Working From Home – when temporary becomes permanent

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COVID-19 has forced many employees to begin working from home – some for the first time. As the country eases out of lockdown, many businesses have found that employees working from home have had a positive impact, not only for employees work life balance, but in some cases, productivity has improved as well. Some companies are therefore beginning to look at long term working from home arrangements, either on a flexible basis, or as a permanent or semi-permanent arrangement. Below we look at the situation regarding extending employees’ arrangements to work from home, and the obligations of both employers and employees.  

This document includes information on:

  • Flexible working requests
  • Refusing a flexible working request
  • Accepting A Flexible Working Application
  • Do I need a Home Working Policy?
  • Health and Safety for Home Workers
  • Expenses incurred by employees working from home

Flexible working requests

Since 30th June 2014, any employee who has worked continuously for the company for 26 weeks, has the right to ask for flexible working – which can include working from home.

Employees who have moved to home working over the pandemic period and are now being required to return to the office may submit a flexible working request which details their proposal for continued home working. The request may be for complete home working or for a percentage of their week to be worked from home.

If an employee indicates that they would like to continue working from home in any capacity that constitutes a change to their current (pre-pandemic) working arrangement, then they need to submit a flexible working request which can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-right-to-request-flexible-working-form

Refusing a flexible working request

Employers to not need to agree to flexible working requests, but they do need a business reason for refusing them:

Reasons for rejecting the request are:

  • extra costs that will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce

Employers need to respond to flexible working requests in writing and within 28 days of the request being made. If the request is being refused then a business reason from the above list must be given.

Employees are only entitled to make one flexible work application in a 12-month period.

Accepting A Flexible Working Application

If the company is able to accept the flexible working request, then the change to the employee’s contractual terms needs to be updated and issued to the employee to sign. This can be done in a variation of contract letter.

Variations of contract can be permanent, or they can specify a period that the change is effective for.

Do I need a Home Working Policy

Whilst not essential. a homeworking policy will help create clarity and guidance for managers and employees and should include areas such as:

  • Applying for Formalised Home Working
  • Selection Criteria
  • Equipment and Connectivity
  • Health and Safety
  • Insurance
  • Confidentiality, Security and Data Protection
  • Hours of Work
  • Annual and Sick Leave
  • Expenses

Health and Safety for Home Workers

It is important for employers to recognise that health & safety for homeworkers is as important as that of the employees working at a company’s premises. They have a duty of care to ensure that elements such as ventilation, temperature, lighting, space, chair, computer or any other kind of work station relevant to the company are suitable for the employee to carry out all tasks in a safe environment.

The employer is responsible for any equipment supplied by themselves, however it is up to the employee to rectify any issues highlighted by a risk assessment which is out of the companies control in order to continue working from home.

A working from home risk assessment can be carried out by the employee with the completed assessment discussed with their manager. Any highlighted risks on the risk assessment should be addressed which may include the company providing further equipment or furniture to the employee for work purposes.

Expenses incurred by employees working from home

When an employee begins working from home on a more permanent basis, they may ask about the companies position on covering any expenses occurred through working from home. This should be included in the companies Working from Home Policy.

A company is not under any obligation to reimburse an employee for any costs associated with working from home. If not compensated by their employer, employees can contact HMRC about claiming a tax rebate to cover working from home costs. https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home

Alternatively, Companies can pay a tax-free payment of £6 per week, or £26 per month for     monthly paid employees, for each week that they are required to work at home, and not declare this as a taxable benefit.

For further information and assistance with creating a Home Working Policy, working from home risk assessment or how to respond to a flexible working request please contact Harwood HR for a free 15 minute initial discussion.

Harwood HR – HR Consultants providing HR Outsourced Services.  We provide clear, cost effective HR advice. For a free consultation, please contact us on:

0117 439 0119 or info@harwood-hr.co.uk

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