Return to offices

6 mins

Following the end of Plan B, employers’ attention turns once again to what they want long-term working arrangements to look like, with many opting for remote working to be required or accommodated, on either an exclusive or partial basis.

Whether hybrid working is practicable and, if so, how it will work will depend on the nature of the business and the individual’s role and circumstances. Some jobs can be carried out remotely, whilst others, particularly those that are client-facing, would not be.

Whatever the agreed arrangement is going forward, it is important for employers to update contracts to reflect and formalise the new working arrangements, and to be aware of (and to address) several practical issues that come with hybrid working/home working.

Where contracts are amended to reflect the employee’s home as the place of work, employers will need to retain some flexibility to deal with some of the practicalities. For example, requiring employees to attend the office for training, appraisals, or disciplinary issues and dealing with how expenses for travel to and from the office should be met. If an employee moves house, this may mean higher travel expense claims, or a practical barrier to attending work at the office – so employers could consider placing limits on how far an employee can move from a particular location.

Employers may also want to retain the flexibility to alter the arrangement temporarily and consider making the agreement to homeworking conditional on certain conditions being met such as satisfactory performance being maintained. Unless employers are confident that hybrid working/ homeworking is the right approach, it would be sensible to build in a trial period and review the arrangements.

Addressing these issues at an early stage will help employers to avoid future pitfalls and risks, such as employees refusing to comply with specific requirements that are appropriate under the type of working model which has been applied to them.

It is also advisable for employers to develop hybrid working and home working policies that sit alongside the contract of employment. This might set out the employer’s commitment to encouraging hybrid working/ home working, how such arrangements will operate, and the expectations of employees and managers. Employers may also need to modify other policies such as IT, expenses, confidential information, and data protection to address any specific points regarding hybrid/ homeworkers.

It is also an important time for employers to review their HR processes and procedures to ensure they support remote working in practice, and to ensure that managers receive training on how to manage teams effectively and support home/hybrid workers, including;

  • performance management
  • remote communication
  • collaboration
  • relationship building

It is also important to treat all employees fairly and equally and everyone should be given the same access to work, support and opportunities for training and promotion.

Legal and practical issues to consider before implementing hybrid working/home working

Equipment

If hybrid working is to be a success, it is important that employees have the equipment they need to perform their role. Disabled employees may be entitled to auxiliary aids as a reasonable adjustment. If such an aid is reasonably needed, employers should make sure it is provided at their expense, although they may be entitled to support from the Government’s Access to Work Scheme.

Property and insurance

Employers are required to have employers’ liability insurance and should tell their insurers that they have employees working from home. Employers may also want to check that their business insurance covers their property when in employees’ home (for example laptops provided to support homeworking). If employees have home insurance or a mortgage, they should be advised to tell their insurer or lender that they are working from home in case it affects their cover.

Health and safety

Employers have duties relating to the health and safety of employees, this includes mental and physical health, which apply even if they are working from their own home. If employers are putting in place more permanent homeworking or hybrid working arrangements, it is likely that they will need to revisit any health and safety risk assessments that were carried out as part of homeworking during the COVD-19 outbreak, as different considerations will apply where homeworking is being allowed on a permanent basis compared to a temporary one.

Employers will also need to address health and safety issues in the context of homeworking and hybrid working including providing appropriate first aid provisions and supplies; ensuring there is a reporting procedure for accidents wherever they occur, and making sure that all workstations meet the requirements laid down.

Data protection and security

As an employer, you have a duty under data protection legislation to use appropriate measures to ensure the security of personal data and to protect it from unauthorised processing and loss. This applies to personal data in an employee’s home. Employers should also carry out a data privacy impact assessment. Some of the measures that you may decide to take to protect personal data include:

  • Ensure that only the employee has access to personal data on the device and that other members of the household do not have access. In practice, the best approach is for the employer to provide the device.
  • Encrypt the device or permit the employee to password protect personal information.
  • Centrally control updates to software, security, password changes and the capacity to wipe the device remotely.
  • Apply rules on the proper disposal of paper-based records, for example shredding.
  • Provide guidance and training on the procedures to be followed and what is, and is not, an authorised use of personal data.

There are many points to consider when formally implementing hybrid working. If you have any questions on the points raised in this article or would like assistance with updating employment contracts and policies/ procedures, please contact us at [email protected].

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

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