Working from home is more popular than ever before. A 2014 ONS study found that a record number of people in employment were now home workers – rising from 2.9 million in 1998, to 4.2 million in 2014. Although some of these home workers are self-employed, a significant proportion are not and work for a company, reporting to a manager.
Managing employees who work from home can be difficult for employers, whether they work from home all the time or just one or two days a week. There are many things to be taken into consideration, including the health and safety of the employee.
A lot of work carried out at home is low-risk, office-type work. However, for home workers carrying out other types of work from home, where for example hazardous materials are used, employers will need to consider carefully the Health and Safety at Work Act alongside the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which require a risk assessment of the workspace to be carried out. A basic risk assessment should be carried out for all home-based workers, whether they work at home full-time or part-time, to ensure that the environment is safe and suitable, and to consider any support or adjustments that would be necessary.
You will need to decide if any equipment needs to be supplied and what will be used that is already in the home. As an employer, you are only directly responsible for the equipment that you supply (such as IT kit, desks and chairs), but should make sure that an initial risk assessment ensures that that the environment and factors such as lighting, flooring and ventilation are suitable. The employee can then be passed the reasonable responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety and suitability of their work environment, and highlight any concerns to you.
Aside from potential risks, working from home can also make it more difficult for employers and employees to communicate properly. Homeworking can be a fairly solitary lifestyle so regular contact with your employee is very important. It is also a good idea to carry out regular reviews to ensure that the employee is still happy with the homeworking agreement.
A large part of a successful homeworking relationship is based on trust between the employer and the employee. There should be an agreement about how work performance and output is measured and there should also be a sufficient amount of effective communication between parties, both face to face and by email, telephone or video conferencing. It would also be necessary to consider access to relevant training, supervision and support.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have useful information and guides on managing homeworking employees available for employers on their website.
If you want to consider home working as part of a return to work for an employee on long-term sickness absence, but are unsure of how to go about doing this, Fit for Work can help. You can phone the advice line on 0800 032 6235 (0800 019 2211 for those in Scotland) to speak to a dedicated advisor, or you can refer your employee to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. Your employee’s Fit for Work case manager will, providing your employee gives consent, work with the two of you to find a home working solution that suits both parties.