As commercial rents rise and an increasing number of employers do more than pay mere lip service to work-life balance issues, working at home is becoming a more usual option. Some employees may work entirely from home, while others intersperse commuting with days in a home office.
Understandably, employers may have concerns about the viability of home working; so too can employees, who often fear being sidelined or in some way disadvantaged if they are not in the office.
This is not to say that employees do not value the chance to work from home. Time that would otherwise have been spent commuting can be used to take children to school, walk a dog, or catch up on household chores.
Costs may be lower for both employee and employer. An employee’s travel costs may reduce, or be extinguished altogether, while an employer with a substantial number of home workers may be able to rent a smaller office space. Finally, employees permitted to work from home tend to perceive their employer more favourably and may be less likely to look elsewhere for new employment.
Making a success of home working is a goal that both employer and employee can share; however, there are several practical points to consider. The employment contract must be appropriately amended to reflect the new working arrangements. It is also prudent to include a clause allowing the employer to require the employee to attend the office when necessary.
The contact should also address working hours. This is often a prime concern for employers, who may be fearful that their employee will be hanging out the washing or taking a long lunch rather than working.
It is perfectly acceptable to require a home worker to be available for normal office hours, if this is what the employer wants. Providing a mechanism by which an employee can account for their time can also offer reassurance to the employer.
No home worker may be treated less favourably due to their place of work. This means the employer must ensure they still have access to any on-site facilities, such as a gym, and are invited to team lunches and outings.
Confidentiality and data protection can be a concern. To some extent, this can be addressed by ensuring the employer provides the employee with their work computer equipment; however, this does not negate the need to consider who else might have access to the computer or confidential documents.
Also remember that health and safety legislation extends to home workers; most importantly, this means that the duty to conduct risk assessments of their working environment still applies. The employer must check that their public liability insurance covers home workers; equally, the employee must ensure they have their mortgage provider’s consent to work from home.
Provided these points are satisfactorily addressed, there is every reason to assume that a proposed change to home working will succeed. A final note of reassurance for the employer is the opportunity to put the altered working conditions on trial for a set time. If this is included in the contract, the employer will be able to require the employee to return to office-based working.
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