For many employees this will be their first time working from home on a full-time basis. Now the IT is up and running, and the novelty is starting to wear off, it would be advisable for employers to consider their obligations and how to practically interpret them during these unprecedented times.
Usually, working from home means that employers have an extended obligation to ensure their employees are safe, and that they have a suitable workstation at home. Knowing that most employees will be working from home for a least the next month or so it would be good practice for employers to acknowledge their employees as temporary homeworkers and start to consider which parts of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines could be adopted.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 state that the minimum an employer must do is:
- identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards);
- decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk); and
- take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, (control the risk).
Ordinarily, a full health and safety risk assessment should be conducted on a workspace. Given, in most instances, this has been a quick arrangement there may not be time in which to facilitate this. Instead employers could ask the employee to conduct a shorter assessment of their working space and report back in order to determine its suitability. Given the scale of the new homeworking population, you could start with those who had already been identified as needing specialist equipment. This will serve the dual purpose of fulfilling part of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workspace but also get employees thinking about what steps they could be taking to make their working environment safer and more effective.
Clearly there is a balancing act for employers at this time as they have asked employees to work from home quickly for their own and others safety. With this context as a minimum it would be advisable for employers to highlight to their employees the following.
- It is important to find a safe and productive place to work within the home.
- Try to make sure this space is well lit and ventilated, and possibly shut off from the rest of the family who may also be at home at this time.
- It will unlikely that everyone has the same IT kit they had in the office. Employers should ask employees to let them know if they have any issues functioning from home, reminding them this is just a temporary arrangement. Some employers may reasonably decide they cannot afford to duplicate IT kit, but they may be able to provide headsets to those that ask for them.
- Do you need to provide employees with stationery, paper and printer ink, for example? How will you reimburse people for expenses; for example, telephone bills, postage, etc?
Under normal circumstances, more permanent homeworkers may be required to update their own personal home insurance as they are now working from home. However, these are not normal circumstances, and so a reminder from employers to employees to put away their laptops when they are not working could be a good way to protect IT kit from being stolen or damaged and then not covered by an insurance policy.
Under current rules, where HMRC has accepted an employee’s home is a permanent workplace, you are able to make tax and NIC free payments to employees to reimburse them for the actual additional costs of household expenses they incur while working at home. However, these additional household costs can be difficult to calculate and substantiate. Therefore, you are also able to make a flat-rate payment of £6 per week from 6 April 2020 tax and NIC free to employees to cover these costs.
HMRC have confirmed if any of your employees are working from home due to coronavirus, either because:
- your workplace has closed;
- they are following advice to self-isolate
Then the working from home expenses rules will apply. In addition, any expenses or benefits which are taxable and related to coronavirus can be reported on your PAYE Settlement Agreement.
If you need any support or guidance on the implications related to working from home, please contact