Posted on: Aug 13, 2013
An organisation may allow employees to work from home (or some other remote location) in a number of different circumstances. It may be part of an organisation’s encouragement of work-life balance; or it may be in response to an employee’s request for flexible working arrangements; or it may be temporary because the workplace is inaccessible or unavailable for some reason.
We recommend, except where temporary in cases of an emergency, – “working from home” should be subject to a formal agreement that sets out the respective roles and responsibilities of both the employer and the employee. Those undertakings may be included in an employment agreement, a separate agreement, or through a specific employer policy (which the employee has signed). In other words, working from home should not be an automatic entitlement or right, nor is the employer required to grant an employee’s request to work from home, but nor can the employer require an employee to work from home.
Criteria for allowing a work from home arrangement
Below are some examples of criteria that you could set in order to grant a request to work from home:
- There should be clear benefits in terms of improved productivity, employee engagement and commitment, or staff retention
- Working from home needs to be practical for the employee and have no serious adverse consequences for the work and performance of the employee’s work colleagues in particular, or the organisation as a whole
- Working from home must have no significant adverse impact on the workload, work performance or health, safety and wellbeing of the employee
- Any additional administrative requirements must be practical and minor in their impact
When asked to consider or approve a request to work from home, your organisation will need to assess, among other things:
- The nature of the work involved
- The volume of work
- The likelihood that the work can be carried out and completed efficiently
- The likelihood that the work can be carried out without direct, frequent or regular feedback and/or supervision
- The need for interaction between the employee and other employees in carrying out and completing the work
- The effect on customer service
Some jobs or roles are unlikely to be considered suitable for working from home. These include roles or positions which:
- Have continuing management responsibilities for other employees and their work
- Are part of a team or work group and require regular face-to-face communication or contact on a daily basis with other team or group members
- Require regular face-to-face communication or contact with employees elsewhere in the organisation
- Provide face-to-face client service to people within or external to the organisation
Every arrangement for an employee to work from home should be subject to a formal written agreement between the organisation and the employee. That agreement may be an addition or variation to an employment agreement, or it may be the subject of a separate agreement. Below are some examples of what the agreement should include:
- The employee’s work responsibilities
- The number of days or hours to be worked at home
- The specific performance expectations and criteria for assessment
- The expectations and roles of the employee’s manager, including reporting and opportunities for supervision, oversight and communication
- Responsibility for the provision and maintenance of equipment and necessary supplies
- Responsibility for workplace health and safety
- Guidelines for resolving problems
Management and supervision
While a work from home arrangement is in effect, both the employee and the manager should (with appropriate and necessary variations) abide by all the organisation’s policies, rules and procedures. The manager will need to maintain appropriate supervision and regular communication with the employee. We recommend including a provision in the agreement that a review of a work from home arrangement may be initiated at any time by either the employee or the manager, to ensure it remains effective.
Employees should recognise that working from home requires as much attention, effort and commitment as working in the workplace itself. Employees who work from home must be able to work without direct supervision, and manage their work and time effectively.
Managers will need to be responsible for ensuring that employees who work from home are invited to take part in appropriate training and development events, and organisational gatherings, as if they were working in the workplace itself.
Planning and reviewing work
Managers and employees should agree on the scope and objectives for work to be undertaken by an employee who is working from home. They should also agree on a regular programme for monitoring and reviewing the employee’s work and progress towards the achievement of work objectives. This can usually be done though the organisation’s performance planning and review system.
In addition to planning and reviewing the content of an employee’s work, the manager and home-working employee should agree on:
- When the employee will be “at work” at home and available for telephone calls, email enquiries and other communications;
- A schedule of regular and more formal communications so that effective working relationships are maintained with colleagues and managers;
- A schedule of regular attendance at the workplace to enable the employee to keep up to date and contribute to work group activities and relationships.
In order to be effective, the employee should have a work space at home that is separate from domestic or family activities. It should offer ready access to all the equipment and resources needed for effective job performance, and allow the employee to carry out the work activities safely and efficiently.
The manager and the employee should decide in advance what furniture, equipment and other materials (if any) will be provided by the organisation so that the employee may perform effectively in the home-based work environment. Any employer-provided furniture and/equipment should only be used for work purposes, and remains the property of the organisation. Employees should be responsible for the care and protection of the employer’s equipment, although it will be usually be covered by the organisation’s insurance policies.
The organisation must also provide stationery and consumables for the use of an employee who is working from home. Often the organisation may also contribute to or meet the employee’s work-related communication costs, such as mobile phone charges, landline and/or internet costs, but this must be agreed to in advance.
Health and safety
Health and safety is always a major concern. The organisation has the same duty of care for employees who work from home as for employees at work in the workplace. In return, employees who work from home have a specific responsibility to ensure that their work environment poses no risks or hazards for their health or safety. They must also ensure that their home-based work activities pose no risks or hazards for others (eg family members, neighbours, other visitors).
Employees should identify specific hazards in their home-based work environment. A programme for managing hazards should be discussed with the employee’s manager and reviewed on a regular, scheduled basis.
In particular, employees who work from home should ensure that:
- Their work activities are kept separate from domestic or family activities
- Equipment is properly installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and good practice guidelines
- Electrical sockets and plugs are not overloaded, and that wires and cables are tidy and controlled
- The lighting available to them is appropriate and sufficient for their work activities
- Any work-related hazards or materials are stored securely and are not accessible to family members or others who might be in the home-based workplace
- Work-related information and data is kept secure, either in locked storage or by restricting access to work-related files on computers (eg by using passwords)
- They are aware of the risks associated with working alone and take steps to manage them
- They manage their working time effectively, including taking appropriate rest and meal breaks
- They have regular communication with their managers and discuss any problems that arise from working at home
- Any sickness or injury or work-related health issues (eg disability, work-related stress) are reported as if the employee was working in the workplace.
Working from home in many cases can be very beneficial for both employers and employees. The reasons for entering into a work from home arrangement vary greatly, however one thing remains constant – all work from home arrangements must be subject to a specific agreement and recorded in writing. There are many things to consider before entering into a work from home arrangement, some of which we have outlined in this article. If you need any help drafting a suitable agreement to record a work from home arrangement, or if you’d like to develop a working from home policy, please contact us and one of our Associates will be happy to assist you.
This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.