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JPP Law Blog

Post Lockdown Considerations for Employers

Following lockdown are you considering restructuring how you staff your business?

Physical office or continued homeworking?

For those who don't need to work from a specific physical structure of bricks and mortar, lockdown has proven to many previously sceptical business owners and bosses that employees working from home can still be productive.  As a result, many employers are considering reducing their office space or doing away with it completely for obvious cost saving reasons.   From an HR perspective there are several issues to consider:

(a)   Productivity - will employees remain as productive when working from home in the long term?  Some business owners may be concerned that without the imminent potential of redundancies and/or the novelty of home working productivity will slacken off.  If that is a concern, electronic monitoring, more commonly used in the States, such as key stroke monitoring or even checking on staff via their laptop cameras is not recommended either from an employee relations perspective or due to the considerable data protection issues involved.  More remote working may well mean that managers need to be better about setting short and long term objectives and having 1 to 1 virtual meetings with their direct reports to catch up on their progress.  Employers may consider making homeworking conditional upon employees maintaining a satisfactory level of performance.

(b)   Health and safety - an employer remains responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect the physical and mental health and safety of homeworkers.  During lockdown many employees worked from home and clearly employers could not visit their homes to ensure that their workstations were correctly set up (which in many cases they probably were not as they wouldn't have been proper workstations but perhaps just a laptop at the kitchen table).  An employer must not overlook these requirements if homeworking becomes the norm.  If someone works at home permanently their employer has to be mindful of the effect that isolation and reduced human interaction can have on mental wellbeing and take steps to counteract such issues manifesting themselves.

(c)    Data protection - Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May 2018, employers' obligations to protect personal data whether about their employees or individuals at customers/clients or suppliers became much stricter.  Employers need to have clear, strict policies in place which set out the rules for employees when dealing with other people's personal data.  Clearly when employees are working from home there is greater potential for people outside of the business, such as members of their household, to see information which they shouldn't and for employees to remove data from the employer's  electronic systems.  These risks need to be assessed and protective measures put in place to comply with GDPR.

(d)   Discrimination - employers who would like to move to a model which combines office work and homeworking need to ensure that they do not discriminate against any of their staff when deciding who is required to work from the office or how many days an employee can work from home.

(e)   Employee relations and changes to contract - many employees have enjoyed working from home and wish to continue to do so, others may be feeling lonely and missing the social interaction of the workplace or not have a quiet/private place at home from which to work.  Where employers are considering changing their model they are advised to consult with their workforce to understand who would like to work where.  Employment contracts are required to state the place of work so if an employer is moving from an office based model to a homeworking one or a hybrid, there is likely to be an issue of requiring consent to changes to terms of the employees' contracts of employment.

(f)    Equipment and other costs - employers usually provide the equipment which an employee needs to do their job.  When working from home there will be the added requirements of broadband and potentially a separate phone line, possibly postage photocopying and printing costs along with increased heating and lighting bills.  Where an employer wishes to change an employee's workplace to their home, rather than the employee requesting homeworking, the employee is likely to expect the employer to cover these increased costs.

For further advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or for Employment Law advice more generally, please contact JPP Law on 020 3468 3064 or email info@jpplaw.co.uk.

 

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