A matter of Policy – Do you need a working from home policy now?

A matter of Policy – Do you need a working from home policy now?

By Lisa Rix - 30 April 2020

Home-working policies are flying off the shelves in recent weeks, as employers everywhere rush to put in place guidance for employees’ new working arrangements due to the pandemic.

Do you legally have to have one? No!

However, as with all policies, they are there to communicate standards, set expectations, and clarify any legal requirements.

So is it worth thinking about putting one in place (or updating other relevant policies accordingly) anyway? Absolutely.

It is also worth thinking further ahead than just the current pandemic and how you want home-working to work going forwards, as it is likely that we will see employees wanting to work from home more even after we can all return to the workplace. In order to stay competitive and get the best out of employees, it is likely that many employers will need to reconsider its working practices to allow some level of home-working going forwards where possible.

So what should go in a home-working policy?

Generally, you will need to set out the practicalities of when it should apply, how often people can work from home, whether you want employees to apply to be able to work from home or have a blanket policy for everyone. Employers will need to ensure not to discriminate when creating such rules - see Paul’s article here for more information on what employers are required to do in this area.

Particular topics you will likely want to include in any such policy to cover off your legal obligations and clarify employees’ rights are:

  • Information on health and safety regarding working at home – see Kate’s article on your obligations for more information.
  • Information on your expenses policy– see Chris’ article on your obligations for more information.
  • Information on confidentiality, data protection requirements, data security and email and computer usage rules when working from home – see Deborah’s article on this for more information.

Can you just update existing policies in respect of working from home instead?

Absolutely – and this might actually save you time if you already have a lot of well-drafted policies. It also avoids unnecessary duplication and the potential for inconsistencies between policies.

However, some policies you have may not even need updating, for example:

  • Your grievance and disciplinary policies are also likely to be fine as they are and instead you will just need to turn your mind as to how you apply them, as Philip explains in his article.
  • Anti-discrimination policies will not need changing as the same standards will apply when working remotely as they do physically in the workforce. However, you might want to include examples of when such discrimination or harassment could arise in the home-working context. Not required, but again helpful for clarity.
  • Flexible working policies – although no changes are needed to these (the same statutory rules apply now as pre-pandemic!) it’s definitely worth dusting them off and making sure you are happy with them (and that they meet statutory requirements) before the anticipated increase in number of working-from-home requests, as Elliott explores in his article.

In conclusion, although a home working policy is not legally required it is likely you will need one (or at least to update your existing policies) to drive compliance in other areas of your organisation. For most businesses, the employee handbook is not a contractual document so make the most of this by updating it where necessary to reflect the reality of the situation you and your employees find yourself in.  

If you would like to read more articles on employment law red flags, opportunities and foreseeable issues during Covid-19, click here.