Home workers, remote workers and lone workers are becoming increasingly commonplace, particularly now that technology enables them to stay linked to and communicate with their employers and colleagues located elsewhere. Part-time homeworking has become a common element of more flexible working patterns.
Key practical issues for homeworking and remote workers include setting up appropriate communication systems and how such employees can be managed and motivated. Employers also need to be aware of the legal issues, particularly in terms of employment contracts and health and safety.
Home workers, remote workers and lone workers: health and safety rules
Health and safety laws apply to home workers just as they do for employees working at your business premises. For the typical home worker, key health and safety issues are similar to those in an office: ensuring that the workstation is suitable; checking electrical equipment; avoiding trailing wires; and so on.
Safety and security can be key issues for remote workers, especially lone workers. As the employer, you need to consider whether premises offer adequate security for both the employee and any equipment or other valuables. You should ensure you have appropriate procedures in place, particularly for lone workers at high risk, for example, young employees and lone workers who carry cash. This should include ensuring that remote workers know what to do in case of an emergency.
Homeworking and employment contracts
Whether you have decided to introduce homeworking or are responding to employees' requests, there may be contractual issues to consider. Employment contracts should be reviewed to check whether they need amendments, for example, changing the employee's place of work, working hours and so on. You'll also need to consider who will be responsible for costs such as equipping a home office.
Bear in mind that homeworking is not the same as self-employment. Existing employees will generally continue to be employees, even if they work entirely from home. Similarly, if you take on a new homeworker, their place of work is unlikely to affect their employment status.
You'll need to ensure your homeworking policy is fair to all employees. Introducing homeworking selectively can be problematic: employees who wish to homework may feel discriminated against. You'll need to work out how you can provide home workers with access to training and other opportunities that are normally provided at your premises.
Other homeworking, remote working and lone working issues
Reviewing your main policies will help you identify other legal implications of homeworking, remote working and lone working. For example, you may need to think about data protection for personal data held on remote systems. Homeworking also raises issues for the employee, such as ensuring their home insurance covers any business use.
You'll need to consider how you apply policies and procedures when employees are not physically present. For example, how will you monitor working hours or ensure that employees are taking appropriate rest breaks? Proper training and guidance is a key part of successfully introducing and managing homeworking or other forms of remote work.
Another major consideration is how to manage and communicate with remote and mobile workers. Managing remote and mobile workers can be more problematic, but the correct use of technology and clear procedures and policies can overcome most of the main issues.
Smart phones can enable workers to keep in touch by SMS, instant message, email and phone. Laptops, tablet computers and web versions of email and document-management software allow staff to work whilst out and about. You can also consider virtual private networks and cloud-based technology to allow remote workers to access your computer system as though they were working in the office.
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