Working from home is a trend that has steadily been growing over the past decade, with better connectivity and improved technology making the home a viable workplace for many. The onset of the pandemic has only increased this trend, with thousands of workplaces around the world scrambling to set up their employees in often makeshift home offices. Not many workplaces had any formal approach in place, as highlighted by UK based Workplace Consultant Kirsty Angerer; “Very few businesses will have had a home working policy in place prior to Covid-19. The office has remained a solid component of most businesses. It is embedded in the culture of a business.”
This global overnight paradigm shift has meant that not every employer has had the chance to fully grasp the commitments that are required of them, but it’s important for any workplace to be completely aware of what their responsibilities are for their staff who are working from home. It's also important to understand that most of these obligations are only apparent if the employer has "commanded" the employee to go home and do their work from there. If this is something the employee only prefers to do as a self-initiative, the employer cannot take full responsibility.
Whilst what is a legal obligation, and what is simply good advice differs from country to country, there are some key fundamental issues that every employer should be aware of, and the longer working from home is in place, the more important they will become for employees overall health and wellbeing.
In every country, employers are legally responsible to ensure sound health and safety conditions for all employees, and this includes when working from home. What work activity will they be doing? Can it be done safely? How will you keep in touch with them? Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them? These are the key elements of most H&S policies.
In some countries such as the UK, employers are required to carry out a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment of the individual’s home workspace. In another country, Australia, for instance, this legal duty of care is worded “so far as is reasonably practicable”.
How this is measured will differ from country to country, and should be readily available to view on respective government legislation websites. Click here for an example (UK) of a health and safety assessment.
If the employer is unable to carry out a full risk assessment due to social distancing limitations, they are legally required to provide employees with information on working safely at home in order to carry out a self-assessment. If changes are needed to be made, it is up to the employer to make sure these happen.
Generally speaking, it is up to the employer to provide the right equipment for their employees to be able to carry out their tasks at home.
For a vast majority of homeworkers, the primary tools will be a computer capable of carrying out the necessary tasks, and tools for communication – nowadays the two are usually the same.
Part of the health and safety risk assessment involves assessing the workstation that an employee is at, and in many countries, if this does not meet the standards required, it is up the employer to resolve the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE). This means ensuring employees are using suitable seating and work surfaces, and that their equipment is at the correct heights to reduce strain and fatigue.
Employees with disabilities may have additional requirements to make their home workspace suitable. In the USA, for instance, employers should ensure that staff receive any necessary reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This may lead to special equipment or technology provided in order to continue to perform the essential functions of their job.
Whilst there is no increased risk for those working from home temporarily, as the time spent working from home increases, it is vital that all employers who have staff working from home take these issues into consideration to reduce the chances of lasting effects to employees’ health and wellbeing.
Staff who have been asked to work from home should not see any changes to their pay or conditions of employment. Working hours should be adhered to unless there are significant prohibiting factors. Again, how this is interpreted legally differs from country to country (and we strongly advise you to visit your country's guidance websites) but they are generally similar.
Another issue to consider is compensation when it comes to resources used whilst at work, such as phone and electricity. In California, for instance, courts have required employers to reimburse a reasonable percentage of employees’ phone bills and internet bills when they use their devices for work, even if those employees have unlimited phone or data plans and incur no additional expenses as a result of the work usage.
Another issue is insurance. If business equipment is brought into an employee’s home, it is generally up to the employer to ensure that they have an insurance policy that covers theft and damage when away from the office.
L&E Global, an alliance of employer’s counsel worldwide have provided a useful guide highlighting relevant guidelines, legal requirements and advice for employers in over 30 nations, with links to further more detailed information.
Alternatively, you can find information on government websites which are updated regularly.
At Flokk, we design inclusive furniture for productive work environments, whether it be the office, workshop, lab or at home. We’ve seen an influx of employers looking for advice and opportunities to provide their staff with home office seating, as well as homeowners themselves looking to upgrade their current seating to something more human-centred and dynamic.
Browse our portfolio today or contact us via our website to speak to your local advisor and find out what we can do to help you.
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